Beer Me, Mississippi | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Beer Me, Mississippi

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Kathleen Morrison Mitchell

I love beer. I like the good stuff--Guinness, Sierra Nevada, Abita and even certain intense IPAs--but I have half a case of Coors Light in my fridge as I write this, and I'm not ashamed of that. Different beers for different occasions.

I've tried a lot of beers over the past half-dozen years. When my family or my husband and I go on vacation, local breweries are a must, where we can sample more distinctive, creative, flavorful brews. You know, the ones illegal in Mississippi.

At least, until now. To celebrate the efforts of those who managed to convince the Mississippi Legislature to up the legal alcohol content in beer, the Jackson Free Press invited the Raise Your Pints crew to a craft beer taste-off with some of our staff. It was a great reminder of how people can become fast friends over a pint or two.

After the brew was consumed and the empty bottles cleaned up, I started thinking about Mississippi's issues with booze.

When I was a senior at Corinth High School, our county, Alcorn, put liquor up to a vote once again. It was (and--spoiler alert--remains currently) a dry county for liquor; beer is available, just not on Sundays. A petition went around prior to the official vote to gauge interest; if it got enough signatures, the vote would go on.

The required number of signatures was reached, the vote occurred, and it failed.

This is no surprise for the state of Mississippi. What did shock me, however, was the local megachurch whose officials somehow got their hands on the petition. One Sunday in church, they read out every member of their congregation who had signed the list to publicly shame them.

If only those church officials and parents knew what their teenage sons and daughters were up to on the weekends.

It was the hypocrisy of that situation that made me realize that Mississippi has the unhealthiest relationship with alcohol of any state I've encountered--and I lived in Utah for 14 years of my life. You can find all the dirty details in our cover story, but the gist of it seems to be that Mississippi lawmakers and heads of society want alcohol limited and banned--until, of course, they or their children are caught with it.

I had my first taste of alcohol when I was in the second grade, while preparing for First Communion. My parents gave me a tiny sip of wine at dinner one night, to prepare me for what the wine at Mass would taste like. I found it bitter and disgusting, and during my First Communion ceremony, I only pretended to drink from the cup (sorry, Monsignor Bob).

Fast-forward eight or nine years, and I had my first legitimate experience with booze (sorry, Mom and Dad). At the cast party for a community theater play I was in, I got tipsy after an older cast member shared her drinks with me (I'm sure they were Smirnoff Ice or something equally terrible--sorry, taste buds).

Like many high schoolers, I experimented with alcohol off and on from there on out. Unlike the parents of many high schoolers I knew, my parents faced the fact that I drank head-on. One morning, after I came home from a dance the night before with vodka on my breath, my mother sat me down at the kitchen table and asked me point-blank if I had started drinking.

She told me two things. One, that she trusted me. And two, if I ever drank and drove, or got in a car with someone drunk, she would kick my ass and then ground me for, essentially, the rest of my life.

My parents kept their heads out of the sand. They treated me like an adult. Now, I was still young and stupid, and I'm sure I toed that line a little more closely than I should have from time to time, but I valued their trust and respect, and I drank more responsibly because of it. With Corinth in a dry county, many parents felt their children were safe from the demon brew of alcohol simply because it was illegal and inaccessible. (Because no teenager has ever had a fake ID or carried beer across county lines, right?)

I cannot begin to tell you how false that was.

It was those parents--the ones who stood up in church and condemned their fellow parishioners for signing a petition, the ones who believed their children would never get drunk or party on the weekends--it was those parents whose kids were often the most irresponsible.

Thinking that the law is going to teach your children for you is just lazy parenting.

Moreover, it's an attitude that is keeping Mississippi from its potential, economically and beyond. The new higher-alcohol beer law, and another, less-talked-about bill that allows municipalities to vote on allowing alcohol in restaurants independent of the dry counties they are located in, are a step in the right direction. It's a step toward boosting tourism in our state. It's a step toward people spending their money in Mississippi, rather than driving across the borders to Louisiana or Tennessee.

Whew, where was I? Oh yes, beer. All June we have been celebrating Beer Month here at the JFP, leading up to this, the first ever summer food and beer issue. It's been a hard week, between the craft beer taste-off and a summer food cookout for the cover shoot, but someone had to do it.

So my message to each of you reading this: If you are a teenager or a 20-something, don't be an idiot; plan for a designated driver. If you are a parent, don't be oblivious; don't pretend that teens aren't going to drink if they want to. Don't hide behind archaic laws--talk to your kids. If you are a craft-beer virgin, try one! And if you are anyone looking to enjoy a cold brew with a new friend, meet me downtown or in Fondren this July. And cheers!

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