Group helps bring big change to Mississippi’s liquor laws

Published 6:20 am Sunday, February 20, 2022

Long before craft beer became a thing in Mississippi, a small group of people gathered to talk about Mississippi’s antiquated liquor laws and how it impacted their ability to enjoy consuming a product they loved.

State law prohibited the sale of beer with an alcohol-by-weight content higher than 5%, making it difficult to find quality beers in Mississippi.

That group, later known as Raise Your Pints, persuaded lawmakers that the state would benefit from better beer laws.

Subscribe to our free email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

At the time, Mississippi had only one brewery. Lazy Magnolia was located in Kiln — about 75 miles from Hattiesburg and 25 miles from the Coast — a good distance to travel to sample a beer that wasn’t a household name. Some beer enthusiasts would travel out of state to find beers to enjoy.

Former Raise Your Pints president Craig Hendry of Jackson said in a 2016 story that he remembered those days well.

“Basically, a bunch of like-minded beer geeks were experiencing a problem finding a selection of beers,” he said. “We were traveling out of state and bringing a variety of beers back in. We were bootlegging beer into Mississippi.”

For nearly a decade, Raise Your Pints pushed for a law that would allow Mississippians to buy beer instate with a higher alcohol content.

Founding member Butch Bailey of Hattiesburg and restaurateur John Neal, who opened Keg and Barrel in 2005 to offer more beer choices for Mississippians, were among those who led the way to the Capitol.

A number of craft beer festivals may be found throughout the state to celebrate the many varieties of the popular beverage in Mississippi.

That was in 2012. So much has changed since then.

“We’re all still really proud of what we accomplished 10 years ago,” Neal said. “It took the help of a lot of great people. The craft beer scene in Mississippi is better than it has ever been. I’m looking forward to more great times ahead.”

The law passed in 2012 raised the allowable alcohol content to 10% alcohol by volume or 8% by weight.

Breweries began popping up across the state. Some survived, others struggled. The new law was great for retailers who could actually import and sell a greater variety of beer, but for the brewers, it was a different story.

Beer could not be sold at the breweries, which limited brewers to marketing their beers to wholesalers. Visitors, on the other hand, were allowed to tour the breweries and sample the beers made there before going to buy them somewhere else.

Breweries like Lazy Magnolia and other groups and individuals invested in creating a better beer scene in Mississippi joined forces with Raise Your Pints to push for more improvements. And the Legislature listened.

In 2013, Mississippi passed a law allowing residents to brew beer at home. Mississippi and Alabama were the last states to legalize home brewing.

The Legislature passed a law in 2017 that allowed brewers to sell a limited amount of beer to consumers, so many opened taprooms if they hadn’t already.

Mississippi breweries that produce not more than 60,000 barrels of light beer or wine per year were allowed to sell up to two cases of their product per day per customer.

Those and other limits were repealed in 2020 when Gov. Tate Reeves signed the latest measure, which became law Jan. 1, 2021.