June 27, 2012
Gone are the days when choice in beer meant something "exotic" such as an Amstel Light. The craft-brewing industry has grown tremendously in the United States over the past two decades, with local brewers all over the country undertaking the simple, ancient ritual of adding yeast to a mixture of malt, water and hops—and sometimes spices and fruit—to brew, sell and serve high-quality beer.
As of July 1, 2012, thanks to a change in the state law that allows for higher alcohol content in beer sold here, Mississippi beer consumers will have more choices, and regional brewers—including Mississippi-based Lazy Magnolia—are stepping up with more options. Our favorite grocery stores will be adding new varieties to their shelves, and our favorite watering holes will have some creative new stuff on tap.
As triumphant as this day is, the law still needs more changes come 2013. According to the Brewers Association (brewersassociation.org), in both 2010 and 2011, dollar growth in the craft-brewing industry was 15 percent; in 2011, the retail value of the industry was estimated at $8.7 billion. (By comparison, that's about three times greater than the smartphone "app" economy.) And little about the July 1 law enables Mississippi to get a piece of that action.
For the next legislative session, a few things need to be added. One, we need to legalize home brewing (legal federally and in 47 other states) in Mississippi, and encourage brewing competitions statewide. These "culinary tourism" opportunities are moneymakers that more than fit with Mississippi's burgeoning foodie image, and home brewing is how many local and regional micro-breweries get their starts, leading to jobs and tax revenue.
Two, we need authorities to support brewpubs and allow for on-site sale of beer at breweries. Again, the culinary tourism or brewery tours and samplings are strong traditions in other parts of the country and the world, and Mississippi could establish similar traditions. And local brews encourage allegiances and pride that add to quality of life for beer-drinking residents.
One other note: In appreciation of the current law changes, we all need to say "thank you" by being responsible drinkers. As these heavier beers roll out, we encourage you to seriously consider the differences in alcohol content compared to what you're used to drinking. Go slow, enjoy the taste and aroma of great beer—but designate a sober driver, and don't get behind the wheel if you've been enjoying good brew.
Congrats, Mississippi, on a step down the right road. Here's to this step—and the next one. Cheers!