By: Chris Turner-Neal

A wild and wonderful whistlestop tour of coastal Mississippi breweries

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Lucie Monk Carter

One of the most inconvenient yet amusing dichotomies in the South—cognitive dissonance capital of the Western world—is the tension between drinkers and non-drinkers. For every lemonade wedding or dry county, there’s a corresponding drive-thru liquor store or three-drink-minimum honky tonk—and, of course, the Great Schism between wet and dry Baptists, united in Christ but divided in their cups.

Recent changes in Mississippi law have made it a better place to drink. Craft breweries had arisen in the state as they had everywhere else, but a ban on sales for on-site consumption and the state’s three-tier alcohol distribution system, under which producers must distribute beer through a wholesaler instead of providing it directly to merchants, limited these establishments’ potential growth. (Complicating matters, the wholesalers in the state tend to be controlled by the competition-averse big dogs, Coors and Budweiser.) In 2017, after much negotiation among brewers, distributors, and legislators, the laws relaxed, allowing local breweries to open taprooms. And lo, there was much rejoicing.

For every lemonade wedding or dry county, there’s a corresponding drive-thru liquor store or three-drink-minimum honky tonk—and, of course, the Great Schism between wet and dry Baptists, united in Christ but divided in their cups.

As Anna Claire Giles, marketing manager for Lazy Magnolia Brewing in Kiln, explained, the economics of a taproom are enormously more favorable for the producers—more of the profit stays in-house, putting the businesses (and the industry overall) on a significantly more solid footing. Additionally, taprooms give brewers more room to experiment, since making a keg or two of an unusual style to run by customers is much less of a risk than producing enough for a trial run. Taprooms can also become neighborhood bars, with all the warmth and ambience of a home-away-from-home that the best bars offer. In my afternoon drinking around the Mississippi boot heel, I overheard wide-ranging conversations, told with the after-a-drink verve people bring to a story they know deserves a good telling. Read on for “tasting notes” on each of the breweries I visited on this gorgeous, diet-wrecking spring afternoon.

 

Lazy Magnolia Brewing Company: I started in Kiln, Mississippi, at Lazy Magnolia, one of the best-known coastal breweries and the first to open in the state post-Prohibition. The cozy but not cramped taproom adjoins the bottling area, which you must pass through to, ahem, “release the beers back into the wild,” adding to the on-site authenticity: they make it over there, you drink it over here. In addition to the wide selection of their own beers, Lazy Magnolia also provides contract brewing services, producing beer in bulk from recipes by other brewers. As Giles explained, this helps fledgling breweries get off the ground without immediately investing in big infrastructure. The tight-knit brewing community sees the arrival of new breweries as expansion of the market and culture, not necessarily as competition, so the arrival of new players is a good sign that craft brewing continues to grow. Lazy Magnolia also captures rainwater to filter and sell to a Houston company that adds bubbles and sells it as Richard’s. It’s also sold on-site, so there’s a refreshing treat available for the driver or any dry-Baptist friends you persuade to join you on an evening out.

 

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Courtesy of Lazy Magnolia Brewing

Most recommended: The flagship Southern Pecan is a must-try; if you like sours or fruit beers, you will enjoy the blackberry sour. A dubbel version of the Southern Pecan, silky and deadly as a Bond girl, is currently available.

Crooked Letter Brewing Company: In Ocean Springs, Crooked Letter offers a near-perfect twofer for ambience­—a pleasantly denlike interior contrasted with a gorgeous shady porch for outdoor pints. Both the indoor and outdoor spaces have seen weddings—presumably people were marrying each other and not beers, but I had a couple of beers here I can imagine making a commitment to. Crooked Letter is on the up-and-coming end of Porter Avenue on the west side of town, where new businesses catering to tourists and foodie locals are popping up. You’re close to some of Ocean Springs’ best food here, but check the menu at Crooked Letter first; in addition to occasional food trucks, Crooked Letter has a kitchen with a frequently rotating menu, and sometimes pulls together theme nights celebrating world cuisines or local food.

Most recommended: Hefeweizen always tastes like summer, and these guys do great ones: cloudy, golden, and with just the right amount of sweet fruit flavor.

