The brewery that took the Southeast by storm while introducing craft beer to the buckle of the Bible Belt is more than doubling production, adding new beers and showing no sign of slowing down.
Mississippi isn’t a place with a rich commercial brewing history, but Lazy Magnolia Brewmaster and COO Leslie Henderson said when she and her husband Mark wanted to start the company, state politics wasn’t the difficult part.
“The hard part was financing,” she said. “There is a big misconception this is difficult to do in Mississippi, but the truth is politics are more difficult the closer to home you get. The state was easy, the fed – a piece of cake – but the local politics are what can kill your or make you.
“If you have the small town behind you they will be your biggest fans and promote you to success.”
The town of Kiln has been behind the Hendersons as they have gone from brewing 500 barrels of beer in 2005 to their current production of 20,000 barrels annually.
The Aquifers in the Kiln
Henderson and her husband were engineers before they were brewers, getting their degrees at Mississippi State, and when she talks about the water in Kiln you can tell.
She said Kiln is the perfect place to brew the rich, dark, sweet, malty and smooth beers Lazy Magnolia is known for.
“The Southern Pecan is the perfect example of that,” she said. “You cannot make this beer with the water they have in Colorado. Our beer relies on the high alkalinity in the water in Kiln to bring out just the right flavors from the malts and give it that nice rounded, sweet, soft body.”
The close proximity to saltwater and lack of minerals in the sandy soil make the water perfect for rich beers.
“Monovalent electrons make water soft and sodium chloride is a big part of salt water,” Henderson said. “Newcastle brown ale is probably a very similar recipe, but their hard mineraly water gives that beer a completely different edge.”
The company has been expanding since they began distributing in 2005 and is looking to more than double their production this year.
“I feel like we’re expanding every day,” she said. “We will be able to do easily 50,000 barrels a year, up from our 20,000 this year. Our first year we did 500 and now we do more in a week than we did in my whole first year. We do more in a month than my first two years of business.”
Henderson said the expansion will not only help the company meet the growing demands for their beer in the Southeast but also expand into new markets.
“Right now we estimate three percent of people in the Southeast are interested in craft beer,” she said. “I see, in the next few years, that number going to 15 percent. That’s a huge jump and those are people who will be customers and aren’t now.”
The craft beer revolution is pretty new to Mississippi and Henderson said the opportunity to teach Mississippians about good beer has been an exciting opportunity.
“(In Mississippi) it’s an uphill battle,” she said. “As far as the laws go, we’re very happy with what’s happened recently. That sets the state up for success. Now what we need to do is really capitalize on that by getting the public more educated. It has been a fun process and we get some really crazy questions.”
An older woman immediately began asking Henderson about the coffee business when she heard they were opening a brewery. “Some people also couldn’t understand pecan beer at first, they thought it was pie,” she said.
The Mississippi market is still growing, with 37 counties that didn’t allow alcohol sales in 2012.
Those counties and cities are voting each year to repeal alcohol limits and Henderson said they will eventually become customers.
“We’ve seen some dry counties recently go wet and that’s great but we probably won’t have our beer there for many years because they’re just now getting Coors Light,” she said. “We’re letting the process take it’s time, and in the meantime, we have the whole Southeast to play with. If you don’t want my beer in Greene County, that’s fine ,I’ve got Dallas, Texas.”
Henderson said introducing Mississippians to flavorful beers is like introducing someone to brushing their teeth.
“This is going back in history,” she said. “Beers like Bud Light and Miller Lite are fine beers but not traditional. People have been making malty beers with fun ingredients for a long time and only recently has the industrial revolution brought us mass-produced, standardized, flavorless beer.”
The brewers at Lazy Magnolia try new recipes all the time, some of those weird ingredients like pecans or sweet potatoes lead to beers they now bottle and distribute. Others, like apple pie filling, explode before they have a chance to be tasted.
“We put apple pie filling into a stout, which is a delicious flavor combination, but there was too much yeast and sugar and it exploded and painted the ceiling,” she said. “We’ve done it all, from coconuts to black cherries and pecans. If it’s edible and food safe, we’ll try to put it into a beer. We’ve done herbal and chamomile beer.”
Connecting with Lazy Magnolia
Anyone interested in the craft brewing process can tour the Lazy Magnolia facility in Kiln. Once their expansion is complete there will be an area paying homage to Mississippi’s history of brewing, an area Henderson hinted could include some fun probation stuff, as well as a tasting room where visitors can try out their next favorite beer.
If you are in a bigger city like Jackson or a college town, keep an eye out for Lazy Magnolia events. Sometimes they’ll tap a firkin at a local bar and let fans try something new.
The Southern Pecan and Indian Summer beers are available almost everywhere beer is sold and new beers are hitting the market in six packs soon. Jefferson Stout has recently started going out in six packs, and Henderson said they’ll start bottling the Southern Gold soon.
Information on their beers, distributors and tours can be found at www.LazyMagnolia.com.
Story by JB Clark // Photos by Ken Murphy