By Charlene Oldham | Photography courtesy of Mighty Miss. Brewing Company
Much of the Magnolia State remains an attractive untapped market for craft breweries, but the folks behind Greenville’s Mighty Miss. Brewing Company are fermenting plans to change that. As one of the first craft breweries in the Mississippi Delta, Mighty Miss. is poised to take advantage of changing state laws that, as of July 1, allowed breweries to sell their beers on site.
Mighty Miss. founder Jon Alverson said prohibitions against beer makers selling their wares directly to customers at breweries, either by the pint or in growlers, cans or bottles, stymied the state’s craft beer industry. Had those restrictions not been in place, he estimates Greenville would already have two or three craft brewing companies.
Nationally, the U.S. craft beer market grew by 10 percent, to $23.5 billion in 2016, according to 2016 statistics from the Brewers Association, a nonprofit trade group representing the craft brewing industry. That same year, the number of craft breweries expanded by more than 16 percent, to 5,234 nationwide.
With only nine, Mississippi had fewer craft breweries than any other state as well as the District of Columbia. But Alverson expects entrepreneurs will be pouring in now that laws have changed.
“Those days are coming in Mississippi, and we’d like to be on the forefront of that,” said Alverson, who also serves as publisher of the Delta Democrat-Times. “There’s not another brewery for 120 miles or so. It’s new to the market.”
The brewery is in The Lofts at 517, a rehabbed Sears building in downtown Greenville that’s also home to restaurant, retail and residential space. In the weeks following its official launch in late May, Mighty Miss. was available at restaurants with keg taps. The fledgling brewery planned to can its products for sale in stores in addition to opening an on-site tap room where customers could also buy beers by the pint or growler. Eventually, Alverson hopes to expand distribution into Arkansas, Louisiana and beyond.
“We don’t want to do anything in a small way,” he said.
Mighty Miss. aims to woo uninitiated craft beer drinkers and craft connoisseurs alike with four brews that are interesting without being intimidating, said brewmaster Scott Hettig. The beers in the company’s inaugural lineup — Mighty Miss. American Pale Ale, Pace Porter, Sledge Saison and Onward Amber Ale — start at an easy-drinking 4.7 percent alcohol by volume for the amber ale and top out at 6.3 percent ABV for the saison, a notable contrast to some heavy-hitting craft brews boasting ABV percentages of 10 or more.
“We want to produce beers that have a very broad appeal. This is not a criticism, but sometimes other breweries like to go to extremes that appeal to a really specific segment of the beer- drinking population,” said Hettig, a Wisconsin native with nine years of professional brewing experience who started making beer as a homebrewer nearly three decades ago. “We’re not that. I think we’re mostly true to making very drinkable, very approachable beers across the scale.”
In addition to its four standard beers, Mighty Miss. will occasionally brew small batches that showcase seasonal styles or special ingredients. And, no matter what the style, the beer’s primary component will contribute to its unique, Delta-driven character.
“Beer is about 96 percent water. The Greenville water is very, very soft. And it’s high in tannins, which are basically from the cypress trees that grow deep underground here.”
The water’s softness, or low mineral content, makes flavors from hops and other ingredients more pronounced, Hettig explained. And the city’s famously brown water isn’t the beer’s only influence from Delta roots — both real and figurative. The name of the brewing company and its flagship beer is an obvious nod to the Mississippi River, which is within walking distance of the brewery. And its other brews bear the names of communities or small towns elsewhere in the Delta, said Melia Christensen, Mighty Miss. Brewing’s brand manager.
“As we got into naming the beers and doing more intense branding work, we really felt like being in the Delta was a primary characteristic of the company and brand we were trying to build,” said Christensen, who also serves as executive director for the Leland Chamber of Commerce. “So we chose the slogan ‘Imported from the Delta,’ and we really want that character and that uniqueness to inform the products we were putting out. Authenticity of place is important to us in terms of being the first brewery in the Delta and being proud of the area we come from.”
Indeed, civic pride and regional revitalization is central to the brewery’s mission, said Alverson, who, like Christensen, is balancing the duties of his other job with the demands of his new venture.