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US. New beer laws good for business

Brewery expands as it taps bigger market, tourists

Six months in jail and a $25,000 fine — that’s what the owner of the only brewery in the state would get if he tried to manufacture beer, he was told.

But engineers have a tendency to want to understand the rules, Lazy Magnolia Brewing Co. owner Mark Henderson said. And between him and his wife, Leslie, the brewery’s co-owner, who also has an engineering background, the couple demanded someone show them the statute. Where did it say they couldn’t take their beer-brewing pursuits to the open market in the state where they were reared and love.

Lawyers and lawmakers had no answer, so Mark went to the head of the Alcoholic Beverage Control, who told him about the fine and jail time.

“Can you show me?” Mark asked. He was told he would get a call back in 30 minutes.

Three hours later, the head of the ABC called him back to say he couldn’t find the law, but that the Mississippi Department of Revenue would have the information.

In attempting to give Mark answers, Ronnie Lynch of the Mississippi Department of Revenue learned for the both of them that there was nothing on the books that outlawed a beer brewing business in Mississippi.

“We thought, ‘Holy Cow’... and then started the process,” Mark said.

That was seven years ago. Now, the Kiln-based brewery sells a variety of ales, stouts and IPAs, including its signature “Southern Pecan” ale in seven states from Texas to Florida. South Carolinians will welcome the brand this month.

The brewery opened in January 2005 with four employees. It now employs 24.

Today, Lazy Magnolia brews more in one month than it did the first two years combined — roughly 17,000 barrels a year or 5 million beers. This July, the brew capacity was updated to hold 60 barrels, up from 15. And by this time next year, the floor space will nearly triple from 10,000 square feet to just under 30,000.

Once the expansion is complete, the company will be able to brew 45,000 barrels a year. By 2018, the plan is to nearly double the number of employees to 50, Lazy Magnolia spokesman Tobie Baker said.
“All of our beers are made in The Kill (Kiln),” Baker said.

Mark said Hancock County supervisors supported the concept, so they were allowed to brew in an industrial zone, tucked between major defense electronics company Selex Galileo and within earshot of football fans at Hancock County High School. And, the location seemed appropriate since Kiln has been called the bootlegging capital of the world.

Offerings include Southern Pecan, described as a nut brown ale, which is made with Mississippi-grown, whole roasted pecans. Southern Gold is a golden honey ale, made with honey provided by Mark’s bee-keeping Uncle Milton in Ellisville. Deep South is a pale ale made with caramel.. Jefferson Stout is a sweet potato cream stout, brewed with sweet potatoes and milk sugar. Indian Summer is a wheat ale spiced with orange peel and coriander.

Southern Gentleman, produced only in smaller quantities, is aged in whiskey barrels on site. And there’s also a variety of seasonal beers, like Ginger Jacque, Southern Hospitality and Gulf Porter. A variety pack, called the Lazy Dozen, will be hitting refrigerated shelves soon.

Lazy Magnolia’s newest regularly brewed beer is now it’s No. 2 best-seller — Timber Beast, a rye IPA and the first beer that takes advantage of a law allowing the sale of high gravity beers, which are those that contain more than 5 percent alcohol.

Timber Beast, which is 8 percent alcohol by volume, was unveiled at a midnight launch party July 1, the day the law went into effect.

Raise Your Pints, a nonprofit that has lobbied lawmakers to allow high quality, higher alcohol-content beers in Mississippi, has had the support of Mark and Leslie for years, Baker said. The group pushed for the high gravity legislation for a number of years before Gov. Phil Bryant signed it into law.

In arguing for House Bill 1422 to increase the amount of alcohol allowed in beer, Rep. Steve Holland, D-Plantersville, reportedly pleaded on the House floor, “If you’re a Baptist and can’t stand this bill, just hold your dern nose and vote for it cause your Baptist colleagues back home will appreciate it.” The words have now become a sort of slogan for Raise Your Pints.

Another new law, Senate Bill 2600, which also went into effect July 1, allows tour guides to offer tastings at the brewery. Prior to the law change, tours were offered only Saturday mornings. Now, enough tourists come through to support tours Thursday and Friday afternoons and all day on Saturdays.

Tour Guide Josh Poole said on a busy day, he probably sees seven to 10 times more people taking tours, compared to before the law change.

Mark said it certainly would have been easier to start their venture, which was named after the slow-growing Magnolia tree outside the couple’s Mississippi house, out of state.

“Mississippi has not historically made it easy to do a lot of the things you would like to do.”

Nonetheless, Mark said he and Leslie are committed to Mississippi. He’s from Cleveland, and she’s from Waynesboro and they met in Columbus at the Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science.

“Our preeminent export has been our people, and the way to keep your best talent is to have a culture that supports jobs,” Mark said. “We wanted to stay here and do our best to make Mississippi a better place.”

And if that means more competition, than Lazy Magnolia welcomes it. Three breweries are in the early stages of setting up shop. That’s a good indicator that the state’s palate for beer is becoming more sophisticated, Baker said, since craft beer is about mass flavor rather than mass consumption.

“For every dollar (other Mississippi breweries) spend marketing, it helps us just as well to educate Mississippians,” he said. “We welcome new craft breweries to the state.”

26 Nov. 2012

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