Written by Chris Myers | Photographed by Frank Farmer
The Beer Judge Certification Program (one of the nation’s leading authorities on craft brewing) recognizes over 100 varieties of brew – everything from barleywine to witbier. With more than 4,000 breweries in the United States (the highest number since the 1870s), all bent on creating the next best thing, that number is growing. Every imbiber has their preferences, and craft breweries race to meet those needs.
When the crew from Lucky Town first started homebrewing in the Jackson suburb of Gluckstadt, their first big hit was an oatmeal stout. Later named Flare Incident, it won a handful of awards, and when the brewery started up, it was a shoe-in to be one of their flagship beers. But, stouts are difficult in Jackson’s burgeoning beer market. Most bar owners are hesitant to remove more established brands from their taps, even for a stout as good as Flare Incident.
To achieve more mass appeal, they needed something lighter. In steps Ballistic Blonde. Lucas Simmons, Lucky Town’s brewmaster and co-founder, hyperbolically claims, “There are five thousand blondes in this country. Every brewery has one.” What sets this version apart is the fact that it is a Belgian-style blonde, brewed with a trappist yeast strain, providing notes of fruit and spice, while still maintaining a lightness popular in Mississippi’s long hot summers.
These two beers would lead Lucky Town into the craft beer business.
Lucky Town Brewery found residence in Midtown, about a mile from Fondren’s historic district, where their beer is served on many taps. Once fully operational, Lucky Town was able to expand its repertoire. Trends in the industry and a knowledge of the local market led to the introduction of Hop Fiasco, a craft brewery staple India pale ale, and Pub Ale, an easily drinkable ale style popular in English pubs. Later came Gose Gamblin’ (a surprise hit of a sour salty German witbier so named because they weren’t sure anyone would want it), and seasonal brews like Hot Coffee (a collaboration with local roaster Beanfruit Coffee), Lucktoberfest (a marzen-style festbier), Hal White IPA (in memory of St. Paddy’s Parade co-founder Hal White), and Saison de Zoo (a benefit beer for the Jackson Zoo made, with tongue firmly in cheek, using tamed wild yeast). Catfish Tail Pale Ale was announced as this spring’s seasonal beer, supposedly made with Mississippi-raised catfish eggs. It was an April Fool’s joke, but in the craziness that is today’s beer industry, it wasn’t that unbelievable.
“Brewing beer is like learning to cook,” says Simmons, “There’s a recipe, and you just have to follow instructions.”
Tasting beers side by side is the best way to understand their differences.
If a sip is worth a thousand words, a beer festival is a Tolstoy novel. This summer, thanks to the Fondren Renaissance, the Mississippi Craft Beer Festival returns to the grounds of Duling Hall, bigger and better than before.
Twenty eight breweries will be onsite and offering up their best beverages, including newcomers like Bell’s (new to the state and one of the nation’s largest craft breweries), Lagunitas, Blue Pants, Greenflash, and Mississippi’s own Slowboat Brewery. Over 100 beers will be flowing. Some brewers will be offering specialty beers that aren’t available on a mass scale, though those won’t be known until the day of the event. Mississippi breweries (eight of which will be present) will be in a dedicated area – something that would not have been possible just a few years ago.
Whether you love beer or are learning to love beer, the festival is for you. Brewers are good folks and love to talk about their concoctions, so be sure to give them the opportunity. Tasting, just like brewing, is all about trial and error. Purchase tickets today. The event will sell out.