Written by Dan Murphy, Press-Register
Last year, Raise Your Pintshad less than three weeks to put together the inaugural Mississippi Craft Beer Week. The grassroots organization, whose goal is to change the outdated beer laws in the state, managed to host more than a dozen events over the course of the week, and the response was overwhelming.
“It let us know that this was something worth keeping,” said Butch Bailey, president of Raise Your Pints.
Now, with a year of planning behind them, Raise Your Pints is set to kick off the second annual Mississippi Craft Beer Week, and Mississippi’s only brewery will be front and center.
Lazy Magnolia Brewing Company, located in an industrial warehouse at Stennis International Airport in Kiln since its inception in 2005, has grown right alongside an evolving beer culture in a state that’s long been dominated by the likes of Budweiser, Coors and Miller.
Like many breweries, it all started with a homebrew kit — a Christmas gift from Leslie Henderson to her husband Mark — and a love of beer. While the kit was intended for Mark, it was Leslie, now brewmaster, who was bitten by the brewing bug.
“Soon after,” explains Kathryn Corr, a marketing representative at the brewery, “the house was filled with brewing supplies and they were giving [the beer] away to friends that encouraged them to do it on a bigger scale because they were liking it so much.”
Just six years later, Lazy Magnolia’s pumping out five year-round beers, a seasonal selection — currently Ship Island Ale — and they contract brew for Gadsden’s Back Forty Brewing Co. and Louisiana’s Bayou Teche.
Lazy Magnolia isn’t very big, but the operation manages to brew enough beer to distribute in six states across the Southeast. Two brew kettles, two mash tuns and 23 fermentation tanks — “all of them stay full pretty much all the time,” Corr said — are squeezed into one side of the warehouse, while the packaging line, where the beer is bottled and kegged, resides in the other half. According to Corr, plans are in the works to expand into a patch of grass behind the current brewery, but for now it’s obvious they’ve just about reached capacity in the current setup.
On a recent visit, two large roll-up doors opened wide to the heat and humidity of a July morning in Mississippi — there’s no air conditioning other than in the brewery’s offices — and batches of Ship Island and Truck Stop Honey were boiling away furiously in the kettles. The resulting temperature and downright swampy atmosphere gave credence to Lazy Magnolia’s slogan as “Mississippi’s Brewery,” a title they proclaim proudly, especially during Mississippi Craft Beer Week, which kicks off Saturday in Hattiesburg and concludes with the second annual Top of the Hops festival in Jackson on July 30.
“Mississippi has the dubious distinction of having only one craft brewery,” Bailey said. “But I often tell people that if you’re only going to have one, this is a pretty good one to have. They make fantastic session ales and they’re very supportive of us.”
This year’s celebration boasts an impressive calendar of beer dinners and tastings — an average of three events per day — from Southaven, a suburb of Memphis, to Bay St. Louis and many places in between, and nearly half of them feature beer from Lazy Magnolia.
It’s a weeklong opportunity to educate the public about craft beer and the goals for Raise Your Pints, Bailey said, but it’s also about showing the state politicians that this is something their constituents care about.
“This is not about getting drunk,” Bailey said, “it’s about enjoying a gourmet product and to show them that we’re to be taken seriously and that we’re regular people. We’re your neighbors, we’re your coworkers, we’re your family and we’re tired of being treated differently than people in every other state are when it comes to craft beer.”