December 6, 2012 9:54:47 AM
JACKSON -- Buoyed by recent success in changing Mississippi's beer and brewing regulations, the craft beer lobby was set to push next year to change laws to allow the sale of "growlers," large containers of fresh draft beer to go.
But upon review, it's already allowed. And some gourmet beer outlets already have been selling the 64-ounce growlers.
"It was kind of a gray area," said Rick Miles, owner of Hops and Habanas in Madison. "We looked into it, but held off for about a year. Then we just said the heck with it. We couldn't find it detailed, so about a year or more ago, we started selling them and figured if something was wrong with it, someone would come and tell us."
Craig Hendry, president of the nonprofit Raise Your Pints, that has spearheaded efforts to change Mississippi beer laws, said research showed sale of draft beer in the large jugs for offsite consumption isn't prohibited.
The Mississippi Department of Revenue, which handles much of the regulation of alcohol sales through tax code, confirmed that state beer tax law doesn't prohibit such sales, in containers filled and sealed at a bar or restaurant.
"A growler is a plastic or glass container, usually 32 ounce or 64 ounce, filled with fresh beer that you can take home with you," Hendry said. "Some beers are not even bottled, so this allows people to drink these brands in their homes."
Hendry said at least three or four places statewide are offering growlers, but he expects more to start as word spreads that it's allowed and as more breweries open in Mississippi from recent law changes. The large containers have been growing in popularity nationwide and are offered in many brewpubs, restaurants and groceries in other states.
Miles said his store offers four selections of beer for growler fills. He said customers pay a one-time deposit of $6.50 for a container, which can be swapped out for a new one when emptied. He said fill-ups start at about $10, depending on the beer.
"When a company starts out brewing, it's easier for them to put out draft first," Miles said. "We have Goose Island, new to the market from Chicago, which is not going to be in package form until at least February or March. You can't buy it bottled in any store, but we offer it in a 64-ounce container."
Jane Jones, manager at Hal & Mal's in Jackson, said the restaurant has been offering growlers since August, but that sales are slow with customers still unaware they're available.
Last legislative session, the craft beer lobby succeeded in lifting Mississippi's prohibition against selling, or even possessing, beer with greater than 5 percent alcohol. The law had inhibited the sale of many beers and craft breweries from setting up shop in Mississippi. The new cap is 8 percent alcohol.
At the time, the state had only one brewery, Lazy Magnolia in Kiln. Now, Hendry said, another has opened and at least six are in the planning phase.
"That's jobs, and that's tourism," Hendry said.
The next legislative beer push is to allow home brewing. Mississippi and Alabama are the only two states that prohibit home beer brewing for personal consumption, although Mississippi allows people to make wine.
Hendry said one industry group estimates Mississippi already has more than 2,000 home brewers.
Miles said that after "the home brewing gets squared away," he'd like to see the alcohol cap revisited, raised from 8 percent or done away with altogether.
"The sky didn't fall on July 1 when the alcohol went up, so maybe when they see that, then we can just remove the cap," Miles said. "It really makes no sense to cap beer when you can go right next door to the liquor store and buy something 100 proof."