Don’t like big name beers? Brad Harger will help you brew your own legally.
In a storefront on Washington Avenue in Greenville, Miss., in a long and narrow room with a vaulted wooden ceiling, a small,but steady clientele streams through in search of the Holy Grail – ways to brew their own beer.
Brad Harger, his wife, Karen, and nephew Cedric Williams have opened Mississippi’s first home brewing supply company to sell small batches of craft beers, as well as all the supplies for all things to do with fermentation and mold. The shelves of the shop have cheese- and wine-making kits as well as many varieties of beer and a refrigerator full of different yeasts for brewing.
On this day, it’s a range of customers, from a new elderly female brewer making her first batches to a man in for root beer to local craft brewers and a home brewer with stronger tastes in mind. The root beer aficionado bubbles about the stuff he drank in Nebraska as a child. He’s excited he can get the yeast here. The female novice says it’s really her husband who wants to brew the stuff, but she allows that she took the home-brewing class with him and that she decides what they drink and what they brew.
Who knew this market existed?
Harger did. For him, it was instinctive.
“Beer. It was so frustrating. There was no good beer here,” he says when asked about why he opened the shop in December of 2012. It all took him back to why he became a home brewer in the first place. “I didn’t like beer. I couldn’t stand beer because all I had ever had was Bud, Miller and Coors.”
So he sharpened his skills and now shares his knowledge in the Delta.
“At first we wanted to open a brew pub. And then we found out if you have a brew pub you can only sell your beer in Mississippi to customers who came to eat food in your business. So we said, ‘OK, let’s open a brewery instead.’ In Mississippi, you can sell your beer to the distributor but you can’t sell directly to customers and we were like, ‘We don’t want to do that!'”
Although it was technically legal in Mississippi to brew beer, this spring Gov. Phil Bryant signed a new law clarifying that there is no need for a permit to brew for personal consumption. The law took effect July 1. Its passage was music to Harger’s ears.
“We bought downtown because it was so affordable. Actually, my wife bought the building while I was out of town. It’s not the busiest neighborhood. It’s pretty slow, and dead for hours. Hopefully, we get folks thinking about opening something next door or down the way. We’ve noticed neighbors fixing up their buildings after we fixed up ours,” Harger says.
And the family looks to keep sprucing up the neighborhood by dressing up their back log and creating – what else? – a beer garden. Thanks to the new state law, they plan to offer brewing classes and host tastings.
“We do different beer classes, but you sign up for all three, because beer is so complex, you can’t just talk about it in two hours.”
One part of the curriculum is drinking “bad beer,” so a new brewer will know how to fix a batch gone wrong.
Harger’s journey to Greenville began after leaving Oregon to go to Chico State in Northern California, where he met Karen, a Greenville native. They married and eventually moved to Maui, Hawaii, when Brad’s company, Office Max, transferred him there.
Eventually they came to a mutual realization. “We decided we didn’t like the city anymore,” says Harger. So they moved to Karen’s hometown, where Harger divides his time between working at a local Office Max location and his beer supply shop.
His advice for new business comes from his experience in Maui, where he got involved with local government.
“Get involved. Take advantage of all the programs through the chamber of commerce. Meet people.”
A little home brew doesn’t hurt either.
– Written by Erin Smith, Meek School of Journalism and New Media magazine, The Land of Plenty