Mississippi’s fledgling brewing industry is taking great strides to catch up with the rest of the United States and its small breweries are currently engaged in a difficult yet winnable battle against the large, established distributors.
Mississippi presently has only seven functioning craft breweries, but already, tension is brewing between a young and growing industry and established laws that work against the breweries’ ability to do business. The issue at stake is whether or not craft brewers should be allowed to sell beer on site, at the brewery. Current Mississippi laws allow craft brewers to offer samples, but they cannot sell cans or bottles of beer to consumers. An interested customer has no choice but to visit a retail store or restaurant if he/she wants some Mississippi- brewed beer. This doesn’t sit well with Mississippi’s small but growing craft beer industry and its dedicated personnel.
“Our current structure puts local Mississippi breweries at a competitive disadvantage,” said Quinby Chunn, owner of Southern Prohibition brewery in Hattiesburg, speaking to a Mississippi House Ways and Mean subcommittee yesterday at the Capitol.
The problem faced by Mississippi craft brewers is no different from that faced by breweries in some other states. Most of these outdated laws date way back, but without a strong industry working to overturn them, the laws have remained on the books. With such tremendous growth in the craft beer industry over the past few years, the pressure to modify laws is on the rise. Still, there are those working to keep the laws in place; namely, the large distributors that feel the present system works fine and don’t want to lose any sales revenue.
Mississippi currently operates under a three tier system. Tier number one is the brewery. Tier number two is the distributor. Tier number three is the store or restaurant the sells the beer to the consumer. Distributors say the current system works well and is a vast improvement compared to the old system in the state, which featured only the first and third tier. The three tier system, distributors claim, is best because it ensures that consumers have a wide variety of options. Craft brewers don’t necessarily want to put distributors out of business. They only want to be able to sell directly to the consumer, at the brewery, to accommodate the customer’s wishes.
Working on the side of the craft breweries, State Rep. Toby Barker is considering filing a bill to change the current law. Barker has seen the difference craft beer has made in the revitalization of downtown Hattiesburg and he wants the industry to continue its success.
“It represents the best of Mississippi’s youth and potential and entrepreneurial spirit,” Barker said.
Changing the law will not prove easy, but Great Beer Now predicts that the rules will change in favor of craft breweries in due time. It may not happen this year, but as more and more breweries open and more consumers are won over to the flavor and quality of craft beer, it is only a matter of time until these and other beer laws go the way of prohibition- gone forever and not likely to ever return.