Local breweries lobby for retail rights

Posted on Feb 9 2017 - 8:03am by Slade Rand

Mississippi craft breweries are on the verge of a legislative win that could grow their brands and help share their drafts across the country.

Senate Bill 2613 was deferred to the Senate until Friday and will likely be assigned to committee within the week, said Mississippi Beer Distributers representative Ricky Brown. If passed, the bill will allow Mississippi breweries to sell their product on premises, within a few restrictions.

“It’d mean craft breweries can have a tap room where they sell beer by the glass and would allow a customer to buy up to two cases of beer, or 576 ounces total,” Brown said.

There are around 14 breweries operating throughout the state, said Brown.

This bill isn’t the first time local brewers have influenced state law. In 1999, their action raised the alcohol by weight (ABW) content allowed for retail in Mississippi from 4 percent to 5 percent. They did it again in 2012, raising the limit to 8 percent ABW. The majority of beers brewed and sold in the U.S. have an ABW higher than 5 percent.

“It allows probably 90 percent of beer brewed in the world to be made available in Mississippi,” Brown said.

Rep. Jay Hughes said he has been discussing craft beer issues since he was elected to the Senate 28 years ago.

“There was an effort to pass a bill last year for local craft breweries,” Hughes said. “I completely supported it, but it was defeated by lobbyists who were paid by the mega-beer companies.”

The Mississippi Department of Revenue reported only 0.3 percent of the 30 million cases of beer sold in the state each year is brewed by Mississippi breweries. Hughes said bills like SB2613 could help raise this number.

“I have never and would never attempt to defeat a craft brewer-local employer,” Hughes said. “This is about jobs and individual liberties.”

The Mississippi Brewers Guild has supported this bill and others in an effort to create more local jobs and to encourage more craft breweries. Their website claims modernizing Mississippi beer laws would increase manufacturing jobs and tax revenue for the state.

The guild is represented by Matthew McLaughlin, who co-wrote parts of the language in SB2613. In an interview with the Clarion-Ledger, McLaughlin said he thinks the bill would make Mississippi breweries more competitive and create a new revenue stream that other states have already tapped into.

Hughes said he unequivocally supports the craft breweries’ efforts, and so do many others in the state. He hasn’t heard a word from his constituency in opposition to the new bill. He said he has heard some opposition from hired lobbyists, however.

“It’s come from highly paid lobbyists from the major beer distributers in Mississippi,” Hughes said.

Brown said the bill should be assigned to committee within the week because most everyone is on the same page. He said the bill is really geared toward tourism from people visiting breweries, which everyone can get behind.

“Craft brewers think they will be able to hire more people and to expand,” he said. “Not any real opposing groups that I know of.”

One of the local breweries Brown represents in support of the new bill has been brewing beer in Mississippi since it was legalized in 1934. If this bill passes, it will legally be allowed to sell its product at its brewery for the first time.

“They got their distributing license in 1934 and still hold it,” Brown said. “It’s the fourth generation running it today.”

Yalobusha Brewing Company is encouraging Mississippians to contact their local state senators in support of the bill. Its website features a search engine where locals can view their representatives’ contact information.