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First Craft Beer Week offers thanks, promotes culture

It wasn’t quite a victory lap, but there was plenty of celebrating last week for the first Mississippi Craft Beer Week.

Gov. Haley Barbour made Craft Beer Week with a proclamation, and Raise Your Pints took it from there, using the time to hold 23 events across the state to promote the state’s fledgling craft beer culture.

Raise Your Pints is a nonprofit, grassroots organization that has unsuccessfully tried the past few legislative sessions to raise the alcohol-by-volume cap on beer made and sold in Mississippi, and to legalize homebrewing.

Butch Bailey, president of RYP, said last week’s craft beer-focused get-togethers had two missions.

“It’s our way of saying ‘thank you’ to these venues, like Brent’s Drugs and Hal and Mal’s and places like that, who have supported us and to say thanks to the individuals who have  donated money and called their legislator and helped us.

“And the other point of this (was) to show the powers that be that this works. We’ve got over 23 events all over Mississippi in one week and we packed the house on every one of them. People will pay a lot of money for this, we’ll all act responsibly, we’ll all have a good time and people will make a lot of money. This works. This is an event literally built around this type of beer product, and yet the next morning the world didn’t end, nobody got killed, people acted responsibly. Wow, what do you know?”

This past legislative session was the third attempt by RYP and the lawmakers who sponsored their bills to reform the state’s beer laws. At 5 percent, Mississippi’s ABV cap is the lowest in the nation, making it illegal to make and sell 86 of beeradvocate.com’s Top 100 Beers in the World. Homebrewing beer is illegal. Bills to raise the ABV cap and to legalize homebrewing have died in committee each of the past three sessions. Raising the ABV cap would allow for a broader selection and keep beer aficionados from having to travel across state lines – taking the tax money with them — to buy something other than the 14 percent of the Top 100 that is available here. Each of the states that border Mississippi has a higher ABV cap, and has seen homegrown breweries take root.

Last week’s events weren’t meant to bemoan political roadblocks, Bailey said.

“It’s a fundraising tool for us. Not all the events are set up that way, but some of them are, and it raises awareness. This is not a fringe thing. It’s not a bunch of people going out to the riverbank and drinking to get drunk. It’s different, and this is our way to try and educate the state about this.”

The money raised will help defray the costs of the lobbyist RYP has hired, something Bailey says proves the membership of RYP – none of whom are paid – “care that deeply about advancing Mississippi’s craft beer culture. It’s a big thing, and it’s going to take a lot of work.”

Jackson-based lobbyist Hayes Dent, of Hayes Dent Public Strategies, has lobbied for RYP the past few months. Bailey said the group hopes to raise enough capital between now and the start of the next legislative session in January to keep Dent on retainer.

In an interview with the Mississippi Business Journal last week, Dent said the benefits of the RYP legislation are popular with politicians.

“This is a jobs bill,” he said. “This is economic development, pure and simple. This is about helping Mississippi be competitive with other states. This is a new industry, and nobody argues the fact that we need new and better-paying jobs in Mississippi. These guys are on to something.”

One of those guys is Brad Reeves, who owns the popular Jackson soda fountain Brent’s Drugs and who sits on RYP’s board of directors. Brent’s served as a venue for one of the Craft Beer Week events.

“Being a neighborhood place, we can get some folks in the Belhaven and Fondren neighborhoods who might be familiar with Brent’s but who might not be familiar with Raise Your Pints,” Reeves said. “And of course, the idea is to look at changing the beer laws in Mississippi to allow for more beer and more options.”

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