It was a tough job, but someone had to do it - sample beer at all of our area's craft breweries.
- Story and photos by Dena Temple (unless otherwise noted)
I had an idea. In New Jersey where I used to live, people were absolutely obsessed with the craft brewing scene. Twenty-something hipsters in flannel swapped growlers (glass jugs) from remote breweries the way children swapped baseball cards in years past. I wondered: How does the craft beer scene here on the Mississippi Gulf Coast compare?
Here in Mississippi the craft brewing craze is just starting to catch on, but our Gulf Coast breweries are attracting the attention of beer lovers nationwide, who incorporate brewery visits in their travel plans. Several local restaurants even create menu pairings with our local brews – in fact, the Savage Skillet just announced a beer dinner on June 7 featuring pairings with beers from around the region, including Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi.
The challenge started with some research. There are six craft breweries within Mississippi’s coastal counties. One of them does not brew their own beer and doesn’t have a tasting room or retail facility. We covered the other five active breweries with tasting rooms or brewpubs:
I programmed my GPS and hit the highway. Let the tastings begin!
Lazy Magnolia Brewery, Kiln
Inconspicuously located in the complex surrounding the Stennis International Airport just off Highway 43/603 lies the Lazy Magnolia Brewery. The brewery opened in 2005 and is the oldest packaging brewery in the state.
Their tasting room, known as The Porch, is divided into two sections. The main area is smartly fitted with rustic wood tables and chairs set up for small and large groups, with a stage at one end for live entertainment on Friday nights and during special events. Barrels line one wall, a hint to aging techniques used for some of their small-batch beers.
A smaller room houses the service counter, where you can order a pint or a “flight” - four small samples of beer. Also available is a modest menu of finger foods, featuring pub favorites like Bavarian-style pretzels, seafood dip, flatbread pizzas, and other light fare. All bread is from Serious Bread in Bay St. Louis, which hints at the quality of the offerings here.
A winding stairway leads to a second-floor loft, where visitors can play pool, toss a little cornhole, or just watch the goings-on below. This is a great place for a date night, to people-watch, or to make new friends over a friendly cornhole match.
The main event at Lazy Magnolia is held on the first Friday of each month. Huge crowds turn out for the live music and great conversation, and they leave with a “First Friday” souvenir glass.
I met Anna Giles, manager, who greeted me with a big smile. She led me to the service counter, where she suggested I try a flight of their beers. I chose two beers that I’d had before, Southern Pecan Nut Brown Ale (their flagship brew) and Timber Beast (a rye double IPA).
Since I favor IPAs, Anna suggested that I try their new High Pitch Cavitation, a hazy New England-style IPA, and finally the Grapefruit Radler, a light shandy. Lazy Magnolia’s beers are all very drinkable, and most aren’t too strong, which I appreciate when taste-testing more than one.
The High Pitch Cavitation is notably less bitter than most IPAs and is very drinkable. The Grapefruit Radler, a shandy, is as light as lemonade, slightly sweet, and would be great very cold on the beach.
Anna disappeared briefly. I approached the counter with a question about growlers, and a very pleasant worker greeted me with a smile. He's Mark Henderson, founder and “Head Peon,” as he likes to say. When he learned that I’m working on a Gulf Coast brewery article, he knew he’d found an audience. Doors flew open, and we began a private, backstage tour of the brewery!
Mark and his wife Leslie founded Lazy Magnolia in 2005. They currently employ 20+ workers, plus another 20 or so distributors who keep their product on supermarket shelves and in local taprooms.
Lazy Magnolia is the only local brewery that has their own bottling equipment on-site, and it’s fun to watch the conveyor fill, seal and label hundreds of bottles per hour. But while this part of the process is automated, it’s clear in the aging room that the Hendersons take seriously the “craft” in craft beer.
Barrels line the walls containing finely crafted small-batch beers. There’s the Belgian trippel aging in Chardonnay barrels; “Southern Gentleman,” which is the brewery’s Southern Pecan beer aged in bourbon barrels; and a sour beer aging in maple syrup barrels.
Mark knows that they owe their success to the community, so it is important to him that Lazy Magnolia give back as well.
“We’re proud of our work with the community,” Mark began. “This year our charity partner is Extra Table, an organization that delivers food to shelters and food pantries around the state. We hope to be able to donate $10,000 by the end of the year to further their great work.”
By the end of my visit, I’d certainly gotten more than I bargained for – and I vowed to return, because while it was a fantastic visit, a trip to Lazy Magnolia is best served with friends.
