If you want to buy a beer after touring one of Mississippi’s microbreweries, you’re prohibited from buying it from the people who made it.
That could be about to change. The Magnolia State took a step forward toward giving craft beer enthusiasts the right to buy beer at their favorite microbrewery, as a bill passed the House Ways and Means Committee and is headed to the full chamber for consideration. A similar bill died last year in the same committee.
The bill, H.B. 1322, will allow a microbrewery to sell 576 fluid ounces (the amount in two cases of beer) to an individual in a 24-hour period for off-premises consumption. Breweries are only allowed to give away 36 ounces to visitors.
Brewers also would be prohibited from selling more than 10 percent of their production or 1,500 barrels, whichever is less, annually to visitors of their breweries.
A similar bill is in the Senate but will likely die in the Senate Finance Committee. Tuesday was the final deadline for bills to make it out of committee.
Attorney Matthew McLaughlin represents the Mississippi Brewers Guild in its fight to end the prohibition against on-premises sales. He said the difference this year is that the state’s brewers and distributors put together legislation that was acceptable to all parties.
“An effective strategy here [in the Capitol] has been building coalitions and building consensus with all of the individuals and organizations that have an interest in a particular subject matter,” McLaughlin said. “I think we fell short doing that last year. This year, we were able to get out the message that this an impactful, job-creating industry in Mississippi.”
In South Carolina in 2013, the Legislature passed a similar law. The number of microbreweries in the state grew from eight before the law passed to 20 in 2016.
State Rep. Thomas Reynolds, D-Charleston, said during the committee meeting that passage of the bill will be a big boost for a growing industry.
“If this bill is passed in a final form, at no cost to the state, [we] will have additional jobs created in this state,” Reynolds said. “This is an industry in my district, your district and many other districts throughout this state that gives people good jobs and has been a good citizen in our areas.”
State Rep. Henry Zuber, R-Ocean Springs, one of the bill’s sponsors, told committee members that passing the legislation would allow Mississippi to compete with surrounding states and create jobs.
Georgia is the only other state with a law prohibiting on-premises sale by brewers. The Georgia Legislature also has a bill to change the law.
According to the Brewers Association — a Boulder, Colorado-based trade organization for craft brewers, home brewers and distributors — Mississippi is ranked last in the number of microbreweries per capita, with eight. The Magnolia State was ranked 44th in production of craft beer.
The association defines a microbrewery as a one that produces fewer than 15,000 barrels per year, with 75 percent of production for sale off-site.
With restrictive laws on the books, the state is getting left behind by a growing industry. According to the association, the craft beer industry generated more than $22.3 billion in retail sales in 2015, an increase of 16 percent over 2014.
The movement towards deregulation has been a slow and steady process in Mississippi.
Thanks to the work of a group of beer enthusiasts called Raise Your Pints, the Legislature authored, and Gov. Phil Bryant in 2012 signed into law, a bill allowing the sale of high gravity beers — up to 10 percent alcohol by volume. Before its passage, Mississippi was the only state that prohibited the sale of beer with more than 6.25 percent alcohol by volume. Higher-gravity beers have a long shelf life.
The state legalized home-brewing in 2013, the last state to do so.