Leslie Henderson wasn’t sure what to get her husband Mark for Christmas in 2000. As she flipped through the pages of a catalog, she settled on a homebrew kit. Soon after, the couple’s house was overrun with 5-gallon glass jugs filled with their homemade creations. With the encouragement from family and friends, who were huge proponents of the Henderson’s beer, the couple began their journey to establish Mississippi’s first brewery — Lazy Magnolia Brewing Company.
Mark only had the chance to brew one batch before Leslie took over, mixing ingredients and perfecting recipes. Mark had a knack for designing new tools and equipment that made the brewing process run a little smoother. Leslie pursued her passion, entering the American Brewers Guild Brewing School in July 2003 followed by an apprenticeship at Crescent City Brewhouse in the Spring of 2004. Her dream became a reality in late 2005 when Lazy Magnolia brewed its first batch of beer, the smooth and nutty Southern Pecan.Since then, five other Mississippi brewing companies have popped up across the state. “Leslie and Mark, they are the perfect people to pave the pathway,” says Skyler Hatch, Mid-South brand manager for Lazy Magnolia. “It makes them proud to know they started something that others can follow in their footsteps.”
Beginning in the Western United States, the number of small, independent microbreweries began to sharply rise in the 90s and has boomed ever since. As of March, there were 2,360 craft breweries operating in the country according to the Brewers Association. Craft beer is known for its unique flavors and high-quality ingredients.While the MidSouth has been slow to keep up with the national trends in the beer-based revolution, both brewers and consumers are catching on. In the last decade, three breweries have consistently provided MidSoutherners with unique and handcrafted beers: Boscos Brewing, Ghost River Brewing and Lazy Magnolia.Changes in legislature are keeping up with trend, the rise of craft beer. In 2012, the Mississippi legislature passed a law that raised the legal alcohol weight in beer from five to eight percent. This opened a new market for craft beer in Mississippi; at least 75 new beers became available. “Mississippi was extremely limited until the passage of the law,” says Jeff Brasher, vice president of sales and marketing over the alcoholic beverage division of Clark Beverage Group in Mississippi.
To celebrate, Lazy Magnolia hosted a midnight bash the night before the law went into effect. They toasted to Timber Beast, an Imperial Rye Pale Ale with 8.9 percent alcohol by volume, ushering in the first high-gravity beer brewed in Mississippi. “We threw a big party, and in six months, it became our second best seller next to Southern Pecan,” says Hatch.Lazy Magnolia is well known for its signature craft beer, Southern Pecan. Based in the southern Mississippi town of Kiln, the brewery has grown from its roots as a humble mom-and-pop shop to serving craft beer throughout the MidSouth in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas. Their unique beers include Southern Pecan made with whole roasted pecans, Southern Gold infused with honey, Deep South Pale Ale with a crisp taste; Jefferson Stout brewed with sweet potatoes, Indian Summer with orange peel and coriander and Southern Hops’pitality with fruits and a special hops blend. “It was a hobby at first, but they knew they had something good on their hands, and they kept going with it,” Hatch says.
Another significant brewing law went into effect on July 1 that has the potential to change the face of beer in Mississippi. Home brewing was federally legalized in 1978, but it was left up to each state to regulate it. With the passage of Senate Bill 2183, Mississippi became the 50th and final state to legalize home brewing. However, home brewing is no new phenomenon in the state according to Hatch. “I’ve known quite a few people to home brew — one a preacher. It will just be more open now,” Hatch says. He sees the passage of this law as a benefit to the region. “It will allow more shops to open up and bring a bigger awareness of where beer is heading, which is to the craft.”Memphis currently has one craft brewery, Ghost River Brewing, and one brewpub, Boscos which opened in 1992. Chuck Skypeck and Jeremy Feinstone, founding partners of Ghost River Brewing and Boscos’ parent company Roma Pomodori, Inc., opened Ghost River Brewing in downtown Memphis in 2007. They attribute their beer’s great taste to something Memphis is known for: its great tap water. The only other city in America with better tap water, according to Boscos’ brewmaster Adam Hargrove, is New York. Hargrove has served as Boscos’ brewmaster for three years and has been home brewing for over five years. Two factors make Boscos’ beer stand out to Hargrove: “It is craft brewed so each batch is different. We use local water, which is some of the best ground water for brewing in the entire nation.”
