Beer festival draws record crowd in Biloxi


AMANDA McCOY/SUN HERALDRachel Upton samples a beer from Back Forty Beer Co. during the third annual Top of the Hops Beer Fest at the Mississippi Coast Convention Center on Saturday. Attendees could sample from 185 beers from 61 different breweries.



BILOXI -- Tiny plastic mug? Check.

Homemade necklace strung with salty pretzels? Check.

Appetite for beer? Check.

A record number of people attended the third annual Top of the Hops Beer Fest on Saturday at the Coast Convention Center in Biloxi. Organizers ran out of 3,000 commemorative 2-ounce mugs and had switched to small plastic glasses by 6 p.m.

For the price of admission, attendees could sample any of 185 beers from 61 breweries between 5 and 9 p.m. VIP ticket holders were allowed to enter the building an hour earlier.

The festival isn't only about drinking, though.

Other vendors offered information on state tourism, barbecue products, legal services, cab companies and even soap.


Vanessa Mueller of Marina Cottage Soap Co. of Ocean Springs said she was thrilled to be invited to attend the festival, but wasn't surprised. After all, Mueller makes soap from beer.

Several flavors of Lazy Magnolia Brewing Co. beer make their way into her products.

Kristina Tanner of Pearl had made pretzel necklaces for herself and her friends. This is the 27-year-old's third beer festival, but the first in South Mississippi.

She said the crunchy snacks help cleanse the palate after sampling the various ale, lager and wheat beers.

That comes in handy for brews that aren't so pleasing to her taste buds.

"Some of them aren't everybody's cup of tea," she said.

Jason Lowery of Biloxi has been to all three Biloxi festivals. The 40-year-old brought his friends Russell Bernos, 40, of Diamondhead, and Cameron Colegrove, 39, of Ocean Springs.

It was Bernos' second festival, Colegrove's first.

The three friends hoped to find a few new favorites.

"A lot of these beers, you don't even know exist," Lowery said.

Matt McDonnell, assistant executive director of the Coast Coliseum and Convention Center, said 3,059 people attended the festival.

Trevor Starnes, project manager for Red Mountain Entertainment, attributed the record attendance to the gourmet beer bill that passed in the state in 2012. It allowed them to offer more-potent beers at the festival.

He said the festival gives beer connoisseurs a chance to taste a wide variety of brews.

"They find something they really like, they'll go to a grocery store and buy a case," he said.

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