Hoping to update state laws governing the sale of alcohol, the Mississippi Brewers Guild is in the final stages of drafting a retail sales bill that, if passed, would greenlight direct-to-consumer sales for small brewers.
Though unfinished, the proposed piece of legislation, which doesn’t yet have a sponsor, seeks to “create awareness and provide opportunities” for the small set of Mississippi craft brewers who produce less than one percent of all the beer sold in-state.
The bill, which the group hopes will be introduced next month, will include language that enables small brewers to sell beer directly to customers, for both on and off-premise consumption, said Matthew McLaughlin, general counsel to the Mississippi Brewer’s Guild and one of the individuals drafting the legislation.
Additionally, the bill will seek to allow breweries to operate a second retail outpost in the same county, or an adjoining one, as a company’s original location. The location could be a brewpub.
The current draft also includes language defining “large” and “small” craft breweries – something that could be dropped in the final draft — and limits direct sales for to 2,000 barrels annually, or 10 percent of total production, whichever is greater.
Mississippi, which is home to just seven production breweries and six breweries-in-planning, according to the guild, is one of the most underdeveloped craft beer markets in the U.S. About 30 million cases of beer (2.2 million barrels) are sold in Mississippi annually, and only 90,000 cases come from in-state producers, McLaughlin said.
“I think there is a real problem when only 0.3 percent of all the beer consumed in Mississippi is actually made in Mississippi,” McLaughlin said.
The prospect of increasing the amount of Mississippi-made beer sold in-state could help entice lawmakers eager to support local manufacturing, he added.
“I think we are going to have a whole bunch of co-sponsors that are very interested in having their names on this bill,” McLaughlin said. “There is a large contingency of legislators that are interested in seeing something happen for the benefit of Mississippi manufacturing.”
McLaughlin said bill sponsors are being identified and a final version of the bill could be submitted as early as next week.
The bill could also include economic stimulus incentives, such as excise tax rebates, for Mississippi-made beer that stays in-state.
Language allowing small brewers to sell product at farmers markets and festivals, as well as permission to sell guest beers over a brewery bar could also be included, he said.
Mississippi is one of only two U.S. states (including Alabama) that do not allow any form of direct-to-consumer beer sales; a loophole in Georgia allows craft brewers to sell some beer to-go after taking a guided brewery tour. Mississippi wineries, however, are allowed to sell directly to consumers – something the guild feels puts beer producers at a competitive disadvantage.
“If you make more beer in Mississippi and if more Mississippi beer is being consumed, the state should incentivize the production and consumption of that beer,” McLaughlin said. “I don’t know if it will be an excise tax rebate in the final bill, but we will have some kind of economic incentive.”