Raise Your Pints shifts gears

by Clay Chandler

Published: March 28,2013

Tags: alcohol, Beer legislation, Craig Hendry, homebrewing, Raise Your PInts

Beer legislation supporters are cautiously optimistic

 

Raise Your Pints is moving on to the next phase of its mission.

“We’re still going to stay relevant, but it’s going to be more of an education and promotion type aspect where we continue to educate retailers about craft beer, help upcoming breweries, help with beer events, homebrew competitions, things like that,” said Craig Hendry, RYP president. “We don’t have any immediate goals at the Capitol. Now we’re going to rest a little bit.”

The Capitol agenda is gone because the last two legislative sessions have been good for the grassroots beer-advocacy organization. In 2012, lawmakers passed and Gov. Phil Bryant signed into law legislation that raised Mississippi’s cap on the amount of alcohol allowed in beer made and sold in the state. In early March, Bryant signed a bill that legalized the homebrewing of beer for personal use.

Both had been the reason for RYP’s formation and both had spent a handful of sessions dying in various committees before their eventual passage. Hendry said what helped the most in finally shoving the bills through the Capitol was hiring a lobbyist.

“We realized that if we didn’t have somebody up there constantly pushing it, it was probably never going to happen,” he said. “Once we finally realized we were amateurs at this we decided to pay somebody to help us.”

Lobbyists don’t come cheap, so RYP had to come up with some way to pay the freight. The group found a way, Hendry said, when members started selling RYP pint glasses and T-shirts. All told, Hendry estimated RYP spent a total of $60,000 on fees the three sessions it employed a lobbyist.

“That’s a lot of shirts and glasses, which between that and a few corporate sponsorships is how we came up with the money,” Hendry said.

Changing the sales pitch for the alcohol-by-volume and homebrewing bills was another move that paid off.

Rep. David Baria, D-Bay St. Louis, was in the Senate when he introduced the bills in 2008, his first year as a lawmaker, shortly after he first met with RYP after the group formed. Baria said he told RYPers then that getting either of the bills passed “wouldn’t be easy. I told them that alcohol in Mississippi is a tough issue, especially when election years get here.”

Baria was right. The first four sessions they were filed, neither made it out of their assigned committees. Last session, when the ABV bill first got a hearing in committee and eventually became law, was the first the narrative around the bills changed to one centered on economic development and tourism.

Hendry said RYP pointed to beer festivals in Biloxi and Jackson that have each drawn upward of 3,000 people for a one-day event as examples that craft beer – and expanding its options through a raised ABV cap – could contribute to the state’s cultural and tourism economy. “That’s a lot of tourists,” Hendry said of the crowds at the Top of the Hops festivals in Jackson and Biloxi.

That coupled with the proliferation of microbreweries is proof that the two bills have direct ties to job creation, Hendry said.

That dynamic should have been realized from the jump, Baria said.

“It’s puzzling to me that we can’t get even a really good idea passed the first time,” he said. “All I was trying to do (in 2008) was raise the lowest ABV cap in the United States.”

Success in hand, Hendry said RYP’s mission will still be advocacy-centered. It just won’t be at the Capitol. Instead, promoting and spreading the craft beer culture will have a statewide itinerary. Events, homebrewing seminars and ribbon cuttings for the rest of the five breweries Mississippi will have by the end of this year will take up a lot of RYP’s time. Before the passage of the beer bills, Mississippi had one brewery, Hancock County’s Lazy Magnolia Brewing Co. “It’ll basically be everything we’ve done already but with no legislative goals,” Hendry said.

Baria said he’d like to add to their agenda.

“I’d like for them to start working on Medicaid expansion and world hunger,” he said. “They’re a very, very effective organization and I’m proud to have worked with them.”

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