Vendors cash in on legalized higher alchohol-content beers

Published 12:00 am Sunday, July 15, 2012

LAUREN WOOD | THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT Fat Mama’s Tamales is one of only a few local restaurants that has taken advantage of the new higher content beer law that went into effect on July 1. The three craft beers the restaurant currently has are a chipotle ale, a fruit beer and a chocolate stout. At right, Matt Pearson and Lisa Brown sit at the bar for some food and drinks. (Photo by Lauren Wood / The Natchez Democrat)

NATCHEZ — Two weeks after Mississippi made it legal to get buzzed faster, Natchezians on the hunt for chocolate, blueberry or other craft beers have limited options.

But not for long if area bar owners can get their way.

The new law, which went into effect July 1, allows for the sale of beer containing 8-percent alcohol by weight. The former limit was 5 percent.

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Several Natchez bars said the specialty beers are not yet readily available through their suppliers. But Fat Mama’s Tamales made sure it would have options once the state said it could.

Restaurant Manager Brandon Echols said Fat Mama’s is already serving a variety of higher alcohol content beers from Rogue Brewery of Oregon, Mons Abbey in Canada and Abita from nearby in Louisiana.

Echols said the novelty of the beers has created high demand, especially with the non-traditional flavors.

“The Rogue chocolate stout, I think, is the most popular, because it’s unique,” he said. “Not too many people associate chocolate and beer.”

Echols said Fat Mama’s basically took what it could get in terms of brands when the law passed.

“Basically these were the first things available,” he said. “There’s been a real high demand for new beer products, and we are having trouble with availability.”

The Castle Restaurant and Pub currently carries one higher alcohol beer, the Abita Jockamo IPA.

General manager John Holyoak said he plans to add more options to the menu in the next few weeks.

He said the Lazy Magnolia Brewery in Kiln has a new product called Timber Beast that the Castle will carry.

Barley wines, Belgian inspired beers and Mons Abbey will also make their way into the Castle soon, he said.

Holyoak said he is excited about the possibilities that the new law presents to beer connoisseurs in Mississippi.

Owners and managers at Andrew’s Tavern, Bowie’s Tavern and the Corner Bar are looking forward to the new opportunities for sales too, but they’ve not yet been able to get their hands on the craft beers they seek.

“We’ve always had people interested,” said Nancy Best, manager of Bowie’s Tavern. “Whatever the customers want and is available to our area we will carry. We want to give them more options, but the distributors have not gotten them yet.”

Sammy Atkins, owner of Andrew’s Tavern, said he wants to wait to feel out the market to see what products he will carry long term.

“We want to see what’s at the better price, and let (the customers) kind of lead me in the direction of what they hear is best,” he said. “I definitely will carry at least one or two, just to say I have it.”

Sales supervisor Jack Aubic at Southwest Distributors said most of their higher alcohol products are being sold in grocery and convenience stores.

“It’s because we don’t have any in bottles,” he said. “These are 24-ounce cans and 8-ounce 12-packs.”

Aubic said one higher alcohol product Southwest carries is Wild Blue, which is a blueberry lager, and the company is also planning on providing a higher-alcohol Natural Light called Natty Daddy.

Marion Pollard, sales manager at Stokes Distributing, said the company is currently offering Abita Andygator on draft, but they are hoping to add to their selection soon.

“We’ve started now, but we will have more probably in the next few weeks,” he said.

Natchez-native, and brewer, William McGehee co-owns Tin Roof Beers in Baton Rouge, and he said the new law is great for Mississippi brewers and beer drinkers.

“I think any time something good like that happens it brings more awareness about craft beers more than just regular domestic light beers,” he said. “I’m ecstatic that it brings in new things that people couldn’t try before. It’s definitely a great thing. It helps out craft beer awareness in Mississippi and allows more brands and styles of beer.”

McGehee said Tin Roof Beer is not yet ready to move into the Mississippi market, but they do have a plan in place.

“We actually don’t sell beer in Mississippi,” he said. “We are kind of saturating the Louisiana market before we get into Mississippi. We are ready to be there, and a lot of people want us to be there, but we aren’t there yet growth-wise.”

McGehee said there is not timeline for when Tin Roof Beer will move into Mississippi, but he expects it to happen “sooner or later.”