Mississippi representatives Patricia Willis (R-Diamondhead) and Toby Barker (R-Hattiesburg) last week introduced House Bill 846 which, if passed, would give local breweries the right to sell beer directly to consumers.
Currently being reviewed by the House Ways and Means Committee, the bill includes a series of allowances aimed at stimulating sales of Mississippi-brewed beer. The proposal comes just two weeks after the Mississippi Brewers Guild said it was drafting a bill and in search of sponsors.
If passed, small brewers in Mississippi would be allowed to sell up to 2,000 barrels of beer, or 10 percent of annual production, whichever is greater, directly to consumers. Small brewers — those defined as producing less than 225,000 barrels annually — would also be allowed to sell directly to consumers at one additional location, such as an offsite taproom or a brewpub.
The bill also includes provisions for maintaining the integrity of the state’s the three-tier system — a concern that has kept Alabama and Georgia legislators from passing similar reform in their own states. Brewers would be required to match approximate prices charged by nearby retailers. The bill would also clarify the definition of a “brewpub,” clearly defining production limitations and retail allowances.
Mississippi is one of only three states in the country that restricts packaging breweries from selling directly to consumers. Legislators in Alabama will vote on similar regulations this year; Georgia lawmakers, meanwhile, recently OK’d direct sales if offered as a “souvenir” following a brewery tour.
While entrepreneurs throughout the U.S. have launched small breweries in an effort to capitalize on increasing consumer demand for craft beer, prohibitive laws in Mississippi have made it difficult for startups to enter the marketplace — direct sales are a boon for small business owners just getting their companies off the ground.
Mississippi is currently home to just seven breweries, though another six are in planning, according to the state’s brewers guild. It also ranks last in the country for breweries per capita, according to the Brewers Association.
“I think there is a real problem when only 0.3 percent of all the beer consumed in Mississippi is actually made in Mississippi,” Matthew McLaughlin, general counsel to the Mississippi Brewer’s Guild and co-writer of the bill, told Brewbound at the time of the guild’s announcement last month.
If passed, the law would go into effect on July 1. Brewbound will continue to cover this story as it develops.