Mac Rusling, owner of Brewhaha Homebrew Supply Co. at Lefleur’s Gallery Shopping Center in Jackson, said his customers are proof that the beer culture in Mississippi is improving.
Photo by R.L. Nave.
If Kevin Kowalewski knew what he knows now about Mississippi's home-brewing laws, he might not have moved here from the St. Louis area in August 2012.
"I was kind of shocked. I didn't realize there were any states where home brewing is illegal," Kowalewski said.
Mississippi and Alabama are the last two states where the legality of making homemade beer is in question. Hopefully, for hobbyists like Kowalewski, an effort to clarify the law and make home brewing legal in Mississippi will succeed this year.
Raise Your Pints, the beer connoisseurs who helped raised the alcohol-content limit of beer last year, is once again in the forefront of this year's effort.
"Last year's (alcohol-by-weight) bill is really helping craft brew culture," said Craig Hendry, president of Raise Your Pints.
Sen. John Horhn, D-Jackson, sponsored the legislation, which passed the Senate last week. Rep. David Baria, D-Bay St. Louis, has a companion bill in the Mississippi House.
To legally brew beer in the state, a person has to have a $1,000 permit from the Mississippi Department of Revenue. The law, doesn't allow such permits for home brewers, which leaves home brewers facing possible fines if caught.
Horhn's bill would differentiate between commercial sellers and hobbyists by exempting individuals who make less than 100 gallons and households making less than 200 gallons of suds per year from the state beer regulations.
Hobbyists could not sell their home brews, and the law would not apply to "dry" counties, where any sale of alcohol is illegal.
About 750,000 people home brew in the United States, according to the Boulder, Colo.-based American Homebrewers Association. Novices can purchase a starter kit for about $80 and spend as much as $45 on one 5-gallon batch of beer.
Jackson native Mac Rusling never made his own beer until 1973 when he bumped into a buddy carrying a sack full of beer-making ingredients and asked for the recipe. In December, he took his love of home brewing to the next level and opened Brewhaha, a home-brewing supply store in Jackson. Given the ambiguity in the state's home brewing law, Rusling said he was nervous about opening the shop.
"I felt like it was time," Rusling said. Rusling considers himself a traditionalist, preferring to make dark-hued Vienna lagers, while other hobbyists such as Kowalewski like to experiment with ingredients not ordinarily associated with beer, such as bananas, pecans and orange peels.
Kowalewski, who says he makes a decent American-style lager that's sweet and slightly hoppier than macro-brewed lagers, also wants to experiment with ingredients that are unique to Mississippi and the American South, such as persimmon and Satsuma peel.
"There's a science to it and an art to it," Kowalewski said. "You have total control over what goes into your final product. You can make something that's better than what you can get commercially."
Comment at www.jfp.ms. Email R.L. Nave at rlnave@jacksonfreepress.