By BECKY GILLETTE / Hattiesburg Business Today
Because of restrictions in the law, Mississippi is one of the last states to cash in on the hot microbrewery trend. Quinby Chunn, owner of Southern Prohibition Brewery, is hopeful that legislation currently being considered in Jackson will allow direct sales at breweries.
“We’re trying to get House Bill 1322, which has been approved by the Mississippi House, passed this year in the Mississippi Senate,” Chunn said. “That would allow us to sell a small percentage of our product directly at the brewery to our customers. It opens up a whole new area of commerce that currently isn’t available to us. It would make a huge difference not only in our bottom line, but would help us get our product in customers’ hands for them to experiment. It would be great for Hattiesburg. It would be great for the State of Mississippi. It is not only great for someone here trying to build a local business, but would encourage people to start similar businesses elsewhere in the state, as well.”
Nationwide, microbreweries are hot.
“Mississippi to really take advantage of that growth. Mississippi is pretty underserved right now as far as craft beer goes because of the economics of the model almost require you have some sort of access to retail beer sales at the site of the brewery,” Chunn said.
Chunn, who also owns Mercury Pizza Company and works with his father on Popeyes franchises in the area, originally got in involved with microbrewing because of a love of beer.
“I went to brewing school in Chicago about a decade ago now,” he said. “It was a long-time goal to open a brewery. I thought Mississippi showed a lot of promise and there were a lot of opportunities here. It seemed it was a market that was underserved.”
But now his goal isn’t to make big profits, but to turn over the operation at 301 Mobile Street in downtown Hattiesburg, the old McGregor warehouse, to the employees.
“After I got involved with it, it became more about the people running it,” Chunn said. “I got really lucky hiring a few talented people. A lot of people who had stayed from the beginning four years ago. We have had very little turnover. Now it is about seeing them grow this brand. My whole goal now is to turn it into an employee-owned company by the end of the year. I want to help our employees really have a piece of this company.”
Two employees hired at the start are Emily Curry, who heads up sales and marketing, and Ben Green, their head brewer. Chunn credits Green with being the driving force behind the creativity and growth of the brand.
“He has come up with just about every recipe we have had from the beginning and is constantly trying to grow and education himself and grow the brand,” Chunn said. “Tyler Krutzfeldt, the guy who runs the packaging hall canning and kegging, has been here since the canning and kegging [began]. Lauren Dennis runs the cellar, and has been with us a long time, too. What I’m getting at is we have built this great team of people and that is really what the company is about now. We have monthly meetings with the entire team. Even our sales people drive in from out of town. We talk about the vision from the company and it really comes from the bottom up. Everyone is invested now in building the brand and defining what that brand is.”
Curry said the currently Mississippi is the only state in the country not to allow retail sales at the brewery.
“Hopefully with the current legislative session, those laws will change,” Curry said. “Mississippi is very far behind on the craft brewery scene. We have been handcuffed by regulations. Previously we were limited to six percent alcohol, but that has been increased to 10.2 percent.”
When Southern Prohibition started, there was only one other craft brewery in the state, the Lazy Magnolia in Kiln.
Curry said they are constantly re-evaluating how to make a better beer, and how to get customers to try it.
“The craft brew industry is a fast-paced and fast-changing industry to be in,” she said. “We are not afraid of changing, experimenting, trying something new and making it sell better.”
Right now they are strictly a production facility that brew and sells to retailers. Their top selling beer in Mississippi SuzyB, a blonde ale that Curry describes as an easy drinking beer. Also popular is Crowd Control, an imperial IPA that she describes as “super juicy, hoppy with a lot of mango aroma and flavor to it.”
In addition to Mississippi, Southern Prohibition Brewery also sells in Louisiana, Tennessee, Arkansas and Alabama. The product will also be in Georgia this year.
Curry was working at a restaurant in Starkville after getting a marketing degree from Mississippi State University when she first tried craft beers. She saw the job listing with Southern Prohibition Brewery, and moved south to take the job. Curry was one of three employees when she started, and has enjoyed helping grow the brand, sales and the work force, which is now at 15.
“When I came, I had no experience other than my motivation, determination and very patient boss and mentor to answer my questions,” Curry said. “The name Southern Prohibition Brewery reflects that we are a Southern brewery that wants to be in the South. The name encompasses hurdles we have to get over every day to sell beer. A lot of people interested in stepping into this industry don’t realize any business is hard work. You are stepping into an industry one of the fastest growing and competitive industry with people extremely experienced and talented. There is always something prohibiting you and you have to get past it.”
For more information, see the website soprobrewing.com or call (601) 616-5146. Tours of the brewery are offered every Thursday, Friday and Saturday.