Craft brewery business primed for growth following passage of "Stone Brewery Bill"

If you were looking for a good excuse to celebrate with a cold beer, you've got one now.

South Carolina lawmakers have passed a bill to grow the state's craft brewery business.

The bill passed overwhelmingly in both houses and now heads to the governor.

The bill is the key piece of the state's effort to attract Stone Brewing Company, a California brewer looking to expand to the East Coast.

But even if Stone doesn't land in South Carolina, Myrtle Beach area brewers say the bill brings new opportunities for beer fans to get a taste of the Grand Strand.

"We were pretty excited," said Mike Silvernale, brewmaster at Liberty Steakhouse and Brewery at Broadway at the Beach.

Silvernale isn't sure how the new law will change things at Liberty, but he says it will put South Carolina on the craft beer map.

"So now with the new legislation I think a lot of breweries are going to want to move here, bigger breweries such as Stone, and you'll see a lot of breweries opening up."

The law will allow brewpubs to make and sell 500,000 barrels of beer per year. The old limit was 2,000 barrels.

It also allows large scale brewers to serve food on site.

State Sen. Luke Rankin of Conway, who helped push the bill through, says the law will attract new jobs that had been lost to other states.

"We can prove (that) with the number of brewpubs that we have in South Carolina presently at 18 and look across the borders to North Carolina, where they have 80. (The) economic impact of this is far-reaching," Rankin said.

Then there's the potential for beer tourism from craft beer fans who seek out brewery tours.

Silvernale says Myrtle Beach is primed to take advantage of it.

"I think this could be the number one town to do it in, just because of the tourist features, and breweries are great things to stop by," said Silvernale.

Locals in the beer community say Myrtle Beach may be a long shot to get Stone Brewing.

The company's site requirements include access to a major freeway. Myrtle Beach doesn't have an interstate highway connection.

But Rankin says he can't believe Stone would overlook the area's 14 million annual tourists, just because it doesn't an interstate.