While I typically write about the Chicago beer scene since that is what I know and am actively involved in, I love hearing how other parts of the country are acclimating to the craft beer revolution. I recently became aware of Lucky Town Brewing Company who is aiming to open up later this year. Now you may be saying, “OK, great. Another craft brewery, that’s awesome. But what makes them different?” Well, due to antiquated alcohol laws in Mississippi, this group of avid homebrewers-turned-pro will be the state’s second craft brewery. That’s right, there is only one other craft brewery in the whole state of Mississippi. That is just not acceptable. I was recently contacted by Lucas Simmons, the Brewmaster at Lucky Town, outlining his dream of opening a brewery in Mississippi.
This cause is near and dear to my heart. While I now consider myself a Chicagoan through and through, I moved around a lot when I was younger (no, my dad was not in the military) and this included a five-year stint in Tuscaloosa, Alabama during my late middle school/high school/early college years. While I didn’t imbibe during that time (I swear I didn’t, I was a good girl), I was aware of the alcohol laws. My parents would make a mad dash to the liquor store on Saturday evenings to make sure they had a stash for Sunday. The state was completely dry on Sundays; you couldn’t even go to a restaurant and order a glass of wine with dinner. That means no bloody marys with brunch, no watching a football game and drinking beer at a bar. Crazy. This law was overturned in 2010 so you can now have a bloody with your omelet and grits.
Another law had to do specifically with beer. According to Alabama law, beer with an alcohol content of more than 6% was unlawful in the state. That cuts out a lot of craft beer, and drastically limits the creativity of the brewer. Luckily, this law was overturned in 2009 and beer can now have up to 13.9% alcohol. Since the laws changed, the number of craft breweries has grown to a total of six in the state, creating revenue and local jobs. I recently traveled back to Alabama for a friends wedding last June, and the local beer culture is alive and well.
In Mississippi, however, these beer laws are still alive and well. According to the Mississippi Department of Revenue website, beer can have no more than 5% alcohol. That definitely limits the beer styles a craft brewery can produce, and speaks to why there are not more craft breweries in this state. I was curious how Lucky Town Brewing Company planned to be a successful brewery in a state where the government regulates the product so severely. I sent a list of questions to Simmons with the hope that he might quell my curiosity:
Q: I know it has been difficult to establish a brewery in Mississippi. What are the laws there? Has the government helped you at all with regards to starting your business?
A: Mississippi Law currently (we hope to have this changed in this year’s legislative session) limits alcohol by weight (ABW) to 5% for beer, which is ridiculous and probably our biggest obstacle. We make great beer that fits under that cap, but we do want to become nationally competitive and don’t want our styles limited by an archaic prohibition era law that honestly makes no sense. Currently there is legislation to raise this to 8% ABW, which is not where most of us craft beer geeks would like it but it is a lot better than what we have now. Also by law, breweries cannot sell beer or even give out samples at the brewery, this is another law that we hope will be changed by the time we open the doors. I mean who wants to tour a brewery and not sample the beer? Finally, homebrewing is still illegal here, even though you can make homemade wine, again something that does not make a whole lot of sense that we hope to rectify.
Q: Wow, that’s insane! So, how did you homebrew and win a homebrewing competition in Mississippi if it is illegal?
A: From a legal standpoint all of my brewing up until this point has been done outside the law (oops), I was told a long time ago that it was a grey area and that there was no law prohibiting it, or legalizing it. This is not quite the case as there is a law that prohibits the manufacturing of any malt beverage without state permits. The homebrew competition which has been put on two years in a row is called the Outlaw Homebrew Competition for this reason. It is held at the Keg & Barrel where the owner firmly believes that the beer laws are archaic and makes a point to bend them until they break.
Q: Nice. I can definitely get behind that. So, how did you get into beer? What is your brewing background?
A: I have been drinking beer for longer that I am legally allowed to admit, but it was not until college that I started discovering craft beer. One store in my college town kept a shelf of imported and craft beer. So anytime I had a little extra money, I would buy a 6 pack of something weird and the love started there. I was brought into the world of brewing shortly after graduating college 8 years ago. I was working at the Nissan Plant here in Canton, MS and a fellow engineer, who is half German and spent a lot of time there, agreed that the beer selection was horrible and told me we should just make what we want. Within a month of brewing my first batch, I had converted a freezer into a kegerator and kept going from there. I have brewed just about every style of beer and loved the experimentation of it. Two years back, Brandon Blacklidge, who is our R&D manager, informed me of Mississippi’s first homebrewing competition. We decided to enter it, and came up with the idea of the Flare Incident, our maple and brown sugar oatmeal stout. It took first place in stout and high gravity, a huge surprise for us, who were just there to enjoy everyone’s beer. Chip Jones approached me shortly after about starting a brewery and that’s where we started. Angela Blackburn, who is a transport from Wisconsin and an extremely hard worker with some amazing and creative ideas, joined us later in the year. She, being from Wisconsin, is a huge craft beer lover herself.
Q: Why Mississippi?
A: Mississippi for several reasons. It is home to three out of four of us, we all grew up here and love it. The Jackson metro area and central Mississippi as a whole is seeing a renaissance age of new growth, which can be contributed to a lot of our current generation’s efforts. They are revitalizing downtown, lots of amazing restaurants and nightlife, and the craft beer culture is unprecedented even in a market that is so limited by law. We view it as a high risk/high reward scenario. We will conquer great odds to become Mississippi’s 2nd brewery, and with the support we are seeing we will be in a mostly untapped market. We also believe in changing the culture here, along with the laws and will not stop until we accomplish this.
Q: When do you hope to open?
A: With our current fundraising efforts we hope to be contract brewing and have beer flowing to the public by the end of the summer, maybe sooner with a little luck. From there, as we gain market exposure we will attract the investments needed to fund a complete production brewery. We can see being brick and mortar in as soon as a year and half.
Q: The beers listed on your website sound fantastic! Any chance for distribution outside of Mississippi? Please don’t make me come down there…
A: We want as much growth as we can handle without sacrificing quality. It is our dream to cover the southeast and eventually have our reach through most of the US, but we would still love for you to come visit us when we are open!
Q: What is your favorite beer? (I hate when people ask me that question, I don’t know why I just asked it…)
A: Ha! My favorite beer is our Flare Incident, of course! Outside of our offerings, that is entirely too hard to answer, I love so many beers, that would even be hard to answer by style.
Q: The brewery is in Gluckstadt. Where is that located?
A: Gluckstadt is a small community a few miles north of Mississippi’s Capitol Jackson.
Q: What else do you want the public to know about your in-the-works brewery?
A: Tough question. We are a small group of avid beer brewers, and beer lovers. We want to fill a void in Mississippi, which is the lack of breweries. We hope to continue the growing craft beer culture here and represent our state well. We pledge to make delicious consistent year round beers around our constantly changing and exciting small batch beer. The craft beer community has shown us amazing support, and most have never tasted what we have to offer. We will honor that support by bringing beer to the market that will do them justice.
This is definitely a cause I can get behind. I have overheard people around Chicago talking about how the craft beer market is becoming too saturated. Well, look at how good we have it! If you have a few dollars to share (you can make a donation as little as one dollar…), please check out Lucky Town Brewing Company’s Kickstarter page, and check out their line-up of beers on their website! Also, these laws down in Mississippi are ridiculous, and they must be changed. Check out the grassroots organization Raise Your Pints that is leading the efforts to overturn this pre-prohibition nonsense. Once Lucky Town is open, I may have to venture down to Mississippi!