The Deep South could be described as a craft beer wasteland compared to other parts of the country. Portland, OR has more than 40 breweries; Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama have less than 20 combined (luckily there are plenty in planning). Not only do the neighboring states lack in local breweries, the BMC drinking population is not seen as a big enough draw for breweries to distribute into our beer shops, so brands that fans across the country love never make it onto the stores' shelves. However, it is not just drinkers that have stood in the way of the craft beer community enjoying success; antiquated state laws make it difficult on the industry.
To emphasize the oddity of beer laws in the South, after Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast, the Abita Brewing Company released Save Our Shores Imperial Pilsner in 22 oz bottles, donating proceeds to the local communities of the 5 states affected by the storm. The beer could not be sold in 2 of the 5 states due to the ABV and the size of the bottle. Times are luckily slowly changing for the craft beer community. A new law in LA makes it possible for distilleries to sell directly to the public, which has the 6 small breweries excited for the future. In Alabama, legislation was proposed again this year to increase the bottle size of beer sold, as well as to legalize homebrewing, unfortunately both failed to pass (and if you google Alabama Legislative Homebrew debate, you will be quite entertained with their beliefs).
However, Mississippi has finally achieved success and that success can be directly linked to the craft beer community. Raise Your Pints, a grassroots movement in MS to promote quality beer, assisted with raising the permissible alcohol level in beers sold and brewed in the state. This weekend concludes Mississippi Craft Beer week with the Top of the Hops beer festival in Jackson. ACB reached out to Raise Your Pints to hear their thoughts on what is the first official celebration of the change in laws.
"Raise Your Pints is very excited about this year's beerfest. The influx of new beers adds greatly to the appeal of the festival and will increase attendance at this 3rd annual event. The previous two years had nearly identical beer lists so had this law not changed, craft beer lovers that look for new beers would not have had much incentive to attend." - Craig Hendry - President
"What I'm most excited about is the sheer increase in the number of styles. Changing the law didn't simply legalize high-gravity beer - it legalized IPA's, imperial stouts, doppelbocks, and Trappist beers that had no presence in our market beforehand. This is great for the geeks who already know and love these beers, of course, but also for those who are new to craft beer." - Troy Coll - Secretary
Just think: a style that has defined American Craft Beer was just made legal to sell in Mississippi. The excitement surrounding craft beer in the South is palatable and not more so than in Jackson on Saturday evening where for the first time a reviler will be able to drink Chimay, Rogue Double Dead Guy, and Abita's Save Our Shores (6 years later)...legally of course.