“It Drink Good.” Mississippi’s Grassroots Effort to Raise Your Pints

Craig Hendry and Raise Your Pints have a problem.  They’re Mississippi craft beer enthusiasts in a state that doesn’t embrace their enthusiasm.  Homebrewing remains illegal. Craft beer may contain only up to 5% alcohol by weight. There’s still a division of wet counties and dry counties. Simply transporting your unopened six pack through a dry county could get you arrested, though no one’s aware of that happening. It’s no surprise the state only has one brewery.

By Raise Your Pint’s calculation, Mississippi’s 5% abw alcohol limitation excludes the sale of approximately one-third of all beer styles.  Think about it. No Belgian Tripels or, heaven forbid, a quad.  No barleywines. No Russian Imperial Stouts. Dopplebocks? Ha!  Raise Your Pints is out to change that.

They’ve had some success in their efforts.  They found a friend in Governor Hailey Barbour who recently signed a proclamation designating July 23-30, 2011 as Mississippi Craft Beer Week.  With no shortage of irony, the document proclaims it a time to enjoy great craft beer while recognizing the considerable contribution from the brewers, distributors, and retailers of craft beer. It also supports Raise Your Pint’s efforts to “advocate the responsible practice of craft beer enjoyment and continually work toward advancing the craft beer culture in Mississippi.”

Having a friendly Governor helps, but it’s the state legislature where the real action takes place.  An earlier version of Raise Your Pints began efforts to increase the 5% abw limit in 2007, readily admitting their naivety with the political process.  A similar organization in Alabama, Free the Hops, is taking up the cause for craft beer in that state.  Here’s a short clip demonstrating what Free the Hops faced at the Alabama legislature in 2008. 

Yes, the clip is funny in a “holy crap” kind of way. We listened to it with dumbfounded amazement during Craig Hendry’s presentation on Raise Your Pint’s efforts to change beer laws at the 2011 Beer Bloggers Conference in Portland.  I don’t repost it here for cheap effect. I repost it to remind everyone how important education is.

I don’t know the full story behind the clip, nor do I know anything about the legislator who is speaking. I presume he’s well known for “passionate” speeches delivered with great incredulity.  I don’t know whether this rant was a case of pure ignorance or political showmanship. I do know a little about politics, having lobbied some during three Montana legislative sessions in the 1990s and having followed the legislative sausage making ever since.  True ignorance we can never overcome.  Garden-variety ignorance can be cured with good education. Political showmanship can be solved with collaboration and cooperation.

In 2009, the Montana Legislature took up a bill to increase the state’s alcohol limitation on beer from 7% by weight to 14% by volume.  Thanks to the emergence of a great craft beer culture along with the hard work and education by the brewers and their supporters, the bill introduced into the house of representatives had 30 sponsors. It made it’s way through the legislative system with relative ease.

Fast forward to 2011 when the Montana Legislature took up a bill to shift, not increase, the hours of operation for brewery taprooms from 10 a.m. – 8 p.m. to 12 p.m. – 10 p.m.  Before the bill’s sponsor had opened his mouth for his introduction, the chairman of the committee hearing the bill joked, “What were you drinking when you agreed to sponsor this bill?” It failed to make it out of committee.  We all have our challenges, but at least we’ve got access to great craft beer styles in Montana.  (Now, if we were only a bigger market. . . . .)

In the video clip, the Alabana legislator asks “what’s wrong with the beer we got?”  Isn’t the better question to ask, “what’s wrong with providing reasonable, responsible access to great craft beer?”  Whether it’s alcohol limits, tap room hours, distribution constraints or turf wars, successful change comes only through education, collaboration and cooperation.  Raise Your Pints is working hard to provide all three in its efforts to change Mississippi’s beer laws.  To support their efforts, join them by clicking here