The minibottle became part of the South Carolina social scene on March 28, 1973. This change in drinking habits was preceded by statewide rejection of the sale of liquor by the drink in 1966, dissatisfaction with brown bagging (patrons transporting bottles wrapped in paper bags into clubs and restaurants), and recognition of both the potential benefits of increased tourism and the widespread illegal consumption in metropolitan areas.
During the 1972 session, the General Assembly wrestled with a proposal permitting some restaurants, hotels, motels, and private clubs to dispense liquor in bottles of between 1.6 and 2 ounces. Those in favor, including Governor John West, stressed that this would assure quality (the minibottle would be opened in the presence of the purchaser), reduce public drunkenness (since brown baggers would not feel obligated to finish their bottles before departing), and provide considerable tax revenue. Those opposed warned of increased crime and rampant alcoholism.
In November 1972 the electorate backed a constitutional amendment that ended brown bagging by a vote of 143,083 to 103,219. Had the minibottle era been a success? Tourism certainly increased, and chamber-of-commerce folk quickly praised the minibottle as “a more civilized approach” to the traditional cocktail hour than brown bagging. However, drinks became much more expensive, and only Class A restaurants (at least forty-seat capacity) and true nonprofit clubs were supposed to stock minibottles—rules that were not always strictly observed.
By the close of the first decade, some five thousand hotels, motels, clubs, and restaurants were dispensing minis. Revenue was impressive, but not as great as had been predicted. There was reportedly less public drunkenness, and alcohol consumption did not seem to be increasing at an unreasonable rate. But minibottles earned the opposition of some groups, including the hospital industry, chambers of commerce, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, and others. In 2004 nearly sixty percent of South Carolina voters approved a referendum to remove the minibottle requirement from the state constitution.
George, Mark. “The Impact of the Minibottle.” Columbia State, September 4, 1977, p. B1.
Slade, David. “Early Returns against Minibottles.” Charleston Post and Courier, November 3, 2004, pp. A15, A21.