Note: This profile originally appeared in issue 63 of BeerAdvocate Magazine.
Beer, because of its nature as an alcoholic drink, finds itself at the center of a wide variety of laws and legal restrictions. For example, it is illegal in Massachusetts to bring a beer to a patient in a hospital. In Texas, drinking more than three sips of beer at a time, while standing, is against the law.
There are scores of pointless, strange, and trivial laws on the books, but the good people of Mississippi aren’t laughing about a particular law regulating alcohol content in beer. In fact, they’re fighting it – and Lazy Magnolia Brewing Company is proud to be near the front of that battle.
Raise Your Fists
Lazy Magnolia, located in Kiln, brews a good variety of beers that it deems session ales – mainly because it can’t brew anything stronger, for it is illegal to brew beer above 5% Alcohol by Weight (about 6.2% Alcohol by Volume) in Mississippi. This, needless to say, is a problem.
“I don’t care where you’re at in the country today, IPAs are hot and you can’t make an IPA in Mississippi,” Lazy Magnolia co-owner and spokesperson Mark Henderson said. “If you’re going to make a beer that is that bold in hops, you’ve got to balance it with some malt sweetness. You have to balance it together for it to be palatable, certainly for it to be excellent.”
Although Lazy Magnolia planned to release its first-ever IPA in March, Henderson’s point stands that brewers in the state are severely limited when it comes to the styles they can brew. Of the current Top 100 beers on BeerAdvocate.com, only 16 fall in at 6.2% ABV or lower.
The dearth of quality and variety on Mississippi liquor store shelves had area beer geeks driving out of state to purchase better beer (home brewing is not an option, as it is also illegal) until they got fed up. Following in the footsteps of grassroots organizations from other regions that fought similarly restrictive laws – a group of beer patriots called Raise Your Pints decided to take action.
“We are an all volunteer, grassroots group of a bunch of beer geeks that live in a state with some of the worst laws regarding craft beer in the country – probably the worst laws,” Raise Your Pints president Butch Bailey said. “We got tired of driving to other states to buy craft beer, so we did what Americans do. We organized and formed an organization called Raise Your Pints”
Raise Your Pints has taken the action to the state legislature, and currently has two bills in front of lawmakers: one to raise the cap to 8% ABW (about 10.1% ABV) and another to eradicate the ban on home brewing. The group hopes to see a vote on the bills by the end of March. Meanwhile, Mississippians look toward Lazy Magnolia for inspiration during oppressive times.
“The biggest thing they did was simply to be there and make a quality product,” Bailey said. “It’s a dubious distinction: we’re a state with one brewer in the state. Fortunately, the brewer we have is a good one. They make good session ales – that’s all they make because of the law…. What they do for craft beer is phenomenal. They’ve proven that there’s interest here and that it can be successful here, and that’s made all the difference in the world.”
Mark and his wife Leslie, who is the brewmaster and co-owner of Lazy Magnolia, started brewing around the turn of the century when Leslie bought Mark a beer kit for Christmas. Mark likened the gift to the time his big sister bought him a Cabbage Patch Doll when they were children. Halfway through brewing his second batch, Leslie decided that Mark wasn’t taking the proper sanitary precautions and took over – she’s been in control ever since.
“I think Leslie bought that beer kit because she wanted it,” he said. “Every weekend from then on, she’d brew beer and I’d make contraptions. I built freezers and wort chillers and all kinds of crazy stuff. Finally Leslie said if I’m going to make really good beer, I’ll need a brew sculpture….
“I said, ‘If you’re that serious about it, maybe we can make a business out of it.’ I came from an entrepreneurial family, and thought we’d try.”
The duo was convinced that it was illegal to brew in Mississippi, and had that fear confirmed by the head of Mississippi Alcoholic Beverage Control, who said that it was banned. So did everyone else they asked.
Only problem was, everybody was wrong.
Ronnie Lynch of the Mississippi Tax Commission told the Hendersons that it was perfectly legal to brew beer in Mississippi (provided it was under 5% ABW), and they went about building their brewery and business.
So in 2005, Lazy Magnolia opened its doors. Not long after, it did what every business along the Gulf Coast of Mississippi did – it went out of business. Hurricane Katrina didn’t cause too much damage at the brewery, but it took out most of Lazy Magnolia’s accounts along the shore and displaced most of the brewery’s employees.
“Everybody at the brewery was homeless,” Mark Henderson said. “It took me two years to build a house. I had five semi-permanent residences before I built my house. I think I burned every favor I had during that time.”
But the brewery rebounded, and the storm and its aftermath encouraged the Hendersons to expand into other markets that they may not have considered when they reopened in 2006 and they now sell beer in six states.
Leslie Henderson is Lazy Magnolia’s brewmaster, and has the chops to back it up after graduating from the American Brewer’s Guild and years of home brewing experience, but the day-to-day task of managing the brewhouse falls on Gar Hatcher. Hatcher, who joined the staff just a month before Katrina hit, oversees the brewing of six batches a day on Lazy Magnolia’s back-to-back brewing systems with one goal in mind.
“Everything is kind of designed toward the southern palate,” Hatcher said. “When we first started there wasn’t a Pale Ale on the menu because there wasn’t a lot of demand for Pale Ales in Mississippi at that point. And the Deep South Pale Ale we do right now is at the very low end of bitterness to suit the southern palate.”
It doesn’t get much more southern than Lazy Magnolia’s top seller, the Southern Pecan Nut Brown Ale, which features whole-roasted pecans that are roasted in the brewery and added to the mash.
“Nobody expected Southern Pecan to really take off, but it’s the only one of the original four (beers we started with) that we still make,” Hatcher said. “We’ve had people who don’t like beer who like it. It’s a big hit with the ladies as well, they really take to it. It’s a real surprise, but we’re glad it’s going strong.”
Lazy Magnolia isn’t afraid to abandon purity laws, as it leans heavily on adjuncts to give its beers a unique flavor. Jefferson Stout gets a unique twist with whole roasted sweet potatoes in the mash, and Southern Gold relies on honey from nearby Ellisville to give the beer a nice dry finish.
All of these beers have been designed to suit craft beer neophytes, but Hatcher and the Hendersons are hoping to push southern beer drinkers’ palates a little further with their first-ever IPA due out this spring.
For this go-around, the beer is designed to sneak in just under the alcohol cap at 6.1% ABV, but if Raise Your Pints and Lazy Magnolia have their way, it’s safe to assume that it will be the first in a long line of full-bodied, full-flavored ales coming out of Mississippi.
Sean Lewis is a home brewer and freelance journalist. He is currently writing his first book, tentatively titled Malt, Hops, and Hear for St. Martin’s Press