When Jamey Price took a sip of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale as an Ole Miss student during a spring break trip to Lake Tahoe in 1997, it opened his taste buds to the burgeoning industry of craft beer.
For Price, a Vicksburg native, the beer was an example of the craft beer chasm that exists today in the South even as the industry has made gains in the region and more than doubled nationally over the past eight years, with $23.5 billion in sales.
That fateful spring break trip for Price planted the seed for what eventually became Grayton Beer Company, which he and his wife, Candace, opened in Santa Rosa Beach on the Florida Gulf Coast in 2011.
“(Thinking back to that Sierra Nevada), it tastes nothing today like it did in 2002 because of the evolution of hops. U.S. hops are now considered the best,” Price said. “The evolution of the industry has elevated the quality of raw ingredients. It’s what has shaped the craft beer movement.”
Sierra Nevada and Anchor Steam in California, and New Belgium in Colorado, are leaders in the craft beer industry, Price said, and have helped push craft beer to over 12 percent of all beer consumption. In the South, craft beer only accounts for 3 percent of all beer sales, Price said.
Price is doing his part to expand the Southern beer palate. Four Grayton Beer Company brews entered the market in Mississippi this year: Pale Ale, Fish Whistle IPA, 30A Beach Blonde Ale and Salt of the Gulf, a salty gose-style beer.
“To be able to go back to the place where my core values were formed and be able introduce our product into those markets is one of the greatest accomplishments I’ve ever had,” Price said. “Getting the brewery off the ground was great, but it’s great to get a picture from my mother and they’ve got my beer on tap (in Vicksburg).”
Grayton Beer Company's beers are available across the state and at more than 35 restaurants and retailers in the Jackson area, with more being added.
Price studied accountancy as an undergrad at Ole Miss, which he attended at the same time as pitcher Jamey Price, who set the school’s single-season strikeout record in 1998.
“I’d have scouts calling me looking for Jamey and I’d have to tell them that the guy they’re looking for is about 8 inches taller,” Price said of the 6-foot-7-inch pitcher who shared his name.
Price and his wife moved to Florida in 2005 to work for a software company. Searching for an opportunity to put roots in the community, Price wrote a 48-page business plan, and Grayton Beer Company was born.
“We’ve outgrown the initial numbers from that business plan,” Price said.
The company employees 27 people full time, giving a boost to the seasonal, tourism-based local economy.
Grayton Beer’s distribution expansion includes Florida, Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee. The latter two states lead the South in craft beer consumption, but it’s a market with plenty of room to expand. Price commended another Vicksburg native, Linus Hall of Nashville’s Yazoo Brewing Company, for helping expand craft beer by working with legislators and wholesalers in Tennessee.
“(Hall) helped create a landscape more welcoming for breweries, and when we went into distribution in Tennessee, we were able to have a level of success that was greater than we would’ve had otherwise,” Price said.
In 2012, Mississippi became the last state in the country to raise the permissible alcohol content in beer from 5 percent to 8 percent, paving the way for more independent breweries in the state.
At the end of 2016, there were more than 13 breweries in the state. Lazy Magnolia in Kiln was Mississippi’s only craft brewery before the law change. The Brewers Association says Mississippi is 51st in the nation in breweries per capita.
On July 1, Mississippi breweries will be able to sell their own beer on premises, the second-to-last state to enact such legislation.
Price says educating consumers is key for expanding craft beer’s influence across the region. Grayton Beer sells a German-style gose brewed with the same salinity as the water in Leipzig, Germany, which can be unexpected to the American palate.
“A guy emailed me to tell me it was the worst beer he’d ever had in his life,” Price said. “I emailed him back with a link and some context. He apologized and said it was a great representation of the style. That’s the level of education we’re dealing with.”
Ultimately, Price wants his market to look for a beer that enhances flavor.
Price recommends an IPA with spicy foods, a pale ale with seafood and a porter or amber instead of red wine with a steak.
"You don't have to pound light lager ... if you understand the nuances of beer. You can have it be a go-to when it's time to eat."