Beer battle brewing in Mississippi legislature

HANCOCK COUNTY, MS (WLOX) - There's another craft beer battle brewing in the state legislature this year. Mississippi's eight breweries support a proposed new law which would allow them to sell beer products "on site" at the brewery.

The lobbying group Raise Your Pints is pushing for the change, but some beer distributors oppose the idea.

Mississippi's oldest brewery, Lazy Magnolia, has evolved and grown during its nine year existence. Last year, the brewery hosted 7,000 visitors. While those visitors can learn how craft beers are made, they can't purchase any beer products on site.

"We get them to fall in love with Southern Hospitality or Southern Pecan or Sweet Potato Cream Stout. And then they go, 'Alright, I'm sold. Where do I buy it?' And we go, 'Well, if you want this you've got to go five miles this way'," said owner Mark Henderson.

A bill introduced by the group Raise Your Pints would allow limited, on site beer sales at the state's breweries during tour hours.

"By allowing breweries to have that extra revenue source it allows them to expand, which ultimately results in employment, Mississippi employment," said Shannon Mensi, a board member with Raise Your Pints.

"It increases Mississippi tax revenues and it increases choices for consumers."

Under current state law, breweries like Lazy Magnolia are allowed to give their visitors free samples of the product.

Henderson says if this new law passes, it will simply give his business another source of revenue; one that he can invest back in the brewery.

Thanks to post-Katrina MDA financing, Lazy Magnolia is about to open a 16,000 square foot addition which will accommodate much larger production tanks.

Some big beer distributors oppose the change, fearing it will disrupt the time-honored "three tier" system of brewery, distributor and retail. Henderson disagrees.

"Let's be honest. You know, we don't want people coming in from all over the local community to buy this product. We want them buying it from the local grocery store, and that's where they're going to pick up most of it," said Henderson.

Lazy Magnolia started with just husband and wife owners, Mark and Leslie Henderson. Nine years later, the Hancock County business now employs 32 people.

That bill to allow "on site" beer sales is currently in committee in the state legislature.

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