It took two trips to Jackson, Mississippi to really pin down why Lucky Town Brewing Company was so special to us. It was worth it.
They only make a handful of beers and they can’t even sell those beers at the brewery so why did we bother traveling three hours by plane from our homes in eastern Tennessee to the deep south just to hang out with these guys?
Maybe it was Mississippi's different kind of southern charm or maybe it was the genuine care for the beer they were making but whatever it was they had us coming back for pint after pint. Seriously, we left for home and wanted more so we flew back. These guys are the ones making history in both Jackson and the entire state of Mississippi with their beer and they just happened to be the kind of guys you wanted to hang out and drink that beer with.
Their story starts with Lucas Simmons; Lucas the brew master, Lucas the visionary. He works his days putting his mechanical engineering degree to use at his day job but spends his nights toiling away in the heat of the boilers, mash tuns, and fermenters at Lucky Town. He wouldn't do it if he didn't want us to drink good beer, something that was seriously lacking in the Magnolia State. When he first started perfecting the recipes it was still illegal to brew beer in Mississippi. Something that only changed recently. He was good at it. So good in fact he took first place in the state’s first homebrew competition overall and in taste.
Then we have Chip. Chip Jones wasn't a brewer to begin with. Beer wasn't even really in his orbit until he caught up with Lucas. Their friendship was the much needed spark for the craft powder keg that was waiting to blow. It was Chip that suggested to Lucas to go big. Chip was the force that pushed Lucas to keep going even though there were a laundry list of hurdles. Now Chip is not just an important member of Lucky Town's team where he handles the distribution, sales, and marketing for the brewery, he is also an integral part of the craft beer movement in the state holding an important seat with the Mississippi Brewers Guild.
Of course there are others that are just as important to the Lucky Town family. "Biggs" handles research and development while Angela is the special events coordinator and Courtney handles sales. All very important people that are helping Jackson's only brewery prosper. Then there is J.C. Patterson. J.C. isn't exactly on the payroll, simply just one of the many volunteers that devote a little love and time to the brewery, but his heart is a hundred percent Lucky Town. He pours with a smile and gives the absolute best tours.
The brewery is in an impressive old warehouse that used to be the home of a Greyhound maintenance facility, a welder shop, and an artist studio. Now it houses big beautiful steel tanks, fermenters, boilers, and a slick little canning line. The walls are lined with pallets of empty cans and kegs waiting to be filled and shipped out. The only thing missing is a giant chalkboard with their beer list and a place to order the brews. Sadly that part is still illegal.
Lucky Town has only been open for a few months. Their Kickstarter campaign was successfully funded in March of 2012. Their ribbon cutting was in November, and they have been pumping out kegs and cans ever since. That's why their distribution footprint is so impressive. Unfortunately they only spread the love in Mississippi but you would be hard pressed to not find their beers from the Delta to the Gulf. We found it on tap in several places in Jackson.
The beers. We need to talk about the beers. Lucas' baby, and the first beer they made was the award winning Flare Incident. It was the reason we flew back. Flare Incident is the breweries only dark beer, an oatmeal stout. But it has Vermont maple syrup. And brown sugar. And it still comes in under the 6% A.B.W. that Mississippi laws require. Lucas owes us one when its ready.
Our favorite was the Ballistic Blonde. It takes the tried and true Belgian wheat style and tosses in clover, a bit more hop, and even some fruitiness. Lord this beer was good.
Of course they have their staples for the craft crowd. Their I.P.A., Hop Fiasco, is as bitter as one would like without giving that forceful kick in the teeth some breweries make. It appeased the appetite for bitter without making you work too hard to drink it. Lucas and the gang were three for three.
The Pub Ale, the lightest and easiest to drink beer, weighs in at only 3.8% A.B.V. It's a smart move for them to craft such a light beer because until recently beers that were sold in Mississippi were limited to be 5% A.B.W. or less. Good for breweries making the light beers and beer for chugging, funneling, and shotgunning. Not good for everyone else. The Pub Ale makes for a good gateway beer. It isn't the beer your mother warned you about but it's on the right path.
Lucky Town came at the right time, and Lucas and Chip are making great strides for the greater beer good in Mississippi. They are still fighting over stupid beer laws, and thanks to the Brewers Guild and senators like David Blount and attorneys like Matthew McLaughlin the fight is getting easier. Until 2013, it was illegal to brew beer at home. Looking back it is amazing that Lucky Town and others like Lazy Magnolia and Southern Prohibition even made it.
One law still can't seem to be shaken. It requires brewers like Lucas and Chip to first sell their beer to a distributor before it gets back to the customer. Georgia is suffering from this same fate. A lot of profit is being left on the table for Mississippi brewers. Luckily you can still get beer fresh at the source, but the work around still isn't good enough for brewers like Lucky Town who could benefit from the direct profits to help grow and pay down their brewing equipment. Like Georgia brewers, they charge for tours that give samples. There is a lot of money being lost to the brewery when they can’t sell what they make to their adoring fans. Money that could and should stay in the local economy.
The brewery is still young, so before we left we posed a question to Lucas that probably has been asked plenty of times before. Where to next?
“I want to make sure our four main products are supplied and everybody is happy.” he said. “Now that we got that out of the way, I get to play fun. Here comes the small batches and the seasonals but I don’t want to do what other people are doing, we never have.” Lucas mentioned sours and small batches, he is even designing and building his own large format bottling line.
He wants to grow, but not too big. “We don’t want to get so big that people look at us as a major national brand, that’s not us. I want everybody that touches our beer to be close enough where they can come down here and hang out with me and have a beer.”
We closed out our Jackson adventure with Lucky Town Brewing Company and feel that we are better for it. We went into Jackson not sure what to expect. It's a tough state that is still growing. It flies under the radar and a lot of people forget that it is even here. But inside Jackson, inside the entire state are a people and community that need to be seen and experienced. These are good people that make good food. They are good friends that make great beer.