We need to support Mississippi beer in stores, restaurants and taprooms to keep it alive and kicking—along with the jobs, tax dollars and wealth those breweries represent.
On January 18, 2019, Jackson, Miss.-based Lucky Town Brewing Company made the formal announcement of its closing via Facebook. The news spread like wildfire. Comments poured in, local news stations picked up the story, and people were, by all accounts, shocked. Fans of the brewery wanted to know why they were closing and what they could do to help. Sadly, the concern was too little too late.
Lucky Town Brewing Company was many things to a lot of different people. For some, it was a great place to hang out on the weekend. Some used the taproom to explore the different styles and complexities of craft beer, whereas others experienced their first taste of a micro brew. Musicians used the Lucky Town stage to show off their talent and gain new fans. Artists used the brewery to showcase their work and to connect with the people of Jackson on a personal level. Various groups would host events supporting a charity. Weddings were held at Lucky Town. So were baby showers.
Every individual who walked through the doors brought their own story and situation, but the one thing they each had in common was their love for craft beer. On March 9, at their final Sippin’ Saturday, these Jackson pioneers closed their doors.
The closing of Lucky Town has left a void on multiple levels. The city and state are missing out on much needed tax dollars. Jobs were lost and a pillar of the Mississippi craft brewing industry is gone. Currently the closest brew pub is nearly an hour away in Vicksburg. Jackson is now one of only three capital cities in the country without a brewery.
While the closing of Lucky Town hit hard, it is nothing new to the industry. According to the Brewers Association, there were nearly 7,400 breweries in operation in 2018. During 2018, 1,049 craft breweries opened and 219 closed their doors. That’s a 3 percent closing rate. While that rate may seem fairly low to those not in the business, there is a significant impact on not only the craft beer industry, but on state and local economies.
Why is it so difficult to own and operate a brewery in Mississippi?
This may hurt some feelings. Quite frankly, it needs to be said. While there are many factors that play a role in the closing of a brewery or any business for that matter, one really sticks out here; most Mississippians have an issue with supporting local. It completely boggles my mind.
We talk a big game about supporting our state, but when it comes down to it, we don’t put our money where our mouth is. I am not sure why. Do we not see our products as good enough? That we are not capable of producing something as good as other states?
Maybe it’s that we are traditional to a fault. We grew up watching our parents and grandparents drink big beer, so we think we should. After all, it was good enough for them. I don’t know the answer, but I know I am frustrated.
I have seen first-hand the craft economy booming in other states. For example, I visited Burlington, Vermont in 2018. In a city of 40,000 people there were six thriving breweries. Let me repeat that again. In a city of 40,000 people there are SIX sustainable breweries. In Texas, the craft beer business is booming even though they are unable to sell beer to-go—which Mississippi breweries can do. Closer to home, there are nearly 50 craft breweries in Alabama, almost 120 in Tennessee, and 49 in Louisiana. Mississippi has barely hit double digits and we are struggling to support them.
What can Mississippi do to support local industry?
There are several ways to support Mississippi craft beer. The first, obviously, is to buy beer made in Mississippi. When at your favorite bar or out to dinner at a restaurant, ask for Mississippi brews. If the business doesn’t carry them, ask why. Put the responsibility on the establishments to ask for a product that is created here in the state.
At beer stores, buy Mississippi beers. At grocery stores, buy Mississippi beers. You get where I am going with this.
Next, go to the taprooms. These places are literally opened to accommodate you! More often than not, the brewers are in the building and would love to talk to you about their product. They want to know what their customers like and don’t like to drink. They make their breweries family-friendly. They plan events that would entertain even the biggest cynic.
These men and women open their doors to their communities and support charities. They themselves deserve to be supported. Bring friends with you. Even the ones who say they don’t like craft beer. I can assure you they will find something they will enjoy in one of these taprooms, and just like that, you’ve created a new supporter of Mississippi craft beer.
Finally, talk about Mississippi beer. We live in an age where social media is all consuming. Why not use your platform to talk about Mississippi beer? Follow Mississippi breweries on social media. Follow the Mississippi Brewers Guild on social media. Tag the brewery where you are drinking or whose beer you are drinking. Post pictures of their can or bottle art. Use the hashtag #DrinkMS and #DrinkLocal so these people can see you and know you are supporting them. Get involved. Let their story become your story. Take ownership and watch the industry grow.
Like most things in Mississippi, if you want to see change it will likely come from a grassroots effort. I can assure you, this beer is not made to inflate egos of the brewers. Quite the opposite. It is made to make Mississippians happy and proud while giving the residents a quality product to enjoy. It is our job as consumers to help get the word out.
Don’t let other breweries in this state suffer the same fate as Lucky Town. Let them be a lesson on supporting local to a fault. We can absolutely change our beer culture if we choose to.