Last week, Mark Sanford took a break from hiking the Appalachian Trail to sign into law a bill that lifted South Carolina’s existing ban on on-site beer tastings and sales at breweries. You see, like my current home state of Alabama, South Carolina allowed tastings and sales at wineries, but not breweries. Why the discrepancy? I’m guessing it’s because wine is seen as the drink of choice for the white elite and beer is the drink “of the people” (aka: poor folks).
But with the rise of the craft brewing movement, beer’s reputation has changed. It’s no longer seen as just the drink of choice for rednecks, frat guys, and tailgaters. High-end, high-gravity beers are considered on par with good wine and liquor now. Fancy, pricey beer bars are sprouting up across the country and the former drink of the huddled masses (please note the sarcasm) has now been embraced by those at the top of the economic food chain.
The fact is that brewing is now a major growth industry which brings tax and tourism dollars to any state willing to pass brewery-friendly laws. While our country’s economy is still sputtering, the craft brewing industry has actually grown by 15% according to the article linked above! Only state legislators who are willfully blind or just plain stupid would ignore numbers like that. Why would you restrict an industry that brings jobs and money to your state with little to no negative impact?*
*I mean, breweries are already legal in every state. What difference does it make if they can have tastings and sell their product on-site? How could that possibly be a bad thing?
They may have been a little late to the party, but I give full credit to South Carolina for realizing the error of their ways and signing this new bill into law. Mark Sanford saw the hypocrisy in allowing wineries and distilleries to conduct tastings while breweries were treated as second-class booze-making citizens.
What’s fascinating to me is that Sanford spouted party-line Republican rhetoric in making this decision. In Alabama, conservatives tend to be the ones who block beer-related legislation because they see any law easing restrictions on alcohol as going against their “Christian virtues”. Keep in mind that this is the same religion that substitutes wine for the blood of their savior.*
*Editor’s Note: I am not mocking the traditions of Christianity. But I am definitely mocking politicians who legislate based on religious beliefs that should have no bearing on how industries are regulated by their respective States.
Sanford decided to ignore the religious aspects of his party’s platform and simply focus on the “less restrictions for businesses” aspect. I think this is a HUGE moment in the craft beer movement. Rather than holding back the brewing industry in the name of conservative “family values”, South Carolina is actually championing craft brewing because of conservative “economic values”. As a liberal, I couldn’t be happier. When the primary “enemy” to your “cause” decides that it’s their “cause” too…well then everybody wins!
Sanford stated that “Government has a duty to allow businesses as much freedom as possible…and indeed we’d like to see more of this kind of deregulation in the future.” Yes! Exactly! Thank you Mark Sanford, you philandering fruit-basket. If he “gets it”…perhaps the equally inane lawmakers in Alabama will see the writing on the wall.
As the article notes, Asheville, NC…just an hour’s hop from South Carolina, has become one of THE best beer town’s in the US. The brewing industry brings millions in tourism and tax dollars to Asheville. How could South Carolina sit back and watch its neighbor rake in the benefits of a deregulated beer industry without doing the same? They couldn’t…so they did the right thing and changed the laws.
Alabama is still clinging to its outdated regulations, of course. But maybe with South Carolina coming around, the Yellowhammer State will finally be dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st (well, actually 20th) century.
What do you say, Alabama? Please?