The owner of Columbia’s Hunter-Gatherer Brewery and Alehouse is breathing a sigh of relief after an S.C. Senate panel’s actions Wednesday.
A trio of state senators approved a pair of bills Wednesday that liberalize Palmetto State brewery laws. One would pave the way for Kevin Varner to open a long-awaited brewery at the historic Curtiss-Wright Hanger at Owens Field while also continuing to sell liquor by the drink at Hunter-Gatherer on Main Street.
“This is wonderful news,” Varner told the panel. “It allows for my business to grow, whereas a brewpub was sort of a thing that really had to stay within its premises. It helps with a lot of questions and problems I’ve had.”
The Senate panel unanimously OK’d a bill that allows brewpubs, including Hunter-Gatherer, to become easily classified as breweries. Breweries can sell beer to wholesalers, while state law limits brewpubs to selling only to customers within their restaurant.
The proposal by state Sen. Sean Bennett, R-Dorchester, also opens the door for breweries to sell liquor by the drink, as well as beer, to customers at their sites.
For years, Varner has planned to start a full-fledged brewery at the Curtiss-Wright Hangar near Rosewood Drive. But, under current law, Varner said, he cannot expand to that location without giving up Hunter-Gatherer’s ability to sell liquor by the drink.
That would change if Bennett’s bill becomes law.
“For most people, these would be sensible changes,” Varner said. “People were always surprised. They would ask me, ‘Why haven’t you opened another brewery? Why don’t you distribute?’ And I would try to explain the laws.”
The proposal also has the support of the S.C Brewers Guild and S.C. Beer Wholesalers Association.
“We’re hearing from a lot of brewpubs that they want the ability to distribute some of their beer instead of just selling it on-site,” said Brook Bristow, executive director of the Brewers Guild. “That’s always been a big complaint amongst brewpubs, that they can’t sell it outside their four walls.”
The Senate panel also approved allowing S.C. breweries, wineries and distilleries to donate their alcohol to nonprofits holding fundraisers.
Brewers and wholesalers say the proposal cleans up S.C. laws, dating to the mid-1990s, that block alcohol producers from providing beverages directly to organizations – such as charitable nonprofits – that do not have wholesalers’ licenses. Nonprofits still would need special permits to sell the drinks.
“For nonprofits, having special events with alcohol is a big deal. It’s how they raise money,” Bristow said.