Lager-lovers rejoice, Jackson’s first brewery is thriving in Midtown.
Lucas Simmons, brewmaster, and Chip Jones, head of sales, marketing and distribution, began Lucky Town in November 2012 while both held full-time jobs as an engineer and an architect, respectively. They still hold these jobs, making the immediate success of Jackson’s first brewery even more impressive, especially considering they do it all with only three other people: Brandon Blacklidge, research and development, Angela Blackburn, special events coordinator and Courtney Culpepper, Mississippi sales rep.
Lucas and Chip began Lucky Town through contract brewing for Back Forty Beer Company in Gadsden, Alabama, and began brewing in their facility in Midtown on September 24, 2014. Brewing beer had long been a passion of Lucas’s, who began home brewing ten years before Lucky Town’s inception. Lucas entered his brews (one of them the award-winning oatmeal stout known as the Flare Incident) into competitions under the name Gluckstadt Brewing. Although the name Lucky Town brings to mind Irish roots, the name actually comes from the English translation of “Gluckstadt”, another tie to the local area.
I first visited Lucky Town’s brewery during one of their weekend tours. Previously, my interest in beer had solely been in the drinking of it. However, in the intimate microbrewery setting, in the company of the people making the beer, it’s hard not to become interested in the process itself.
Taking my third glass of beer outside the warehouse in Midtown where the brewery is housed, I allowed my eyes to wander the streets as people walked up to the brewery, one stop during their exciting Jackson weekend. Lucky Town’s customers are proud Mississippians, enjoying a weekend in Jackson, making it a little bit better, a little more desirable with every fun memory they make.
Lucas and Chip are proud of Jackson—their passion for brewing beer intertwined with their passion for the Jackson community. When asked why they decided to stay in Mississippi despite stricter brewing laws that make it more difficult and even less profitable for small breweries to stay in-state, Lucas cited their love for the growing Jackson community: “As much as the benefits would have been to go out-of-state, we have such a good friendship base with this place. We love Jackson and have been here most of our lives. We could see doing something positive here, whether it be to help grow a small little corner of the city to where it should be when it’s well on its way anyway or just creating a new creative economy that doesn’t exist here yet.”
The benefits to going out-of-state for breweries largely concern the particularly strict Mississippi laws. According to Lucas, the most restrictive of these laws is that it is illegal for them to sell on site. They are only allowed to give out six six-ounce samples during an extensive guided tour once in a 24-hour period. These laws are potentially detrimental to Mississippi brewing. As Chip says, “It keeps all Mississippi breweries back. Our brewing industry is never going to grow at the pace everyone else is because of that one law.”
Despite these setbacks, Lucas and Chip see providing a local beer to their hometown as contributing to the effort to keep young people in Mississippi, something they became passionate about after watching many of their fellow classmates leave after college to find work. Lucas says, “They’re not keeping people here because there are cooler places to live, or at least people think that. If you start seeing what’s happening with Fondren, what you could do here and what downtown could be, you could bring those people back.”
Craft beer’s story is not dissimilar to Jackson’s. Much as Jackson’s burgeoning art scene has increased its appeal for the younger community, so craft beer has risen from its underdog status to become an increasingly popular aspect of the beer industry. Chip says, “For the past five years craft beer has grown in the double digits, which no other industry that I know of has done. Last year it was up seventeen percent, this year they’re expecting for it to be up around twenty percent. Not only is it growing; it’s actually growing more each year.”
When asked why he thinks craft beer is growing in popularity, Lucas again cited Jackson’s growing sense of community: “I think some of it is people are buying local. It’s cool to be able to go down and meet the guy that makes your beer. You know where every drop of it has been produced.” The way Lucas describes the rise of craft beer, you can almost imagine a romantic return to the days when everyone knew his or her grocer, milkman, etc. However, this romantic ideal that we see realizing itself in the form of craft beer is also intrinsically important to economic growth. The increasing popularity of visiting local establishments and buying local products means that more money is remaining in the Jackson economy. Thus, local products like Lucky Town are about more than the product itself; they are about contributing to Jackson’s growth.
The story of craft beer is a refreshing one, and not just because of the increasing number of beer options. Craft and microbreweries are actually changing the way we drink beer. People are shifting away from larger brand-name beers, opting to spend more money on less beer by buying craft. According to Lucas, “The great thing about it is that, with the craft beer industry having so much growth, the total beer industry is actually shrinking. So people are buying less beer but they’re buying better beer. So to see that kind of growth when the whole industry is coming down is kind of cool.” The story of craft beer is the kind of underdog story that we all like to hear—the one where the little guy is winning.
Lucky Town’s success is evidence of both the growing popularity of craft beer and of Jackson’s growing desire for local products. Its sales have risen an amazing 63% since last October. Canning began on December 3 and the company is already struggling to meet the high demand for its product. The decision to can instead of bottle was predominately informed by the specific needs of the Jackson community. Lucas says, “I mean, it’s Mississippi, everybody likes being outdoors and there are so many places that don’t allow you to have bottles, like the Reservoir, a golf course; that I think was the biggest driver.”
Because microbreweries tend to focus more on serving local markets, the success of craft beer also means more strongly connected communities. With the opening of new bars in Fondren and the growing arts scene in Midtown, during the past four years I’ve seen the Jackson community grow and thrive exponentially. It certainly is not a stretch to say that Jackson is undergoing a renaissance of sorts, with local artists choosing to stay and build/ support the arts scene here rather than leaving to pursue their craft elsewhere. Lucky Town is about more than just providing a great local beer for the Jackson community; Lucky Town is part of Jackson’s Renaissance.
Brewery tours are given on Fridays from 4-7 and Saturdays from 11-3. Check Lucky Town’s website for upcoming Sippin’ Saturday dates, which feature local food, live music, and, of course, beer. Six six-ounce beer samples are included in the $15 admission fee.
Lucky Town Brewery is located at 1701 North Mill Street in Jackson. For hours, events, merchandise and more information, visit www.luckytownbrewing.com.
Photos by Abe Draper