When it comes to Stone Brewing Co.’s move from the Left Coast, my opinion is one I’ve kept quite some time now, but one I can’t seem to shake or change no matter what angle I approach the issue from. Maybe it’s because I haven’t wanted to go against the grain with so many friends and professionals in the industry. Maybe it’s because I didn’t want to seem as if I was putting down one of my favorite breweries or working against the economic interests of the state. It could be a whole host of reasons.
But as time has progressed and the issue has grown in prominence, I keep coming back to the same opinion: At this point in time, I would rather not have Stone – or any large brewery – pick the Palmetto State as the home for its new satellite brewery.
Put down your pitchforks and torches and let me explain why.
Before I get into the details (i.e. TL;DR), I’ll hit some of the key points I’m trying to get at in this screed: Am I against the bill that will open the doors for Stone to enter the state? No. Am I trying to or will I push against Stone picking SC for its East Coast operation? No. Would I rather they not? Yes, and I’ll try my best to explain why. Will I push against the bill? No, I’ll do whatever I can to help it pass. If Stone does pick SC, will I be upset? Not in the least. Do I think Stone’s presence in SC would hurt local breweries, dwarf them or be a detriment to the beer scene? No, it’ll be a major boost. Am I grateful my friends behind this bill are essentially doing this pro bono? Incredibly. Is it hard writing something knowing you’re essentially the outcast among everyone you know? Harder than you can imagine. But if you’ve followed this site for long, you know there are some major issues I can’t help but opine on.
Everyone probably knows the story by now: Stone recently announced it was on the lookout for a city east of the Mississippi River to open a satellite brewery, which would address all the beer needs of everyone on this coast out to the Midwest. Almost immediately, cities throughout SC began champing at the bit at the prospect of calling themselves the home of Stone: East Coast. Myrtle Beach touted its tourism draw; Lexington highlighted its growing industry sector and central location in the state; Charleston … well, they’re kind of like Asheville in the sense of you don’t really need an excuse to open a brewery there. The more word spread, the more I saw the attitude shift from desire to certainty, with people repeating the “we’re in the running” phase, even though there is still no indication any site in SC is at the top of the list, and even though no one seemed to think “east of the Mississippi” meant anywhere outside of South Carolina.
Don’t get me wrong: Landing Stone would be great for SC’s job market and economy. There would be some 400 new jobs, tens of millions of dollars in economic impact, a shot in the arm for tourism and it would be a big boost for beer in general in the state. And that’s a great prospect. It really is … but I can’t help but think it’s not what I want to see in South Carolina’s beer scene. Not right now, at least.
Soon, a bill will be debated in the SC Legislature that will ease restrictions on brewpubs in South Carolina. They’d be able to produce a lot more (500,000 BBL/year instead of the 2,000 BBL/year now), sell off-premises and pour at beer festivals, and distribute in cans and bottles, not just growlers. There’s sure to be some debate and changing of the regulations, but all signs point to its passage. And that’s fantastic, because giving these great businesses expanded rights is a huge step forward for them and craft beer in SC. It’ll be a rush to get the bill passed before session ends in June, but the worst case scenario is that the bill is re-introduced next year and passes then, delaying the expanded rights just temporarily. But while on the surface it’s aimed at opening doors for brewpubs, the underlying idea of the bill is to lay the groundwork for breweries such as Stone to locate in South Carolina. (Stone wants to open a brewpub-type establishment wherever it locates, and current state laws wouldn’t permit that. The bill in question would change those rules.)
I have no issue with the bill, and I will push for and support its passage (and I encourage everyone to as well) because I want the state’s brewpubs to be given more freedom and I want to have that kind of a buoy for the state’s been scene as a whole. But I want it – for now, at least – to end with just more rights for current businesses. I don’t like the idea of it acting as a backdoor to land a national brewery, and I’m really irked by the thought that such legislation is receiving such a fervent push now only because the prospect of attracting Stone is on the horizon. Brewpubs have been fighting for relaxed rules for a long time, so why hasn’t something such as this come up until just now? Stone has said it wants to pick a site and begin construction this year, so it’s pretty clear why the bill is being fast-tracked. Not that the legislation is in any way shady or hides its motives, but something about it being gilded with a benefit for local business just rubs me the wrong way.
On the other hand, I’m a realist. I not oblivious to the fact that money speaks loudly and the prospect of landing such a big business is something politicians will always jump through hoops for. These kinds of things – i.e. bills that help one group while working to attract another – are just a fact of life now, whether people like it or not. Beer geeks throughout the state will call and email their support for the bill – as they should – hoping it’ll lead to them being home to the brewery. South Carolina’s legislators showed they can come together and work for the betterment of SC beer with the Pint Bill. I wish they would continue to have that much support for local breweries without a gargoyle imprinted on the back of their minds. But again, I live in the real world and understand that’s how things get done, even if I may wish that wasn’t the case.
That’s what leads me to the opinion of preferring to not have Stone locate here. Let’s be clear: Stone picking South Carolina is still a long shot, whether this bill passes in time or not. I’ve maintained the opinion that they’d likely prefer a state where everything’s already good to go over a state that still has to clear the way in whatever sense it needs to. If all of the pieces fall perfectly into place, and if the bill passes in time, and if Stone chooses South Carolina – those are all big ifs – it would of course be a boom for the state’s beer scene. But in my opinion, it would lead – again, at least temporarily – to artificial growth, not organic. Our state’s beer scene is thriving all by itself and will continue to do so. For me at least, I would much rather see it grow and flourish by its own devices than have a big-name brewery come in and pump up the beer scene at this point. Basically, I’m too much of a homer and I love local breweries and I want them to receive all the credit for their own success. I just fear that may be diminished with a juggernaut such as Stone. Then again, as my friend Will from Brewery 85 said, “Organic pushes for any topic are few and far in between. Don’t you watch House of Cards?”
Let me say again: I am not against this bill. I will do nothing but push for and encourage its passage. If it does pass in time, and Stone does pick South Carolina, that would be incredible for the state, for the beer scene, for everything. I know many of my friends in the industry will be leading the charge to not only get the bill passed, but attract Stone to the state. I strongly encourage them to do so. But at this point in our state’s beer scene growth, I personally would prefer to see it happen through a brewery’s own devices. Not that I think they’re incapable of doing it with Stone, or that they wouldn’t get any or all of the well-deserved credit should a brewery such as Stone set up shop here.
Make no mistake: This is not me telling Stone to go away, or that I don’t want them here. They’re one of my favorite breweries, and their presence would be quite a sight. It’s hard thinking this way, knowing I’m essentially pushing against the creation of new jobs and going against about 99% of not only people in local beer scene, but also my friends. But what is a good debate without a dissenting opinion, right? I’ve been honest about my thoughts on the Stone expansion before: It would be a great thing for our economy, but I think there are too many hurdles to jump over and too little time to land the operation. For too long, I’ve felt as if people have looked at this whole Stone: East Coast thing through rose-colored glasses. That’s nothing against Stone or its fans, and knowing I’m in essence arguing against more jobs and economic growth is a bitter pill. In the future, should another large-scale brewery eye the Palmetto State for expansion, it’d be great. But right now, I can’t shake the feeling that it’s not what I want to see.
And to add a bit of levity to this diatribe, I encourage everyone who disagrees with my thoughts to take The Dude’s advice.