Both the indoor and outdoor spaces have seen weddings—presumably people were marrying each other and not beers, but I had a couple of beers here I can imagine making a commitment to.

Sea Change Brewery: Across the street, more or less, Eat Drink Love is almost the definition of a lunch spot, offering a menu of tempting sandwiches and salads along with frozen cocktails and take-and-bake dinners. As I dove into a roast beef sandwich piled high with meat and expertly dressed with honey horseradish (speaking of Bond girls), I chatted with Kristin Smith, director of the adjacent Roost Boutique Hotel, and her husband Trevor about their plans for a new taproom, to be called Sea Change Brewery and designed to show off Trevor’s homebrew creations, a few of which I was lucky to sample. The planned taproom will share property with a bookstore and coffeeshop (what wonders, what marvels), offering those thirsty for knowledge and various mood-regulating liquids another haven.

Most recommended: The kriek, a classic Belgian style made with wild cherries and natural yeast, was the single best beer I had on this trip, winning a crowded and competitive field. I liked it so much I had to stop praising it in front of Trevor because I was afraid I would sound insincere. I could have written a sonnet about this beer.

Hops and Growlers: For some reason, I thought Hops and Growlers was a homebrew supply store, and that I was going to have to make an interested face while I learned about yeast. Saints be thanked, it’s another Ocean Springs brewery, and a wonderful one. Owner Scott Hixson is as good a host as he is a brewer, passing samples around the assembled company. The menu is almost intimidating, with a variety of styles and flavors that testifies to Hixson’s zeal for beer as much as it does his willingness to experiment. There’s a beer with beets in it, dear readers, and it is good.

Most recommended: There’s no point. The selection is so wide that there will be something there you’ll want to try, and it will be good. I tried so many beers here that my driver (yes, I had a driver, which was both glamorous and prudent) had to remind me that we had two more breweries to visit, and that I had a life and career and houseplants back in New Orleans I would eventually have to return to.

For some reason, I thought Hops and Growlers was a homebrew supply store, and that I was going to have to make an interested face while I learned about yeast.

Biloxi Brewing Company: One of the many things that goes well with beer is baseball, and with the impending departure of the New Orleans Baby Cakes to Wichita, of all places (aren’t we all glad all that money got spent on the rebranding?), the Biloxi Shuckers are the new hometown favorite for a big chunk of New Orleans. Three blocks away from their home stadium (and that’s rounded up), you can find Biloxi Brewing, with a short, solid lineup of delicious beers you can drink while waiting for the game to start, after having seen the game, or with absolutely no reference to baseball at all. As an added note, Biloxi Brewing has especially cool box-and-can art; make sure you spare a glance for the poster-worthy labels.

Most recommended: The only time anyone seemed to pity me on my beer-drinking day was when the bartender had to inform me that they were out of the Salty Dog, the brewery’s popular gose. Faces visibly fell. I found solace in the arms of the Biloxi Blonde, a light-but-no-lightweight summer brew.

Chandeleur Island Brewing Company: It’s not fair that any brewery be the last you visit on such an odyssey. I had had a lot of good beers and I had had a lot of beer, and so Chandeleur had some standing out to do—and it did. Last but not least, this sour-loving brewery punched through the competition to land itself squarely on my mental map of “Places to Drink Again.” As an added bonus, Chandeleur donates a percentage of the profits from their Tarpon Tagging Box of beers to the Tarpon Tagging Project, a research initiative to learn more about the mighty silver sport fish.

Most recommended: Guava Jelly Sour. A lot of people probably have the same experience with guavas as I did, in that during the tropical fruit craze of the ‘90s they had a lot of things that ostensibly contained guava but couldn’t really explain a guava to you conceptually. (I still don’t know what they look like.) This crisp and sassy fruit sour goes a long way toward helping me “get” guavas.

There’s more to do on the Mississippi Gulf Coast than drink beer—but there’s also a lot of beer-drinking to do. Find your favorite dry Baptist and trade them a favor for serving as your designated driver on a spin through the Secret Coast.  

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