Feinstone has seen MidSoutherners’ appetites for craft beer increase firsthand. “We started off with a couple thousand barrels, and by the end of this year, we’ll have 12 thousand-plus barrels a year,” he says.Ghost River and Boscos Brewing get their water from the Ghost Section of the Wolf River. This pure water is naturally forced up from the Memphis’ sand aquifer. Feinstone attributes the great taste and quality of the companies’ beer to this ingredient. “It’s better to start with great water. It’s like starting out with a great canvas. With a fresh canvas, we can make great beer,” he says. “Coors advertises its pure, mineral spring water, but they don’t have anything on Memphis water.” Ghost River makes a generous donation for every barrel of beer sold to help conserve the Wolf River, an essential source of Memphis’ artisan water supply, Feinstone says, an echo of the company’s slogan “think global, drink local.”
In 2011, the brewing company underwent a $750,000 expansion project with bottling system that doubled their production from 2,500 to 5,000 barrels annually. Ghost River also won their first silver medal in 2011 for their Cooperhead Red in the Irish-Style Red Ale category of the Great American Beer Festival in Denver, Colo. By the end of 2013, Feinstone estimates the brewery will be producing 24,000 kegs, or 372,000 US gallons, of beer a year. With such a high demand, the brewery is currently operating on a seven day a week production schedule. Ghost River was once known to give public tours of the brewing facility, but had to postpone tours indefinitely due to high demand. “We’re trying to keep up with the great people of Memphis and their love for great beer,” Feinstone says.
Ghost River beer has permeated the city of Memphis and began to move Northeast of the city toward Jackson Tenn., but Feinstone says the beer is so well liked it’s having a hard time getting out of Memphis. “We’re working as hard as we can seven days a week to satisfy the thirst of Memphis,” he says. Ghost River has spilled over into Mississippi servicing a hand full of restaurants in Southaven, Clarksdale, Hernando, Como, Horn Lake, Leland, Olive Branch and Tunica. It has yet to be served in any of the Boscos chains in Franklin, Tenn., Nashville, Tenn. or Little Rock, Ark. Feinstone says he hopes by next year, the compnay will have grown enough to be selling beers as far away as Texas.In addition to these well-established crafters, there are three more microbreweries in the works in Memphis: High Cotton Brewing Company, Wiseacre Brewing Company and Memphis Made Brewing Company, all of which are scheduled to open this year.
High Cotton Brewing will serve beer to the community from their location in Downtown Memphis. Wiseacre is planning to open in Memphis’ Broad Avenue Arts District. Memphis Made brews in the heart of the Cooper-Young neighborhood in Midtown.Last July, High Cotton helped to change the city of Memphis’ alcohol code that required brewpubs and microbreweries to serve food if they planned to have tasting rooms or allow the consumption of pints on the premises. The brewing company, created by Mike Lee of Mid-South Malts, lawyer Brice Timmons, engineer Ryan Staggs, United Airlines pilot Ross Avery and a silent donor, plans to have a tasting room that will feature 10 to 12 different varieties of beer at its downtown headquarters at 598 Monroe Ave.
Wiseacre is the brainchild of two local brothers, Davin and Kellan Bartosch both of whom have worked for years as professional brewers. They will open a 13,000 square-foot tap room at 2783 Broad Ave that will be named after a term of endearment their grandmothers often called them as children - wiseacre. In July, the brothers made the announcement that they will be packaging two of their beers year-round in aluminum cans, making Wiseacre the first brewery in Tennessee to can their beer. One will be an American pilsner named Tiny Bomb, the other Ananda India Pale Ale.Memphis Made will not sell directly to the public when it first opens, instead it will sell kegs to local restaurants. However, founder Drew Barton has plans to create a tasting room where patrons can sip their brew by the I Love Memphis mural in their Cooper-Young location. It didn’t take long after brewing his first batch of beer for Barton to figure out he wanted to turn it into a career. “Right after I made it, I knew that it was what I wanted to do,” Barton says. “It just got me; I was hooked right away.”
Barton left his job brewing for French Broad Brewery in Asheville, N.C. to start his own brewery in the Bluff City from 768 S. Cooper.To most brewers, crafting ale is about more than just bypassing the gas station checkout line and making beer at home. It is a creative process that involves time, patience and a bit of sweat. Hopefully, the product is a big batch of unique handmade beer and memories that will last for years to come. It can be a hobby, a passion or even turn into a fruitful career.To Feinstone, this is only the beginning of the craft beer revolution in the MidSouth. “In Memphis, it is getting to be an exciting time, attracting others to come to Memphis and brew beer,“ he says. “It will create an interesting beer environment.”
The Art of Craft Brew
Man has been making beer from malted cereal grains since the beginning of civilization, but a recent trend in specialty craft beer is changing the way people think about the age old tradition. The craft brew revolution is sweeping the country, and the MidSouth is no exception.
By Lisa Elaine Babb and Michelle Corbet