Once Mississippi’s cap on beer alcohol content is raised Sunday at midnight, craft beer enthusiasts won’t have to wait long to get their hands on newly legal beer.
After multiple tries, the Legislature approved and Gov. Phil Bryant signed this past session a bill that increases from 5 percent to 8 percent the alcohol-by-weight limit in beer sold in the state. The law takes effect July 1, and under its terms, beer whose ABW is greater than 5 percent cannot even darken the state’s borders until then.
It’s setting up some interesting delivery timelines, considering July 1 falls on a Sunday, when a lot of restaurant, bars and stores that sell alcohol are closed. It’s also creating abnormal business hours for wholesale beer distributors. That includes F.E.B. Distributing in Gulfport, which distributes on the Gulf Coast many of the most popular craft beer brands, including Mississippi-made Lazy Magnolia and Louisiana-brewed Abita.
Tim Wold, F.E.B.’s director of sales, said the distributor has come to an agreement with Abita that would make the South’s ancestral bootleggers proud. Abita, Wold said in an interview last week, will have a truck loaded with its product that before July 1 was illegal in Mississippi. Shortly after midnight Sunday, that truck will make the 70-mile journey to F.E.B., whose workers will deliver the beer to “about 10 or 12 accounts” that morning, Wold said.
The new Abitas and Lazy Magnolias have generated the most excitement since Bryant signed the beer bill into law April 5. “There’s been a lot of hype in general, but particularly for our local beers,” Wold said. “Because of the upcoming holiday, we’ll be a little here and there with our suppliers so we’re going to get it out as fast as we can.”
A scenario similar to the one in Gulfport will play out in Jackson at Capital City Beverage. Like F.E.B., Capital City — which is usually closed Sunday — will be open the morning of July 1 to distribute the fancy, newly legal beers.
“We’re going to accept deliveries from Abita, Lazy Mag and hopefully Yazoo (Brewing Co. in Nashville),” said Brian Drennan, Capital City’s director of sales. The location of those three breweries makes it easier to guarantee their arrival and delivery on July 1. The same is not true, Drennan said, for far-off craft brewers like the Boston Beer Co. (maker of the popular Sam Adams varieties) and California-based Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.
Those beers will be in no later than mid-July, Drennan said, as will most of Capital City’s new craft and gourmet inventory. (Sierra Nevada even agreed to set aside a pallet of its high-demand Barleywine just for Capital City.)
The distributor’s complete line of craft and gourmet inventory will be available by the Top of the Hops Jackson Beer Festival July 28.
Drennan said the distribution on July 1 could possibly be limited to draught only, meaning only bars, restaurants and a select few stores could have the new beer on the day it becomes legal. “But there will definitely be package beer available for stores on that Monday,” Drennan said.
Tracye Miles will be ready.
Miles, owner of cigar and specialty beer retailer Hops and Habanas in Madison, said in an interview last week that she has bought a new three-door cooler capable of holding 60 cases of beer.
“And I’m pretty excited about filling it up,” she said. Miles’ store is one of the handful of places in the Jackson area that is flooded every spring with folks looking for Abita’s Strawberry Harvest Lager, which is produced only a few weeks out of every year.
She expects a similar bumrush Sunday.
“I’m going to be bombarded with calls first” from customers inquiring about the new beers she has put in her new cooler, Miles said. “And if my distributor doesn’t get it to me, I’m going to them.”