Lifting the cap: New beer law goes into effect today

By Carlie Kollath and Dennis Seid/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – At least 75 new beers are now legal to buy in Mississippi, but you won’t find any of them today in Northeast Mississippi.
The Legislature earlier this year approved bills that would raise the alcohol by weight in beer from 5 percent to 8 percent. It opens the door for a greater selection of craft and imported beers and was widely supported by the state’s tourism, hospitality and restaurant sectors.
The new law takes effect today, but restaurants and retailers in Tupelo said Tuesday is the earliest they’ll be able to get some of the new beer stocked.
“The distributors have ordered all this beer, but I don’t know when its going to get here,” said Adam Morgan, owner of Blue Canoe.
The delay is a disappointment to Chris Cornett, the North Mississippi director of Raise Your Pints, the grassroots group that has lobbied for the increased limits since 2007. Other parts of the state are celebrating the new limits with parties today, but he doesn’t know of any celebrations in the northern region.
“I’ll be tapping my personal cabinet,” Cornett said.
He said he makes frequent trips to Birmingham to buy craft and imported beers that aren’t allowed in Mississippi.
“I’m just happy that we’ll have a wider selection,” he said. “It’s less trips to Birmingham and more money into the local economy. … I’m glad to see it change. It’s been a long road for people.”
Adam Mitchell, who heads Mitchell Distributing in Tupelo, said employees will be working Sunday to unload any deliveries from Mitchell’s suppliers. The company also has distribution centers in Columbus, Leland and Meridian.
But it will be Monday at the earliest before Mitchell can deliver new beers to its customers.
“The problem is we can’t get it all in,” he said.
Beer connoisseurs in Jackson are celebrating with a tasting party at Hal and Mal’s today at 3 p.m. Anthony’s Market is having a tasting party July 12 in West Point. Tickets are $50.
Morgan at the Blue Canoe said he doesn’t have a big party planned for this week, especially since he’s closing for the holiday weekend.
“By the time we open on the 9th, we’ll have quite a few things trickling in,” he said.
He expects he’ll get about 10 new beers a week and he plans to offer specials and tastings as new beers arrive.
“Over half of my taps will be new stuff,” he said. “We’re excited.”
Plus, he’s bought an additional cooler to hold the new brews.
He estimates he’s getting at least 40 new beers.
In addition to Blue Canoe and Papa V’s, Mitchell said Buffalo Wild Wings and Romie’s BBQ are getting expanded craft beer selections.
Kay’s Tobacco in Saltillo and Stokes in New Albany also will carry additional offerings.
Johnny Robbins at Papa V’s in Fairpark is eagerly anticipating his first arrival. He hopes to get 50 to 75 new beers Tuesday morning, with more coming later this month.
“They asked me what I wanted and I said, ‘Bring me a little bit of everything you’re getting in,’” Robbins said. “If it starts moving, it’ll get replenished.”
The beers will be displayed by the door to help customers find the new products.
“I’m trying to find places to put it all,” he said. “I’m going to take some of the slower moving items out and make space.”
The majority of the new beer offerings will be in bottles and cans, he said, but he plans to add some of the beers to his growler station – draft beer taps for a refillable half-gallon jug that is sealed in the store.
He has a robust craft beer business, but his domestic beer sales still make up the majority of his overall beer sales.
Craft beer is more expensive – a 22-ounce bottle can sell for $12 – and the customer habits are different, he said.
“Craft beer is more of a sipping beer,” he said. “Miller Light is the drinking beer. … Those customers won’t drink the same thing twice in a row. Domestic drinkers are drinking the same thing every time.”
Mitchell said the biggest problem with craft beer availability is capacity. For those specialty beer makers, production is limited, and only so much is available.
“One of the biggest misconceptions I worry about is that there’s a lot of buzz that many of the big national brands aren’t available in Mississippi,” he said. “But it hasn’t been because of the alcohol content limit we had, but because of capacity. For example, Yuengling beer would love to be here, but they’re probably two years out before they can get here. New Belgium also is a similar story. They’re in 29 states and adding more and they’d like to be here.”
Mitchell said that many companies will bring their offerings to Mississippi once the capacity – and the demand – is there.
“But in the next few years, you’ll see a lot more here,” he said.
Another misconception Mitchell wanted to clarify is the law itself. While it allows the sale of beers with higher alcohol content, it doesn’t mean that the traditional beers now available will be sold with higher alcohol content.
“They’ll be the same they’ve always been; now there will be more options available.”
carlie.kollath@journalinc.com dennis.seid@journalinc.com