Craft beer in Mississippi? Bills to allow it now in Legislature

Published 2:36 pm Wednesday, March 7, 2012

A bill is moving slowly through the state legislature that would put Mississippi on par with every other state in the nation in terms of beer production and consumption.

Under current state law, alcoholic content of beer sold and manufactured within Mississippi can not exceed 5 percent. That law prevents craft beers — generally those manufactured by small breweries or in limited amounts by larger breweries — from being sold in Mississippi stores. In turn, residents who wish to purchase craft beers are forced to spend their money out of state, said Butch Bailey, who is the president of the self-proclaimed grassroots organization Raise Your Pints.

House Bill 1422 is one of two bills that hopes to raise the permissible alcoholic content of beer sold and manufactured in Mississippi was passed on March 1, but still has one hurdle to leap before heading to the Senate. The bill was held on a motion to reconsider, a common tactic by those opposed to a piece of legislation who hope they can gain more votes against it. Bailey said if that hurdle is overcome, then the bill can move to the Senate and, if it passes that chamber, will go to the desk of the governor. If the bill makes it to Gov. Phil Bryant’s desk, he will have three options. Bryant can sign it into law, veto it or allow the deadline to pass without his signature, which also would allow the bill to become law.

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As a backup procedure, a bill, SB 2878, was introduced in the Senate. That bill passed the committee to which it was referred and is expected to be voted on by next week, Bailey said.

If successful, either bill will raise the alcoholic content of beer by weight from 5 percent to 8 percent, giving consumers access to craft beer that every other state in the nation has access to, Bailey said.

“Right now it’s Mississippi and Saudi Arabia that ban these products, and we don’t think that’s right,” Bailey said.

The current limitations also hinder work at the only brewery in Mississippi, Lazy Magnolia, located in Kiln. Owner Mark Henderson said he was unable to enter into contracts with two out-of-state companies to manufacture their beer recipes due to current law. Henderson said the companies contacted him about manufacturing their beer recipes at his brewery for local distribution in Mississippi, but the limit on the amount of alcoholic content he could produce put an end to that potential business venture. Variety is an important aspect in the beer business, since people like to try new brews, Henderson said. Current Mississippi limits force people to purchase craft beers from stores in other states, such as in Slidell, La., Henderson said.

“Our consumer is what we call promiscuous,” Henderson said. “Our goal is to get in our consumer’s rotation.”

Shoppers who cross the state line to purchase their beer also end up making other purchases while they are out of state, Henderson said. Beers such as a world class Indian Pale Ale are not available in Mississippi because their alcoholic content is too high. Henderson said IPA beer is a bold beer that uses a lot of hops, but requires sugar in the brewing process to counter the bitterness, raising the alcoholic content.

“There’s no world class IPAs in Mississippi,” Henderson said.

While Henderson and his business is not directly involved in the Raise Your Pint movement to increase the alcoholic content in Mississippi beer, he does support the change. Lazy Magnolia brand beers sell in six states, but the limits imposed by the current law puts his product at a disadvantage when compared with beers containing a higher alcoholic content, he said. Henderson said he has plans to expand his business, but is  waiting for an outcome on the bill before deciding how much the business will expand.

Another aim of Raise Your Pints will be to allow home brewing of beer, which is currently illegal in only two American states, Mississippi being one. Bailey said wine can be manufactured at a Mississippi home, up to 100 gallons per person per year, but not beer.

Two bills in the House, HB 25 and HB 84, and a bill in the Senate, SB 2307, would permit home brewing in Mississippi if they pass, Bailey said. However, none of those bills have passed committee so far. Bailey said if the bills do not pass, his organization will not give up.

More information about Raise Your Pints can be found at the organization’s website or on Facebook and Twitter.