Chandeleur Island Brewing, Gulfport
A quick zig-and-zag off Highway 90 in Gulfport lands you at Chandeleur Island Brewing, a large, attractive building in a semi-industrial area.
Weathered double doors and contemporary music outside welcome visitors into the taproom, with rustic-looking floors, a large aquarium on one end, barrels for aging, and an enormous bar down the length of one wall. With large windows overlooking the brewing area it is meant to look industrial, but it is clearly designed for social interaction: The music’s not too loud, and the bistro tables are small and conducive to good conversation.
There is a definite nautical theme not only in the taproom, with its spar-varnished bar and the fish fighting chair (for cool souvenir photos), but also in the gorgeous artwork that adorns the cans holding their flagship brews. Chandeleur Island beers are served at many area bars and restaurants and are also available in most grocery stores in our area.
The brewery was founded in 2013 by brothers Cammack and Cain Roberds. Their love of beer began as homebrewers, and they dreamed of one day opening their own microbrewery. Changes in Mississippi laws in 2012 allowed the brothers to move forward with their dream, and in 2013 they purchased a historic building in downtown Gulfport and created Chandeleur Island Brewing Company. They named the brewery after one of their favorite barrier islands off the Mississippi coast.
I met with David Reese, partner and brewmaster for Chandeleur Island Brewing, at the brewery last week. David is an Advanced Cicerone, one of about 100 people in the U.S. with this designation. A cicerone is to beer what a sommelier is to wine, and the “advanced” designation means he has an encyclopedic knowledge of brewing, tasting and serving beer.
David said that fully 40% of their customers are tourists. “We find more and more people are making breweries part of their travel plans,” he said.
There’s a lot for locals to love, too. The taproom features live music on Friday nights all year, and a local sub shop provides sandwiches on weekends. Other times snacks are available. Special events including “doggy speed dating” (adoption days) and Chandy Fest on June 8 featuring live music, food, a Kid Zone and specialty beers.
But even if there is nothing special going on, Chandeleur Island Brewing is a very worthwhile stop on a date night, with friends, after work – or just because you crave a finely crafted beer, and you want to be part of their journey.
Biloxi Brewing, Biloxi
In a residential neighborhood just off Esters Boulevard nearly in the shadow of I-110 is a rather nondescript, sand-colored concrete building. The only clue that this was my destination was the logo that features the iconic Biloxi lighthouse. Welcome to the home of Biloxi Brewing Company and the Coastal Life Taproom.
Founded in 2014, Biloxi Brewing produces the #1 selling craft beer in the six coastal counties of Mississippi, Biloxi Blonde. In addition to supermarkets, Biloxi Blonde is available at local restaurants, bars, and even in at MGM Park, home of the Biloxi Shuckers minor-league baseball team.
The taproom is smaller than my first two destinations, but what Biloxi lacks in size, it makes up for in personality. The taproom feels like a neighborhood bar – TVs showing the game of the day, and lots of happy conversation from long tables next to the bar. My server this Saturday afternoon was Hunter Murray, the nephew of one of the brewery’s owners, and he was enthusiastic and personable. There were a total of 8 beers to choose from, including a special, Captain Black, their “Black Gold” stout aged in Captain Morgan barrels.
Hunter recommended five beers for my flight, so I sampled Biloxi Blonde, their flagship Kölsch; it’s light and refreshing with a slight effervescence. I also tried a light Pale Ale; Salty Dog, a sour beer with blood orange; Black Gold, a stout that smells like chocolate and coffee; and Libre de Mojito, a sour Kölsch with lime and mint.
I spied a popcorn machine near a group of guys watching an afternoon game and enjoying a pint of their favorite Biloxi beer. While the popcorn was a great complement to the beer, I inquired about other food options.
Hunter explained that True Wings, a local food truck, provides food at the taproom on Tuesday and Saturdays. He also mentioned that the brewery has extended hours in the summer months.
After my flight Hunter took me on a quick “behind the scenes” tour, obviously very proud of his family’s accomplishments and happy to be working there. With staff as pleasant as Hunter, good, drinkable beers and a comfortable atmosphere, I’d say Biloxi Brewing has a bright future, indeed.
Hops & Growlers, Ocean Springs
Crossing the Highway 90 bridge into Jackson County took me into Ocean Springs, the location for my last two stops. John, my husband and fellow beer lover, joined me for this final leg of the adventure. Our first stop was at Hops & Growlers.
Located on the tracks on busy Government Street, the exterior of the Hops & Growlers building is a little nondescript. Okay, it’s a white concrete cube with dark-tinted windows. But cross that threshold, and a world of great beer awaits.
