Beer festival creates buzz over state alcohol laws

Published: Jan. 29, 2012 at 2:04 AM CST|Updated: Jan. 29, 2012 at 5:12 AM CST
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BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - At the second Tops of the Hops Beer Festival, more than 150 craft and specialty beers awaited those searching for the perfect brew. Around 3,000 people turned out for the event. But organizers see room for improvement, not in the attendance, but in the alcohol itself.

"Mississippi is the last state to have a law that bans high gravity beer. So, the beers that we have here today are great beers, but out of the top 100 ranked beers in America, 90 of them aren't here," said event promoter Jay Wilson.

Mississippi law caps beer alcohol content at five percent, limiting the variety of craft beers available in the state due to their usually high alcohol content.

Some craft beer lovers have even taken things into their own hands. Raise Your Pints is a grassroots group working to lobby lawmakers to make a change.

"It puts our businesses at a disadvantage against businesses in Alabama, Tennessee, you name it," said Butch Bailey of Raise Your Pints. "So, this would give our businesses more opportunity to compete with out of state businesses."

At least one law maker is listening. Representative David Baria-(D) Bay St. Louis has put forth legislation that would raise the allowed alcohol content to eight percent.

"It hits close to home for me because Lazy Magnolia brewery get's offered contract brewing deals that they have to turn down because the product that they would be brewing would result in a content higher than five percent," explained Baria. "They are turning down business which means they aren't able to generate as much revenue, which means they can't expand and add jobs."

The lawmaker has had opposition in the past, but he hopes the potential economic impact will carry the bill through.

"It's just not going to make a difference in terms in the guy that's out drinking a few beers and the alcohol level that beer is putting in his system. But, it will make a big difference in terms of what's available for the consumer," said Baria.

This is the fifth time Baria has presented this legislation. It has not yet gone before a committee. 

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