It’s time for lawmakers to hops on the beer barrel

Published 12:00 am Sunday, July 17, 2011

Organizers of Mississippi Craft Beer Week quickly will say that last year’s inaugural celebration of all-things hops came out of nowhere.

Executives with grassroots organization Raise Your Pints — an advocacy group for the reformation of Mississippi’s antiquated, anti-choice beer laws — approached Gov. Haley Barbour asking for a proclamation. The idea was far-fetched and even more eye-opening when Barbour put his signature on the proclamation.

Events were hastily organized leading to Mississippi’s first Top of the Hops beer festival. Organizers for Top of the Hops expected about 1,500 people at the sparkling Jackson Convention Center. More than 3,000 arrived. This year’s Top of the Hops is scheduled for July 30, the culmination of a week’s worth of craft beer events from Tupelo to the Vicksburg (stay tuned).

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Nashville’s Yazoo Brewery, owned by Vicksburg natives Linus and Lila Hall, will be featured prominently.

“Sales of craft beer are beginning to take off in Mississippi,” Hall said. “It’s important to have a Craft Beer Week, leading up to the Top of the Hops, to capture the attention of the casual beer drinker, to let them learn about all the great beer that is being brewed right here in the South.”

The large turnouts, the governor’s proclamation and the success of craft beer week events have not swayed lawmakers to make a simple change that will lead to more choices and more tax money, albeit not enough to solve the state’s economic problems.

Raise Your Pints for three years has lobbied state legislators to make a change that would allow beer containing alcohol up to 8 percent alcohol by weight to be sold in Mississippi. This year’s efforts were doomed from the start due to an election year, and one thing gleened from living in this state for 18 years is that alcohol and re-election bids do not meld together. Bills allowing an increase in alcohol and homebrewing never made it out of committee.

The craft beer movement in America continues to grow, with rates that outpace the mass-market sellers substantially. These beers are crafted in small batches with brewers showing their ability as artisans. Broken down, beer is four ingredients: malt, hops, yeast and water. Inside that framework, a quality brewer can create myriad styles at differing alcohol contents. The possibilities for what Linus Hall could produce are limitless; well, at least could be limitless.

Continued success of MCBW and Top of the Hops events will have to open some eyes. The winds of change are blowing.

Legislators just need to remove their heads from their current positions and lean out the window to feel the breeze..

Sean P. Murphy is web editor. He can be reached at