Mississippi is a "Bud Light state," not a craft beer state, said Derric Curran, the owner of Mississippi Alehouse in Olive Branch.
"The laws in Mississippi are tricky when it comes to having a brewery," Curran said. "The laws are kind of difficult, so there aren't very many in the state, and the ones that were in the state, a lot of them are shut down now, so there's only a few."
Mississippi laws have long prevented breweries from flourishing in the state. Until 2012, people had to travel outside the state to sample beers with higher alcohol content and it wasn't until 2017 that a law passed allowing small breweries to sell beer on the premises. A 2019 article by the magazine Beer Connoisseur ranked Mississippi as the worst state in the nation when it came to the beer scene and the number of breweries.
Despite this, Curran opened Mississippi Alehouse in 2017 and has seen success, celebrating the breweries fifth birthday in June.
"We opened up as a craft beer bar with 11 tabs," Curran said. "Basically, this whole thing started because there wasn't a cool place to go hang out and have a good beer in Olive Branch...We just did it because there wasn't one. There wasn't one here, so we did it."
The brewery consists of a small dining room with a stage for trivia on Tuesday nights and music on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. There is a large back patio, where almost everything filling it, such as the covered tables and chairs, has been donated by citizens who wanted the brewery to succeed. A door connects Mississippi Alehouse with Olive Branch Pizza Company, allowing customers to walk between the businesses freely.
A lot of what the brewery has had to do, Curran said, is educate people on beer. The alehouse's most popular beer is the Ale House Light, a light blond ale Curran said is similar to a Bud Light. He calls it a "gateway beer."
"We can get you on a program, to get you all the way up to IPA's," Curran joked. "It's a 12 step program, but our way. We'll start you on the light, and then you can go to the pilsner, and then you can go to our amber and you can just keep going up the list until you get to the IPA's in 12 weeks."
Close to a hundred people are considered regulars, visiting Mississippi Alehouse at least once a month, and handful come every single day. During the COVID-19 shutdowns, Mississippi Alehouse got a crowler machine and started canning anything they had on tap.
""We have a really, really great customer base. We would not here without those people. When COVID happened, we were shut down and could do to-go beer only," Curran said. "People would call us and leave a message and we would set up a drive through outside with a tent and our regulars were still coming, even during that two month period we were shut down for COVID, and still buying beer to go, and helped us get through the most difficult time in US History in I don't know how long."
Curran has even managed to persuade a few of the regulars, including Joe Lay, to come work at Mississippi Alehouse. Lay, who lives in Olive Branch, used to have a work-from-home job before being laid off due to COVID-19. He now works as the beer manager.
"[Mississippi Alehouse] meant that for those of us that lived in the immediate area, we didn't have to go to Memphis anymore," Lay said. "I've been driving to all the bars in Midtown, Downtown, the Flying Saucer in Cordova, 30 minute trips just to go to a really good craft beer bar. And if you live right here, this opens up, you get the same experience right here and you don't have to waste all that gas and dealing with Memphis traffic."
The best item on the menu, Lay said, is the Ghost of the Machine. According to Curran, Mississippi Alehouse sells more of that beer than almost anyone else in the country- second only to Epcot. And they have big plans to eventually overtake Disney on the rankings.
"It is the best IPA, one of the best in the country, in my opinion," Lay said. "We're spoiled to have it on tap all the time. There are people in other parts of the country that can't get it that will pay three or four times the retail to have it sent to them because they want it, it's that good. Whenever it's on tap, if you're an IPA guy it's probably going to be one of the best beers on tap."
This year, DeSoto County Tourism reached out to Mississippi Alehouse with the idea of a partnership. The beer, called "Top of the Sip" is a light pilsner that JR Kent, who brews beers next door to the Mississippi Alehouse, said is an easy drinking beer.
"It's a Czech style pilsner, so traditional Czech and German hops," Kent said. "So old world hops, European and Czech hops. It's pretty straight forward style, just a light pilsner malt, unroasted, untoasted at all. So nice and golden straw color. Pretty distinct hop flavor, not overly there because it's old world hops, which typically have less bitterness and more earthy, herbal spice, whereas American hops are usually really bitter."
DeSoto County, and Olive Branch, have been very helpful during the process of opening the brewery and then in October of 2020, the brew pub next door, Curran and Kent said.
"It wasn't difficult, really at all, it's just you have to by the rules and the laws and know what they are," Curran said about opening the brewery. "You really have to watch you're step. We haven't had any issues with local or state. Olive Branch was great, giving us permission to do this, and kind of going out on a limb for us... Ken Adams, the new mayor, is a customer and has been completely behind us and has done a lot for us."
Mississippi Alehouse has given Curran and the town what he wanted, a cool place to hang out and share a drink with friends. Despite the lack of a craft beer culture in DeSoto and Mississippi, Curran has seen success and hopes to remain in Olive Branch for years to come.
"There were people that were looking for what I was looking for, looking for a place to hang out that had good beer, that family atmosphere, no overdrinking, a single women could come in and have just as much fun as a single guy and not have to worry about anything," Curran said. "That's something we've prided ourselves on, anyone can come in alone or with people, and you're going to end up sitting with people and making a friendship out of it."
Mississippi Alehouse is located at 9211 Hwy 178, Olive Branch MS and its hours are listed on its Facebook page.
Gina Butkovich covers DeSoto County, storytelling and general news. She can be reached at 901-232-6714 or on Twitter @gigibutko.
This article originally appeared on Memphis Commercial Appeal: Mississippi Alehouse celebrates five years, introduces the DeSoto beer