If you’ve ventured into a South Carolina brewery, you’ve probably noticed the signs informing you of the limit of beer that you can purchase to consume off-site. Or perhaps you’ve noticed that the brewery can’t serve you food. Or maybe you’re wondering why you can’t buy a single pint at a brewery. For the purpose of this post, let’s focus on that last one.
So, why can’t you buy pints at a brewery? Let’s start from the beginning. There exists something known as the three-tier system for how beer gets from the brewery to your glass. The three tiers are the brewery, the distributor, and the retailer. And then there’s you. This system was enacted after Prohibition and has been with us ever since. The principle of the system is that brewers can only sell their beer to wholesale distributors who then sell them to retailers, and then only the retailers may sell beer to consumers.
States across the country have carved out exceptions to this system – with some states allowing the service of pints, some allowing nano-breweries to self-distribute if they produce less than a certain amount of beer by the barrel, and some allowing direct shipping of beer. Until a few years ago, South Carolina had no exception to the system. Enter South Carolina craft beer super hero Jaime Tenny of Coast Brewing and the other representatives of the South Carolina Brewers Association. Through many meetings with the South Carolina Beer Wholesalers Association, the two sides were able to come to an agreement to allow on-premises beer tastings via legislation that passed in 2010. This created an exception to the system in South Carolina.
This legislation is what now allows you to enjoy samples of beer at the breweries in South Carolina. Now codified as South Carolina Code section 61-4-1515, the law allows for 2 things: (1) it gives you the opportunity to sample beers made by the brewery that you are at so long as it is in conjunction with a tour, the samples are two to four ounces depending on ABV, and that you only have four of them; and (2) you can buy beer to take home with you so long as it is for you, is in conjunction with a tour, and that you don’t take more than 288 ounces home (quick estimate: that’s about 4 growlers and a bomber or 3 growlers and 4 bombers). This is the law: Samples. Tours. Limitation.
The current law is better than what South Carolina had only a few short years ago; which was nothing. The next step the brewers will take will be a bill to allow for the service of pints. But how many? And how will the laws have to change to accommodate that? And will it pass? You’ll have to stay tuned to find out.