By Zack Orsborn Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal, Tupelo.
When Jean Mohammadi-Aragh and her husband Derek Irby, co-founders of Mayhew Junction Brewing Company in Starkville, first started home brewing, the variety of beer in Starkville and surrounding areas lacked.
"We have had lower alcohol content and things like that," Mohammadi-Aragh said. "Whenever we would travel and get beers, we couldn't come back and get those same beers."
So, she pulled her wine-making equipment out of the closet and started experimenting with different flavors inspired by their many tours of breweries around the country. The first beer they made was a clone of the Belgian Fat Tire, an amber ale.
They met with friends, Katy and Chris Edwards, who also shared a passion for home brewing. They swapped beers and talked about their favorite flavors. They shared the same vision of the brewery culture.
"The brewery culture, it's like when you're sitting on the back porch with all your friends, chatting and maybe sitting by a bonfire," Mohammadi-Aragh said. "You have a lot of people who are open to different cultures and backgrounds. They're just able to share a conversation while they are sharing a beer."
In 2014, the two couples decided to go pro and take their hobby of home brewing to a much larger scale.
They began etching out what a brewery would be like in Starkville and what kind of space they would need to fit brewing equipment. They met with other breweries, like Natchez Brewing Company, to find out more about the business of hops.
Finding a space took a lot longer than expected because of the limited amount of commercial property space.
"Once we found our space, we had to look back at the vision of our brewery and see what different equipment we needed because we got a bigger space than we thought we were going to get initially," Mohammadi-Aragh said. "We ordered the fermenters. It's been a lot less than what I expected getting a business started."
The couples settled on 106 Eckford Drive, the old Wasson's Fish House. They were inspired by Mayhew, a small community between Starkville and Columbus. The locals call it Mayhew Junction, and sometimes the Crossroads.
When people couldn't buy cold beers in Starkville, they traveled to Mayhew to drink and mingle at bars. It was also a community gathering destination that connected Mississippi State University and Mississippi University for Women.
"If you go back in history when the W was an all-women's school and MSU was an all-male school, Mayhew was a meeting ground for finding dates," Mohammadi-Aragh said. "It ties to the community aspect."
The couples said they want to always keep a community-focused brewery.
"We want to think about our community first," Mohammadi-Aragh said. "Other breweries are very local, but I'm not concerned about selling our beer in Alabama or Arkansas. We're not in it to expand. We're here to create that culture and community that we've experienced in other towns."
Mohammadi-Aragh said she wants people to try a variety of beers and find the style of beer they like. Mayhew Junction Brewing Company has room for 13 different styles, so there is room to experiment.
Each of the owners crafted beers catered to their tastes. Irby developed a chocolate milk stout while Chris worked on a pale ale. Mohammadi-Aragh, a fan of ambers and German Hefeweizens with few hops, developed the Mayhew Weiss.
"That's a German Hefeweizen. It's got more a banana flavor instead of a clove, spicy flavor," she said. "Really, you don't add anything to the beer because German has such strict purity laws. You wouldn't be adding bananas or spices. What happens is the yeast you put in, depending on the temperature you ferment, the byproduct creates these flavors."
Once the brewery opens, hopefully by early to mid February, beer lovers can take a walk through tour of Mayhew Junction Brewing Company.
For $10, customers get a six-ounce sample glass to test six different beers. The couples will explain the process of brewing and the ingredients that go in to making their flavors.
Mohammadi-Aragh sees Mayhew Junction Brewing Company as a tourist destination.
"I would like to see our beer all throughout Mississippi," she said. "I would like to see people coming into tours both local and also people from out of state who maybe want to learn a little bit more about Mississippi culture and Mississippi beer."
To learn more about Mayhew Junction Brewery, visit mayhewjunction.com.