Scott Hixson’s brewery is alive with boisterous people when I arrive. The wisecracks flew between Scott and his customers as he drew flights and snifters from one of the 20 taps. His beers, which feature conventional IPAs and lagers as well as creative sours (Dewberry is one of the more unusual flavors), draws fans from all over, who rave over his beer and his good nature. The atmosphere is homey and dares visitors to linger, or better yet, become regulars themselves.
Scott started Hops & Growlers almost five years ago but has been at the Government Street location for about two years. He’s got lots of regulars, he says, and a lot of tourist traffic as well. Brew tourists have heard what he’s doing, and they want to taste what’s going on here.
Food is available sporadically from local food trucks, and South Coast Seafood next door will pack you a meal to enjoy at H&G. Recent special events have included “Barks and Brews” (sort of a “bring your doggie to the brewery” day) and “Science on Tap,” when local naturalists lecture on such diverse subjects as sharks, fish conservation and rising ocean levels. This is one of the most creative and enriching programs I’ve heard of at a brewery, anywhere. Hops & Growlers also sells home brewing supplies, for those who want to try their hand at the craft.
John and I shared a flight here, and we tried four different beers: a blood orange IPA that’s tart and flavorful; OS Haze Boi, a hazy New England IPA; a salted caramel stout; and “Wise Man Says,” a cognac-aged Weizenbock. All four brews were delicious, complex and worthy of additional sampling, but we had one more stop before we were through, so we bade farewell to Scott and his rowdy customers and vowed to return – soon.
Crooked Letter Brewing, Ocean Springs
The last stop on my beer adventure was Crooked Letter Brewing. Also located in Ocean Springs, Crooked Letter is housed in a 120-year-old house and former restaurant. The exterior is rustic wood with a sprawling deck and cozy fireplace outside.
Upon our arrival a sign on the door announced, “Class in Session – Use Other Door.” Class?
“A dance class,” explained owner and brewmaster Paul Blacksmith as he greeted us. “We have special events here all the time.”
There’s a lot that’s unconventional about Crooked Letter. They do brew beer – and quite good beer, too – but they also serve cocktails and wine, and they serve food, so you could say they are a brewery inside a restaurant/bar. Or a restaurant and bar inside a brewery. Whatever you call it, Crooked Letter is striking the right note here in the O.S.
The bar area was dimly lit and felt like a neighborhood hangout – bottles, photos, souvenirs and other tchotchkes made the bar feel homey. While there were plenty of regulars that evening, Paul said that tourists account for nearly 50% of his clientele.
When asked who his customer is likely to be, Paul replied, “Beer lovers come in all shapes and sizes, all ages, all races, and both sexes. We’ve really gone mainstream.”
Paul takes pride in the brewery’s growler-filling capabilities and said that they are the only brewery with a growler de-oxygenation system, which removes oxygen from the jug before filling. This keeps the beer fresher, much longer.
Like other breweries in our tour, Paul also likes crafting innovative sours, so we sampled several varieties – but the highlight of our beer tasting was their Tension Break Edge, a “milkshake IPA” just released on the day of our visit.
This beer was developed by apprentice brewer Casey Mclain, who’s been brewing for just 13 months. The beer is balanced, smooth and not bitter, very drinkable and worth the premium price. Paul calls Casey “amazing.”
“I taught him the mechanics of brewing, but he’s just got a real natural ability to build flavors, a real intuition for it,” claimed Paul. “I’m so proud of what he created here.”
Crooked Letter (named for the children’s song that spells out Mississippi: “M,I, crooked letter crooked letter…”) features live music several nights per week and other entertainment such as fire dancers and fusion dance on weekends. Wednesday is live Celtic music. They offer a limited menu on Thursday and a full menu Friday through Sunday.
But even with all the goings-on, the best reason to check out Crooked Letter Brewing is still the beer – and the people who are brewing it.
Gulf Coast Breweries at a Glance
Lazy Magnolia Brewing
7030 Roscoe-Turner Rd., Kiln
Mon-Wed 10am – 6pm
Thurs-Sat 10am – 8pm
Chandeleur Island Brewing Company
2711 14th St., Gulfport
Mon-Thurs 4 - 10 pm
Fri 3pm - midnight
Sat 11 am - midnight
Sun 11am – 7pm
186 Bohn St., Biloxi
Hops and Growlers
2339 Government St., Ocean Springs
Crooked Letter Brewing
503 Porter Ave., Ocean Springs