In early 2003, Leslie came to me and said that she wanted to explore other ways of using her engineering degree. She had been working at a start-up focused on commercializing a high-performance polymer — a material that all of the textbooks said was physically and chemically impossible to make. They were making it successfully — doing the impossible.
As our conversation progressed, I thought she was leaning into being a stay-at-home mom. We had a conversation about children before we got married, and we both wanted them. She wanted four, and I was perfectly happy with two or more. She wasn’t quite thirty, and so I had already made the leap mentally.
She had very different plans. The entrepreneurial spirit of the start-up polymer plant had taken root in her. She had embraced the reality of succeeding at something that experts say can’t be done: She wanted to open a brewery in Mississippi.
I asked, “Are you crazy?” She replied in a way that only chemical engineers can: “Is that relevant?” At the time, there were no breweries in Mississippi, and very few in the southeast United States. Louisiana had Abita. None in Alabama. One in Arkansas. A couple in Georgia. Not many.
Then again, no one else was making crystal-clear, self-reinforced rigid-rod polymers, but it was being done at a little plant in South Mississippi. If you can change the world’s understanding of polymer science, you can surely overcome some outdated beer laws, right?
Everyone knew that brewing beer in Mississippi was illegal — myself included. Leslie and I discussed it at length, and she had what was in the end a brilliant idea. She said, “If it is illegal, how long has it been illegal?” I replied, “Well, obviously since Prohibition was enacted in Mississippi. Like 1900 or something.” She retorted, “So how much is the fine likely to be?”
Her point, assuming that the law had been on the books for that long, the fine might be something quite reasonable, like $10 or something. Maybe the sheriff shows up once a week to collect a check for $50 and a case of beer. Growing up in Mississippi, we had heard similar stories of the Gold Coast in Jackson.
She tasked me with running the business plan to the ground. Could we do it?
We talked with some friends, all of which were convinced that it was illegal and that I was too pretty for jail. I eventually called an attorney, and told him what we were thinking about doing, “You know that is illegal!?” Those were the first words out of his mouth. He pointed me to a judge. We had a brief conversation, and the judge quickly interrupted with, “You know that is illegal, right?” He pointed me to the local ABC enforcement office.
I decided I would rather read the MS Code first, and I did. All of it. Twice. I couldn’t find where it was illegal. But I did call the ABC, and after they told me, “That’s illegal. You know that, right?” I did ask them to show me. They couldn’t. But they did point me to their supervisor, who explained how illegal it was, and when I asked them to show me the code section, they pointed me to their supervisor. I eventually talked my way up to the head of the ABC, offices in Gluckstadt.
I told him what we wanted to do, and he quoted, “Penalty for that is six months in jail and a fine of $25,000 for your first offense.” I simply asked, “Can you show me where it says that in the code.” You see the law doesn’t tell you what you can and cannot do, it simply assigns consequences to certain actions. You can exceed the speed limit if you chose to, there just might be a nice person in a fast car, blue lights, and a big hat, to assign consequences to that choice.
“Give me 30 minutes, I will get it for you.” Three hours later he calls me back: “We can’t find it, but we know it is in there. You need to call Ronnie Lynch at the State Tax Office.” He explained that the ABC doesn’t regulate beer in Mississippi. Instead, the Department of Revenue does that, and the ABC only provides compliance and enforcement services to the DOR.
I called Ronnie Lynch and told him the same story. “Ronnie, I want to brew beer in Mississippi.” He said, “Yeah, sounds like a good idea to me!” My shock was palpable, even through the phone. I got told “No,” literally, hundreds of times. I eventually got the one “Yes” I was looking for. I asked Ronnie why there were no breweries in Mississippi, here in 2003. He replied, “I don’t know, you are the first person to ever ask.”
It only takes one “Yes.” One “Yes” beats all the “Nos.” Every “No” simply puts you one step closer to the “Yes” you are looking for.
ICYMI: Brewing Your Own Business column one
ICYMI: Brewing Your Own Business column two
ICYMI: Brewing Your Own Business column three
ICYMI: Brewing Your Own Business column four
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