When Chip Jones was in college, he didn’t know anything about beer. Nothing, except for maybe the price of a six-pack of PBR. After all, that or “natty light” had been his only beer experience until a Mississippi start up company rolled into Starkville with an intriguing offering.
“This was around 2005 and (Kiln, Mississippi’s) Lazy Magnolia was giving out beer samples at Rosey Baby’s bar,” Jones remembers. “I was like, ‘Free samples of beer?’ Who’s going to turn that down?” The then MSU architecture student said that was the day that changed his life.
Growing up in the Magnolia State, beer wasn’t something generally discussed. Jones said he was “raised in church” but didn’t grow up thinking alcohol was bad. “But I grew up never talking about it,” he explained. “The brewing industry is unique because most people here don’t grow up saying ‘I’m going to be a brewer one day.’” And neither did he.
Born in Hattiesburg, Jones spent his formative years in Wesson riding his bike around the Copiah-Lincoln Community College campus where his mother was a counselor. He graduated from Clinton High School with sights set on an engineering degree. After a year and a half of schooling and a loss of interest, he switched to architecture. He remembered an art contest he won in 3rd grade with a last-minute submission and said he has always had a creative side.
He’s still creating, assisting in marketing and graphic design in his day job. But the real creating is happening behind the scenes as a new project takes shape for the 30 year-old. Jones is a part of a small, local startup (also consisting of Lucas Simmons, Angela Aiello and Brandon Blacklidge) well-known by now to many lovers of beer: Lucky Town Brewing Company.
The quartet, each with different responsibilities, hope to locate a full-time brewery in midtown’s arts district. A public hearing on September 25 will help clear zoning hurdles needed to transform the former Greyhound Bus Barn into a thriving production facility.
Lucky Town originally started with Jones’s fraternity brother, Lucas Simmons. He was a seasoned and award-winning homebrewer by the time the pair formed a friendship. And that friendship was one the brewing project needed to take it to the next level. Jones asked Simmons to consider pursuing mass production but Simmons claimed he didn’t have the needed push. Jones recounted that simple conversation: “I said ‘Here I am (pushing)’ and that’s pretty much how it started.”
Fast forward a few years, and Jones and his partners have become part of a growing and open industry. Lucky Town joins Lazy Magnolia, Crooked Letter Brewing, Southern Prohibition and a hand full of others in Mississippi who are reaching an entirely new beer audience. Their biggest market is the 25-35 year old. “Millenials are driving a ton of the sales,” Jones said. “You see more and more of them trying a little of everything.” Mixed ‘make your own’ six packs are popular, he said, as a way to sample something new. “That’s a great thing for Mississippi because a lot of it is education, getting people to try it and see what it’s all about.”
Jones never saw himself as a brewer growing up, but he certainly never saw himself in sales, his primary role in Lucky Town. But the newness and openness of the industry has helped to make the transition from right brain creative to left brain number cruncher a comfortable one. “The camaraderie around craft beer makes it a social product,” he said. Jones noted that brewers across the country are very open to offering support, citing example after example of two-hour phone calls or in-house visits to other breweries around the country.
Other challenges become easier everyday, like figuring out distribution routes and making certain what they do falls on the right side of the law. “(Local beer advocacy group) Raise Your Pints has been helpful,” Jones explained. “When we first began, folks believed we opened because of Mississippi’s changes to allow for higher gravity beers.” But Jones is quick to correct that claim. “It helped us, but it’s not why.” All of the beers being currently brewed by Lucky Town fall under original alcohol allowances, though Jones said they are working on small batch, limited run higher gravity beers.
Jones said he has no regrets about his decision to pursue his creativity in a different way. “Always in the back of my mind, I wondered how my family would react, but they’re wide open,” he explained. “In Mississippi, there’s always that family member, friend or neighbor who may have an aversion to alcohol. But on the whole, the perception of beer is getting better.”