JACKSON — Lovers of craft beer won another victory yesterday in their efforts to ease Mississippi’s restrictions on beer brewing and consumption. Three bills with the goal of expanding beer offerings in the state and relaxing restrictions on breweries passed the state Senate.
There was little debate on the Senate floor, but about a dozen senators opposed all three bills.
Senate Bill 2878 would most widely affect Mississippians and tourists. It would permit the amount of alcohol by weight in beer to be raised from 5 percent to 8 percent. Sen. John Horhn, D-Jackson, said Mississippi’s current regulations are the strictest in the nation. The bill would affect a small fraction of the population, he said.
“It really affects about 6,000 Mississippians who are gourmet beer consumers,” Horhn said. “Those who consider themselves connoisseurs are passionate about their beer, so much so that they drive outside the state to acquire beer.”
That means lost tax revenue for the state and an unclear idea of how much beer is being consumed, Horhn said.
He added the bill would only affect an estimated 16 brands of beer in the short term because the state’s laws only allow beer to be sold by select distributors.
The state’s sole brewery, Lazy Magnolia in Kiln, would be affected by the other two bills. Senate Bill 2370 would allow brewing of beer with greater than 5 percent alcohol by weight, which is the current cap. This beer could be sold in other states, allowing the brewery to manufacture beer without concern for alcohol caps. If Senate Bill 2878 makes it through the House, the brewery could also sell beer up to 8 percent alcohol by weight inside the state.
Senate Bill 2600 would encourage tourism to Lazy Magnolia and potential additional breweries, by allowing them to provide samples of their products.
“This may also increase other tourism,” Horhn said. “People like to go see where their favorite beer is manufactured.”
Butch Bailey, president of Raise Your Pints, said a huge part of his group’s work has been to educate people on what they’ve been missing.
“Beers can be just as complex and sophisticated as fine wine,” said Bailey, who founded the group when he got tired of driving across state lines to purchase the varieties of beer he was missing.
If Mississippi passes the bill regarding alcohol by weight, Horhn said it would still have one of the most conservative alcohol caps in the country.
“We thought (8 percent) was a conservative number that would not raise many objections,” Horhn said.
The bills move next to the House for debate.