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Thursday, February 16, 2012

Lucky Town Brewing Interview Part 1..Brewing Southern Style

On Saturday, February 11, through the awesomeness of Skype I interviewed Chip Jones and Lucas Simmons, two of the fine folks from Lucky Town Brewing Company, a new craft brewery getting on their feet in Jackson, Mississippi. They currently have a Kickstarter project underway to help them acquire a bit more capital. Chip leads Lucky Town’s sales, marketing, and distribution efforts, while Lucas is the brewmaster looking to redefine the Mississippi beer scene.

These folks are pioneers for awesome Mississippi beer.
(From left to right, Angela Aiello, Brandon Blacklidge,
Lucas Simmons, Chip Jones)
Tell us a little bit about yourself, how did you get started in brewing beer?

Lucas: I started brewing back when I graduated college and I was working at Nissan’s Canton Plant here in Mississippi. And a fellow engineer who worked alongside me for a couple of years, we both started talking about it. He actually grew up in Germany and he thought our beer selection was deplorable and he lived in Tennessee for a very long time. He decided we should just make our own. I asked, “You know how to do that?” He said, yeah. So we started brewing in his garage and within a month I was building my own equipment, I built a kegarator and it kind of exploded from there and has been going on about nine years now. I’m just getting better equipment, doing a lot more styles.

Chip: I come from a design oriented background, earned my degree in architecture from Mississippi State University. That is where Lucas and I met in college, we were both members of the Alpha Tau Omega fraternity and growing up in Mississippi I wasn’t even aware that you could make your own beer until I learned from Lucas that he had been doing it for years, so I got interested in it and started learning a little bit through him and doing my own research so that is how I got into it.

Tell me a bit about the Mississippi region where you plan on starting?

Lucas: The Jackson metro area, but that depends on a few things. We call ourselves Lucky Town because that is the rough translation of Gluckstadt where I have been brewing for the last nine years. We are going to end up somewhere in this region.

What advantages does it bring?

Chip: Jackson is the largest metro area in Mississippi, it runs about 620,000 residents in a five county area and there are a lot of statistics that back up our decision to locate here. Mississippi consistently ranks in the top 15 states for beer consumption per capita, even though we have some of the strictest beer laws in the nation which is kind of ironic. Mississippi ranks last in breweries per capita. Currently there is only one brewery in Mississippi [ed. Lazy Magnolia] and that brewery is 150 miles away from Jackson. That is the nearest brewery. A lot of people talk about how there are so many breweries in America that anybody lives within 10 to 20 miles from one. Well that is definitely not the case in Mississippi.

There has been a push for southern brewing styles incorporating southern culture and elements into their beer, how are you planning on working that into your brewery and your beer?

Lucas: We like to use anything we can local. We believe the same thing and we want to use southern styles. It is like our Stout of the Rising Sun that we have done which is completely southern pit barbeque beer. We are going to do as much as we can to keep it that way. The South is very proud of itself and they like to see things that represent it.

Chip: I think one advantage is that the southeast US is not as saturated with breweries as most regions of the country are so it lends itself to more opportunities for unique beers and experimentation with regional ingredients and local techniques that you won’t find in other areas.

What has been the most challenging part of launching Lucky Town Brewery?

Chip: I would say being in Mississippi, kind of like how I didn’t know you could make your own beer, it would be the education part. Many people here don’t realize how far behind we are not just in craft beer, but the beer industry. We are trying to get people to realize that this is something that we can all get behind, it is something we can support, it is a very natural process, we can locate anywhere, it is not as harsh an industry as chemicals or textiles or what have you. I think once we get people to realize that you can have your own local brewery we will get people behind it.

Mississippi is known for its restrictive, and some might argue draconian alcohol laws. How are you negotiating that?

Lucas: We are restricted at the moment to session beers and that is ok, it doesn’t really bother us to much, we would like to see that change eventually, but we can still make great beer. I know the trend right now is to make big body, extreme, high gravity beer and hopefully we will get to make some of those in small batches when these laws eventually get changed, but right now we can make some amazing session beers and that is a good starting point for us. We feel that with the Raise Your Pints movement and Lazy Magnolia pushing on a few things that if it doesn’t get changed this year eventually it will, so we can start with small stuff and then hopefully by the time we are fully up and running we will have the opportunity to do what we want.

How do you feel you can differentiate yourselves from other beer across the south?

Lucas: They all make great beer and so we find ourselves doing styles that they haven’t hit yet and we try to do things a little more extreme, we add unique stuff. It is kind of hard with as many breweries that are out there to be original these days, but I think you still can.

Chip: Our motto is to be bold and rediscover beer. We take that outlook in all aspects of the business. Anytime we make a decision we look back at that and does it met the criteria of being bold. That is how we have come up with the styles and goes with everything from the kind of pint glasses we choose to the type of designs we choose with our graphics and labels. We apply it to everything. Our biggest competitor is not other craft breweries; it is Anheuser-Busch and MillerCoors. We are just trying to get people to try something outside of the box. You don’t have to buy the same beer day in and day out.

Sometimes imposed limits, particularly the alcohol restrictions, force you to innovate in other ways, how is Lucky Town approaching that?

Lucas: We are trying to get more creative with it. Take an imperial stout, you can add so much flavor to it and you are not really messing with the style. You can do the same thing with a low-bodied stout, you just have to be a lot more careful. You have your extreme beers now and all of them are high gravity, I think eventually you will see people getting a little more creative with normal session beers. It is going right now where everybody is drinking these huge high gravity beers, but eventually I think you will see people get creative with small bodied beers just the same. 

That’s it for Part 1, but stay tuned folks there will be more tomorrow in Part 2 where Chip and Lucas go into detail about Lucky Town's beer, why they chose Kickstarter, and what they have planned for the future. In the meantime, check out their Kickstarter project and chip in a few bucks to help make a better beer world. 

For more information on Lucky Town Brewing check out their website, facebook page, follow them on twitter, or see what they are drinking on Untappd.

Want to help change the beer laws in Mississippi? Go check out the efforts of Raise Your Pints

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