Matt Jeffries began his career as an English teacher. The Columbus, Georgia born Fondrenite says he loved it, but his head was in the wrong place. He was chasing material dreams and knew a teacher’s salary couldn’t provide him the lifestyle he craved.
Now, he’s a teacher again — in a different way — as the craft brands manager for Southern Beverage Company.
After a childhood of moving from state to state along with his parents’ insurance job promotions, Jeffries settled in Mississippi in 2003. With older brothers in the restaurant and bar business, Jeffries said, “Why not,” and found himself under the tutelage of Julep restaurant’s Patrick Kelly. He was with the company for eight years until the draw of a new wife and forthcoming child gave him pause. Southern Beverage Company approached him.
“They had gotten to know me (through Julep) and we started talking beer,” Jeffries says. “I guess I had enough knowledge to be dangerous and they offered me a position.”
In 2003, when Jeffries moved here, craft beer was non-existent. In 2005, Lazy Magnolia Brewing Company opened in South Mississippi. And in 2012, Mississippi’s archaic beer laws changed, allowing a higher alcohol content product to be sold and produced here.
Now, there are nine breweries in the state with “three or four on the horizon.” Like a toddler who has seen a television for the first time, the fascination with craft beer has been captivating.
“People have been shocked by the immediate number of new beers available to them,” Jeffries explains. “The business has gone in this direction 100 miles per hour in last ten years, and there’s no sign of slowing down anytime soon.”
With that comes the education of consumers, a job Jeffries takes to heart. “As we have come to learn with the farm to table food movement, it’s important to know what we put into our bodies,” he says. “It’s the same with craft beer: high quality ingredients, shopped straight from the source. Brewers are brewing with passion and love and want to make their product the best it can be.”
He reiterates the three tenants of his duties: education (know what you are drinking), awareness (understand that a higher alcohol beer can’t be consumed in the same way as the beer you are used to drinking) and drinkability (how does it taste?)
This Friday, Jeffries and the brewers he represents will have the chance to show off the exponential growth of craft beer through the Mississippi Craft Beer Festival. The first-ever event is being put on by Fondren Renaissance Foundation in cooperation with Southern Beverage Company and Capital City Beverage Company, a partnership that thrills Jeffries.
“Derek (Nelson — Cap City’s craft brands manager) and I have gotten our hands pretty dirty working on this together,” Jeffries says. “It’s amazing what two longstanding successful companies can do when they put their heads together. Yes, dollars and cents come in to play, but when it boils down to it, with both companies, we have the same end goal in mind. And there’s strength in numbers.”
Following a planned successful festival this weekend, Jeffries will concentrate on growing a new division of Southern Beverage, Deep South Craft, a unifying moniker of sorts, representing local and regional breweries. He’ll be found sipping on his summer beer of choice (a Southern Prohibition seasonal called Soul Glo Saison) from the deck of his recently purchased fixer upper in Fondren. He, along with his wife Mary Rebecca and son Denman, have “planted their flag” in what he calls a “unique, burgeoning” neighborhood. “The communal draw here, supporting local businesses — we wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.”