Law and (drink) order

A post-mortem on the bill that could've crushed South Carolina's bars, a Not Mad™ legacy brand, and more

Editor’s note: As I tweeted earlier this week, the craft beer business is going through a serious, ongoing reckoning over a recent outpouring of sexism and harassment allegations from women in the industry. I’ve been working on a couple other projects so I don’t have much to contribute on this yet, but thanks to those Friends of Fingers that sent in tips about it all the same.

If you’re looking for reporting, I recommend Beth Demmon’s recap of the situation at VinePair, Kate Bernot’s look at the legal issues at play for Good Beer Hunting, and Jess Infante’s review of the firing fallout for Brewbound.

There’s been some good news lately about bar-related legislation in the American South. Consider:

Hell yeah, congratulations to all involved. To-go cocktails kick ass! More states should allow them! Speaking of which: Fingers HQ is located in Charleston, South Carolina, a picturesque Southern city that has served as Covid’s Airbnb for the past 12 months or so. Unlike the states above, South Carolina never implemented even temporary to-go cocktail permissions. In fact, one powerful legislator spent this spring advancing a bill that could have had devastating consequences for the Palmetto State’s standalone bars.

I say “could have” because it (thankfully) didn’t work, and for now, South Carolina’s standalone bars are safe from the onerous legislation that could have destroyed them. So that’s a relief, in a sense. But as vital community spaces that just endured a devastating business downturn due to COVID-19, South Carolinian bars never should’ve been jeopardized in the first place. Here’s why they were.

As I wrote in this essay for Welcome To Hell World a few months back, shit has not been great down here lately, legislatively speaking. You may have caught headlines about the standard-issue conservative sicko shit our state’s GOP majority spent time on this spring—they passed an abortion ban, bullied trans kids, and brought back execution by firing squad. But one Democratic state senator also made it his mission this legislative session try to pass a bill that would require bars to earn 51% of their revenue from food. Current South Carolina law dictates that joints must make their money “primarily and substantially” on food which is a) retrograde; b) vague; and c) widely unenforced. Standalone bars have long forgone meaningful food service in this state thanks to this legal gray area, which is fine because they’re bars. Who cares, right?

Wrong. One person who cares very much is state senator Dick Harpootlian, who lives in Columbia near a bunch of University of South Carolina college bars and has complained about them for years. Harpootlian argues that these joints profit off underage drinking (duh, they’re college bars) and that their very existence is a threat to public safety. This latter point isn’t totally without merit: there have been a few high-profile incidents involving drunk kids, two of them fatal, in the city’s bar district, Five Points, over the past few years. (For more detail, I recommend “The Fight For Five Points” by then Columbia Free Times reporter Chris Trainor.)

There’s probably a good-faith case to be made that UofSC’s college bar district could use some cleaning up, in the way that most college bar districts probably could. But instituting a statewide food requirement would be throwing the baby out with the bathwater. “A 51% food rule would be damning to, I would say, 90% of operating bars—maybe 100%,” Megan Deschaine, a Charleston mixologist and president of the city’s chapter of the U.S. Bartenders’ Guild, told me in March, when the bill was still winding its way through the statehouse.

Some existing bars could probably try to pivot to full-blown food service to meet Harpootlian’s proposed requirements, but plenty wouldn’t be able to. Joked Deschaine, who was working at a high-end Charleston cocktail bar at the time: “If this bill were to be passed, what would that mean for us? Does that mean that we charge $1 for vodka and $8 for cranberry?”

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Jokes aside, Harpootlian’s bill would effectively run those UofSC bars out of business (something I’m sure he and his neighbors would be very happy about!), and it’d take a bunch of the state’s standalone bars down with them (something I personally would not be at all happy about.)

Whatever you think of his motives, though, just know that Harpootlian wrote this bill For the Children™. “There’s gonna be winners and losers,” he admitted to an April 14th senate subcommittee, during a presentation that included photos and videos taken inside Columbia bars that the lawmaker pulled from UofSC bars’ social media accounts. (Very normal and not at all red-assed behavior from a 72 year-old state lawmaker, in my opinion.) But: “I think the winners are the kids and the neighborhoods, and our society in general.” Totally, man.

Like I said, the 2021 legislative session just closed here, and the bill, S.536, didn’t make it out of committee. Bummer, Dick! Worse luck next time! A bar forced to make most of its money through food sales is just a restaurant that hates itself. Bars are valid on their own merit, and South Carolinians deserve places to drink unencumbered by the obligation to order meals they don’t want to eat. I’m grateful we still can.

It sucks that “a beloved and commonplace piece of civic life avoiding extermination by legislation” is what counts for a win here, and considering all the other bad shit South Carolina’s lawmakers have done this year, it’s small solace. But as my pal Paul Bowers at Brutal South put it, sometimes you just gotta “breath[e] a sigh of relief that the South Carolina legislature can't do any more damage this year,” and get organized for the next round. At least we’re not headed back to the Palmetto State’s “two three ways” days in the meantime.


Legacy beer brand Not Mad about hard seltzer

Miller Genuine Draft, a beer brand I have not thought about in ever, put out an ad recently about its plan to launch a hard seltzer… into space! Do you get it? Puns, bay-bee! The spot is fine for what it is, but what it is is the beer industry version of “old man yells at cloud. Oh, MGD is a real “beer’s beer” and won’t sully itself with the effervescent embarrassment of a hard seltzer line extension? Sure, whatever, do you man.

Reminds your humble editor of Budweiser’s “not backing down” craft beer counterpunch from the 2016 Super Bowl. It landed some glancing “lol fuck hipsters” jabs but did little to stop the bleeding for the once-proud King of Beers amongst American drinkers. Meanwhile, Anheuser-Busch InBev bought a dozen craft breweries to get in on the craft beer boom while it was still (sort of) booming.

Meanwhile, MGD might not be going bubbly any time soon, but that doesn’t mean its parent company, Molson Coors, hasn’t hopped on the flavored malt beverage rocketship:

Lololol. Say it with me: everything is hard seltzer now. You better believe MGD’s corporate handlers know it.


Recent writing elsewhere

I’ll close with a bit of housekeeping—published a few things at VinePair that I don’t think I’ve linked to yet here. For those interested:

  • With Fresh Funding and Star Power, Onda Takes Aim at the Soaring RTD Agave Opportunity: Full-proof tequilas with celebrity backers have been a (very lucrative!) thing since before George Clooney sold Casamigos for $1B in 2017. Will that trend extend to tequila-based ready-to-drink cocktails? I profiled Onda, a new-ish tequila-soda RTD brand that boasts Shay Mitchell, of Pretty Little Liars fame, as a cofounder.

  • The PakTech Plastic Paradox: An examination of the challenges of recycling those ubiquitous hard-plastic six-pack carriers that a lot of craft beer comes in these days. The handles themselves are made from 100% recycled material, and 100% recyclable in theory, but as is so often the case when it comes to recycling, it’s a lot more complicated to be sure they’re actually getting recycled in practice.

  • Can BrewDog Outgrow Its History of Alleged Discrimination?: I looked at the fast-growing Scottish corporation’s track-record of bad behavior towards women and the LBGTQ+ community, in light of the firing of four self-identifying queer workers on International Women’s Day 2021. (Maybe not coincidentally, BrewDog, is one of the breweries that’s been name-checked in multiple allegations shared over the past week.)

A reminder that my inbox and DMs are always open for tips on weird shit happening in the beer/hard seltzer/general beverage industries. To that end:

Reach me at dave@dinfontay.com, or DM me on Twitter.