The Keg & Barrel will celebrate its 12-year anniversary on Thursday, April 13 with chargrilled oysters and the launch their new late-night bar area in the upstairs of the Neal House.
Owner of the Keg & Barrel John Neal said the business went through some growing pains in the early years but has really blossomed in the past five years.
“We opened in April of 2005 with a tiny kitchen, a tiny menu, we only sold beer, and we were the first non-smoking bar (by choice) in the state,” Neal said. “We struggled in the beginning.”
Neal said that the building next to the Keg was owned by a church, and there were laws against selling alcohol (higher than 6 percent alcohol) within so much distance of church property. Seeing that he needed to get a liquor license and more parking to expand his business, Neal decided to purchase the property in 2008.
That property, The Neal House, became home to Neal’s catering kitchen and was initially separate from the Keg, but after Neal had an epiphany to merge the businesses, things really started to take off.
“Since the beer law changed – Mississippi allowing beers with higher alcohol by volume – on July 1, 2012, our business has grown nearly 30 percent every year,” Neal said. “I give full credit to Raise Your Pints for that.”
Raise Your Pints is a grassroots advocacy group formed to modernize Mississippi’s beer laws and raise the ABV (alcohol by volume). Prior to July 1, 2012, beer could not be above 6 percent ABV and now the limit is 10 percent ABV.
“So we’re opening up the upstairs of the Neal House to be a game-room late-night bar,” Neal said. “We’re going to expand our operating and our kitchen hours. Upstairs we’re going to have foosball, ping- pong, some old-school video games – it’s going to be great.”
Head brewer at Southern Prohibition Brewing Ben Green said the Keg & Barrel will always hold a place in his heart.
“They gave me my first opportunity, and I was able to start my brewing career at Keg,” Green said. “[The] Keg is one of those places that is a cornerstone of Hattiesburg, at least it’s always been a cornerstone for me. I love the atmosphere. It gave people that really loved craft beer before the laws changed a home. [The]Keg & Barrel really helped push craft beer in the state with Raise Your Pints.”
Barry Herring, owner of Southern Fried Comics, said he loves the atmosphere at Keg and Barrel.
“It’s very relaxed,” Herring said. “Since they’ve expanded the back it is great for events. I love hanging out there when the weather is nice. They have great beer selection.
“Part of small businesses and the appeal of small business reflect back on the owners. John Neal is a great guy. He’s given back to this community and Keg and Barrel has a great neighborhood feel.”
Greg Prine, a Hattiesburg local, said he fell in love with the Keg & Barrel from the get-go.
“They have great food and great beer and I can take my dog,” Prine said. “They keep expanding. They’ve done a lot for that part of town.”