Engineering couple brewing up tasty microbrewed treats

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Published: November 22,2004

Kiln — During Prohibition years, this hamlet in Hancock County was known as the moonshine capital of Mississippi and tales still linger about the area supplying booze for Chicago gangster Al Capone.

Today, two young engineers want to put the area back on the map as the brewing capital of Mississippi. It’s beer this time and it’s legal with permits, laws and all that.
Leslie and Mark Henderson are preparing a 5,000-square-foot space at the Stennis Airport Industrial Complex as the home for their Lazy Magnolia Brewery. They signed a five-year lease and have room to expand if needed. They’ve done the business plan, and hope to produce and sell their microbrewed beer by the first of the year.

“Our goal is to introduce South Mississippi to the wonders and delights of fresh, locally brewed beer,” said Leslie Henderson, the only female brewmaster in Mississippi and one of a few in the United States. “We have an educational task before us to dispel the myths about beer.”

The truth is that not all microbrewed beers are heavy, dark beer isn’t always bitter and fresh beer is better.

When a hobby gets out of control

Leslie, 28, is originally from Louisville and earned a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering and a master’s in hazardous waste from Mississippi State University. She is employed with Mississippi Polymer Technologies, a manufacturer of high-performance plastics for defense and aerospace products. She got interested in becoming a brewmaster when she gave her husband a beer kit for Christmas a few years ago.

“Yeah,” teases Mark, an electrical engineer from Waynesboro, “it was sort of like when my sister gave me a Cabbage Patch doll.”

Under the state’s home brew law, she is allowed to make 200 gallons of beer each year at home but can not sell it. “I started out the easy way but kept getting more interested in it and doing more complicated things. Plus, I got a good response from everyone who tried it,” she said. “It’s a hobby that got out of control.”

She took a six months course, mostly online, through the American Brewers Guild and served a 200-hour apprenticeship under brewmaster Tom Conklin at the Crescent City Brew House in New Orleans to earn her stripes.

“When I tell guys I’m married to a brewmaster, they say ‘You’ve got the perfect wife,’” Mark says with pride. “She’s been entrepreneurial from the start when she became the number four employee at Mississippi Polymer Technologies.”
“I love to cook and this is the best mix of cooking and chemical engineering I could come up with,” says Leslie. “The joy it brings to people is wonderful and I really enjoy doing it.”

She hopes to bring more women into brewing and appreciating the classy beers that exist. As the brewmaster of Lazy Magnolia, she will begin with four different kinds of beer and do specials for restaurants, holidays and brewer’s selects. Because bottling equipment costs half a million dollars, the beer will be sold only in kegs at first.

The Hendersons hit the streets marketing their beer to area restaurants and bars. “We have a lot of local people interested in buying it. Many restaurant owners are chefs, and this is the kind of quality beer they like to drink,” she said. “We will go in and teach wait staffs about our beers too.”

Room for growth in state

Leslie and Mark want to raise awareness of microbreweries because they feel there’s a lot of room for growth. With only two brewpubs operating, microbrews only have approximately 3% of the beer market in Mississippi. The state’s two brewpubs operate under a special set of rules. The Lazy Magnolia will be the state’s only microbrewery. The microbrewery’s name came from the late-blooming magnolia tree that hangs over the back porch of the Henderson’s home.

The couple, married for seven years, will begin operation of the brewery by depending on the sweat equity of friends who believe in what they’re doing. They say every 1,000 barrels of production will mean they hire a paid employee.

The 450-gallon brewhouse kettles, finishing tanks and 10- by 32-foot cooler are in place for making and storing the beer. Grains do not grow in Mississippi so hops will be imported from Idaho, the hop capital of the country. Beer’s main ingredient, water, will be local. Leslie says the type of yeast used in fermentation is a big contributor to the millions of compounds that give beer its flavor. The beer will be made in batches of 500 gallons and put into standard size kegs. The big cooler will keep it chilled at 40 degrees.

“Serving beer ice cold covers up its flavor but the light beers like Miller and Budweiser have so little flavor that it doesn’t really matter how you serve them,” she said.

Mark, 31, is responsible for the Lazy Magnolia’s Southern pecan beer that was a huge hit with tasters at the recent Hancock County Expo. His wife thought it was a bad idea.

“He’s a fan of nut brown ales, but malt gives them their nuttiness. There are no nuts in them,” she said. “I thought the oil from the pecans would destroy the head, but the yeast destroyed the oil so it’s not a problem.”

The rich, aromatic beer, however, is expensive to make and is a premium product. “It’s not the kind you take on the boat,” she added.

Her personal favorite of their brews is blue heron, a wheat beer in the classic style. Other brews in their lineup include lighthouse pale ale, amberjaque, gulf porter, Jefferson stout and harvest moon.

Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at mbj@msbusiness.com.

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