With seventy-five brewery and allied members in attendance, the first Mississippi Brewers Guild Conference kicked off on September 22 at Jackson-based Lucky Town Brewing Company. Fresh off a major legislative victory, which granted brewers the ability to sell from their brewery premises, there was excitement and optimism in the air.
Guild Executive Director Matthew McLaughlin got things started with a State of the State address, emphasizing both the positive in regard to the newly won taproom rights and areas where work remains, such as increasing the market share of indigenously brewed beer. Among the goals for 2018 are securing a state grant for a festival that would directly benefit the guild, increasing the number of affiliate and retailer members, and relaunching Drink Mississippi, the guild’s enthusiast program.
Mark (current guild president) and Leslie Henderson were recognized for their many years of leading the charge for Mississippi craft brewers and being instrumental in making the guild what it is today.
I was privileged to address the gathering on the importance of continued engagement, education, and relationship building in the aftermath of their legislative win. Detailing a half dozen states in which small brewer taproom rights came under attack in 2017, the value of remaining engaged with legislators, consumers and other industry partners is paramount. This was also an opportunity to discuss the recently launched Brewers Association independent craft brewer seal, its genesis and reason for being as a means for consumers to identify true, independent craft brewers and their beer and its unifying role within the craft brewing community.
Rounding out the presentations, a specialized brewery lender spoke about available lending programs to start-ups and expanding breweries, loan structure, cash flow analysis, and risk factors; Lucky Town Brewing Co. head brewer Lucas Simmons spoke about the importance of quality control in a successful brewery; and a panel consisting of the founders of BrewFund and Brewery Buddy detailed their experiences starting technology-focused consumer and regulatory businesses geared to brewery sales and operations. Finally, a craft beer and food pairing seminar led by a local executive chef highlighted the culinary value of cooking with, and pairing those dishes with, craft beer.
For a first year event, the conference met and exceeded all expectations, both with the broad diversity of issues covered and with the enthusiastic response of the Mississippi brewing community. The bar has been set high, but there’s no doubt that year two will be even better as Mississippi craft beer is on the rise.