originally published at hubcitylife.com
“Do you know that guy, dad?”
“Nah, don’t think so.”
“Then why’d you wave at him?” At thirteen, my New Orleans roots freshly repotted in Hattiesburg’s soil, I was still grappling with basic social niceties among those folks I knew. Waving at a stranger as we passed each other at 45mph on a desolate country road was foreign enough to merit questioning.
“He waved at me,” my dad replied. “That’s just what they do down here.”
It took me several more years to understand that Mississippi is special in that respect. Our simple willingness to acknowledge the humanity of our neighbors, which is what we do down here, makes Hattiesburg a human economy. Everyone knows everyone around here, but our city is large enough that we have a choice in where to invest our dollars. We might work at the hardware store, but we traffic in mutual kindness and respect just as much as we do in nuts and bolts. For businesses in Hattiesburg, developing relationships is inexorably entwined with profit and loss.
The folks at Southern Prohibition, from owner Quinby Chunn to head brewer Ben Green, sales manager Emily Curry, and the rest of their ever-growing staff, define what it means to be a 21st century business in Mississippi. They make forward-thinking beers that are equal parts creative and accessible. They occupy crucial real estate in Hattiesburg’s revitalized downtown. They’ve helped change laws in the state and opinions around town about who craft beer is for (the answer: everyone with a mouth). And they’re doing all this while staying true to their roots and building a community up. In an era where craft breweries have more access to more markets than ever before, SoPro butters its bread where it brews its beer – in Hattiesburg.
SoPro began as a proper nanobrewery, producing homebrew-scale batches of beer from deep within the bowels of John Neal’s Keg and Barrel pub. After a couple years of varied and interesting brews, Neal passed the torch to Hattiesburg native and owner of the sorely-missed Bakers Burger, Quinby Chunn. With brewing experience at Austin’s Real Ale, Chunn meshed his industry background with Neal’s deep connections to the Hattiesburg craft beer scene, and Southern Prohibition released its first batch of beer in early 2013. The brewery recruited homebrewer-extraordinaire Green and stole Curry away from her management position at Starkville’s City Bagel to round out its army.
Mississippi Fire Ant was SoPro’s third addition to the year-round lineup, and it’s their most unique beer. Far maltier than a standard IPA, without the chocolate or roasted malt of a porter or stout, Fire Ant is an imperial red ale that makes a satisfying first, last, or only beer of the drinking session. Green aimed for and achieved a “deceptive alcohol presence” in this beer, giving Fire Ant a versatility that’s often lacking in beers north of 7% ABV.
Fire Ant pours a turbid, deep mahogany, with a head the color of heavy cream. Burly tones of strawberry jam, pine cones, and damp earth jump out of the glass. The flavor is a tug-of-war between fruity maltiness and resinous, citrus-tinged hops. As the beer warms, hop contribution recedes to allow mellow notes of quince, bitter almond, and a slight nod of alcohol warmth to close things out. This is a beer begging to be paired with anything spicy, grilled, or smoked – Fire Ant has the heft to handle hot wings and the restraint to complement a more subtly-seasoned dish like grilled ribeye or pork sausage.
Since charging out of the gate with Suzy B and Devil’s Harvest, SoPro has expanded to four year-round beers, a rotating seasonal release, and an intermittent smattering of barrel-aged takes on many of their brews. The brewery itself has expanded to accommodate more fermenters, which means more beer in Hattiesburg and elsewhere. Future plans include a tap room (if Mississippi’s archaic beer laws can be bent once more [Ed. success!!]) and a project that perfectly encapsulates the brewery’s progressive, community-first ethos. In partnership with Magnolia Green Industries, the brewery’s leftover grain will be turned into fish food, which will be used to feed catfish housed in a small habitat on-site. The wastewater from the fish will then be filtered through a plant bed in a soil-less aquaponics system, nourishing the plants and yielding refreshed water for the fish. The eventual plan is to serve fried catfish and greens with a pint of beer in the brewery’s taproom, with nearly all of the ingredients generated on-site. Cue “Circle of Life” and all that.
Hattiesburg would be missing something important without Southern Prohibition, and the beer community’s support is a huge part of what makes SoPro the brewery that it is. Beer is a thing that brings people together and helps them appreciate their commonalities, and living in a town with a brewery gives the citizens of that town a place to gather, a beverage that echoes their identity, and a significant chunk of culture to claim for themselves and share with the world.
Beer has taught me a lot about how to live in Mississippi, and having SoPro and its people around has deepened and expanded those lessons. They’re proof that believing in the people you share space with is never a poor investment. Their existence, not to mention their ample success, is a sign to me that Hattiesburg will support ambition, reward foresight, and welcome those who want to do good things in our city. Now, when I jog through my neighborhood or ride down the street, I give a smile or a wave to everyone whose eyes I meet.
It’s just what we do down here.
Southern Prohibition Brewing
301 Mobile St
Taproom open 5-10pm Th/Fri, 12-10pm Sat