Hoist a beer with a hearty "Cheers!"
The third annual Top of the Hops Festival in Jackson has more to celebrate than just the cold, crisp refreshment of its signature beverage. This is the first beer festival since the state beer law went into effect, raising the allowable alcohol limit from five to eight percent.
It's the big new thing this year - high-gravity beers pouring into the state in law's wake, said Trevor Starnes of Red Mountain Entertainment in Birmingham, event co-producer with Blue Deuce Entertainment of New Orleans.
Eight to 10 new breweries are in the state for the first time, Starnes said. Plus, Mississippi brewery Lazy Magnolia unveiled its high-gravity Timber Beast earlier this month.
High gravity beers (alcohol by volume 6 percent or higher) refer to specialty craft beers with an increased weight of sugar and gravity pull in the fermentation process. They are higher in alcohol because of the increased sugar and other flavor-enhancing ingredients at the start of brewing. It's still beer, but it's got more kick.
Additional cool beers include the Diamond Bear Two Term Double IPA, the Abita Andygator, Old Rasputin from North Coast, Samuel Adams' Wee Heavy, the Sierra Nevada Torpedo Extra, the Back Forty Kudzu Porter and the Yazoo Sue, Starnes said.
Past Top of the Hops have drawn about 2,000 to 2,500 people and organizers hope to top 3,000 this time around. Buzz surrounding the new beer law, bigger numbers of craft beer lovers here and the fest's one-stop sip shop of beers new to Mississippi are all expected to boost festival attendance.
"I've heard what's coming, and it's going to be great," said Craig Hendry, vice president (soon to be president) of the beer advocacy group Raise Your Pints. "The previous two years, with the law limitation, we had nearly the exact same beer list two years in a row." This year's new brews will make it an exciting festival.
Attendees get tiny 2-ounce plastic mugs for sampling the festival's beers. It's a chance to find out what tickles the palate beer-wise, before committing to full bottles or pours at the grocery store or bar. Tasters can also explore another trend - increased interest in hard ciders.
The festival will feature about 175 different beers (draft, bottle and cask) for sampling, from 50 different breweries.
"You can really dig in and find figure out what your taste buds like and don't like," Starnes said.
Jackson band Otis Lotus will provide the musical entertainment.
This Top of the Hops boasts a host of beer gardens to help ease bottlenecking and space out the crowd; also, the VIP area has been moved to a ballroom to relieve crowd pressure.
The festival also is bigger, square foot-wise, Jackson Convention Complex general manager Kelvin Moore said, with the use of additional space.
The Newcastle Import Garden will showcase import beers from all over the world. There are also beer gardens bearing the names Shock Top, Diamond Bear, Blue Moon, Lazy Magnolia and Abita, plus a Back Forty Cask Beer Garden.
The Samuel Adams Brew University will offer sessions on topics ranging from introduction to brewing to food-beer pairings and more, and festgoers can get the inside track from brewers and brewery reps on hand.
Just don't overdo the fun.
"We will have taxis for the event, so we want people to be responsible," Moore said. Attendees can also pre-order rides by calling Citi Cab and Deluxe Cab.
•What: Abita Beer Presents Top of the Hops Beer Festival
•When: 4-8 p.m. Saturday
•Where: Jackson Convention Complex, 105 E. Pascagoula St., Jackson
•Cost: $35 general admission, $15 designated driver
•Contact: www.ticketmaster.com, 1-800-745-3000, www.topofthehopsbeerfest.com/jackson
•6 p.m. today: Abita Night at Wing Stop, $15 all-you-can-eat wings paired with craft beer only if you're wearing a Raise Your Pints T-shirt.
•7 p.m. Friday: Raise Your Pints Big Beer Bash at Hal & Mal's (Raise Your Pints shirt is your entry ticket).
•Saturday: Top of the Hops festival at Jackson Convention Complex, 4-8 p.m. and after-party at Hal & Mal's.