JACKSON, Mississippi (WJTV) – The business of selling a drink is growing. And in Mississippi one organization is responsible for overseeing the sale of all alcoholic drinks – both by the bottle and by the glass.
WJTV’s Natay Holmes took a look behind the scenes at the Magnolia State’s Alcoholic Beverage Control, or “ABC,” for a look at how they do what they do.
Wine, whiskey, and vodka are just some of the beverages you can find on the shelves at local package stores. At Silver Leaf Wine and Spirits in Ridgeland, Mississippi owner Victor Pittman says he now has at least 1,600 different brands from all over the world. “The expansion of offerings for the state of Mississippi has grown tremendously over the fifteen-sixteen years that I have been in business,” he says. Pittman has been in the business since 2002. Since then his business has grown and others are finding the allure of the alcohol industry attractive. Says Pittman, “In a two-mile radius I have…18 or 19 stores, which is a lot.”
But the business is not necessarily an easy one into which to break. And once a store is opened there are many regulations. Before any alcoholic beverages hit the shelves of local stores they have to be processed at the liquor distribution site in Gluckstadt. ABC Director Jamie Eubanks says, “Everything above five percent of alcohol comes to this distribution center and (is) shipped out of here to every package store, every restaurant.” The 211,000-square foot warehouse holds between 375,000 to 450,000 cases at any given time. Eubanks says they receive about 50 to 75 cases a day. “We ship anywhere in the state, with a five-case minimum, four days a week. That’s something no other state does.”
We ship anywhere in the state…four days a week. That’s something no other state does.” Jamie Eubanks, ABC Director
The warehouse has seen an increase in business of between three and five percent every year for the past ten years. All of the money earned from the warehouse – which totals about $1.7 million annually – goes to the state’s general fund. Eubanks says, “Everything you see (in the warehouse) is about 35 million dollars’ worth of inventory,” consisting of about 4,800 different types and brands. “Plus,” he says, “we do eight thousand special orders.” Businesses order through the ABC website. Silver Leaf’s Pittman says, “The broker system comes and educates you on the products that they have and then what you do it order through a centralized process through the State of Mississippi.” The state not only regulates the business; the law enforcement division works to bust illegal alcohol operations, including the production of moonshine. ABC Chief of Enforcement Rusty Hanna says, “Yes, moonshine is still available. I would say every county in Mississippi has some degree of moonshine in it.”
“…Every county in Mississippi has some degree of moonshine in it.” ABC Chief of Enforcement Rusty Hanna
While it may not sound like a “big” crime there are serious health and safety concerns surrounding moonshine and its production. As Eubanks says, “It could explode if you don’t known what you’re doing.” Adds Hanna, “I’ve seen raccoons that have crawled over into the mash barrels in the ground, all kinds of bugs. Bugs are always in the mash.” And Hanna, who has been with the ABC for 33 years, says he has seen serious safety issues as well. “We had a man in Rankin County, about two years ago, burn his house down in a very nice subdivision.” Hanna says the biggest “bust” he has seen was in Kemper County in 1996, when they seized 235 gallons of moonshine.
Not only is the moonshine itself illegal to produce, possession of equipment used in its manufacture is illegal as well. In the lobby of the ABC sits a moonshine still that has never been used. Hanna says it was seized from someone in Jackson who was trying to sell it online through Craigslist.
Stills and alcohol seized by the ABC are usually destroyed on site. Bottled alcohol is brought to the ABC’s evidence room until after the court process is completed for each individual case. The number of cases is continually growing. With the industry growing in the state some lawmakers are looking to make some industry-wide changes. There has, Hanna says the recent push in the legislature to put wine in grocery stores. He predicts no slowdown for the industry. Hanna says, “Alcohol is more prevalent today than it’s been in a long time in Mississippi.”