Oklahoma has a growing number of craft brewers. We talk with four of them about the past, present and future of their brands.
1. Marshall Brewing
Photo by Josh New
Quality, Consistency, Tradition
As one of the founding fathers of the brewing zeitgeist in Tulsa, Marshall Brewing began in April 2008 by primarily selling kegs until graduating to bottles and six-pack cans in 2009. Since then, the brand has focused on expanding its core and seasonal brands and distributing in Oklahoma, Arkansas and Kansas.
Founder and namesake Eric Marshall is also passionate about pushing for changes in legislation to benefit craft brewers. What started as an effort to allow breweries to offer samples in-house has expanded to something that touches the entire state.
“We worked alongside other craft brewers to form the Craft Brewers Association of Oklahoma to effectively lobby for positive changes in the laws for Oklahoma
craft brewers,” Marshall says. “Through these efforts, we focused on taproom rights, franchise distribution rights and access to market protection.”
As a result, new liquor and beer laws, by popular vote, went into effect in October.
Marshall says the company’s success likely stems from a level of expertise that stands out from the ever-expanding list of craft brewers.
“When we started almost 11 years ago, there were 1,500 craft breweries [nationwide] and now there are close to 7,000, if not more,” he says. “Our focus is on tradition. I studied and apprenticed brewing in Germany and really gained a love and reverence for traditional styles and quality.”
2018 was a big year for Marshall Brewing as its expanded taproom opened in September. The owner says 2019 is all about “finding balance from all the chaos that was created last year.”
“That doesn’t mean we won’t have some projects going on,” he says. “We are expanding capacity with the addition of some new fermentation tanks. We are building a traditional German-style biergarten off the back of the taproom, which should be ready to be enjoyed in early spring.”
Marshall Brewing is at 1742 E. Sixth St. Visit marshallbrewing.com for information.
2. Welltown Brewing
Photo by Josh New
Outside the Box
What started four years ago as a one-two punch of business savvy and a love for beer birthed Welltown Brewing, a jovial taproom in downtown Tulsa owned by Jeremy Diamond and Jordan O’Dell. Diamond says (for him) the seed of starting a brewery germinated in a small way.
“I started working with a local restaurant, and they were asking if I could make a signature beer for them,” he says. “Obviously, that beer turned into quite a lot more.”
Welltown has expanded thrice – with locations ranging from 3,000 square feet to 6,000 and now 10,000. Throw in a rooftop patio at the newest location and the entire place is around 12,500 square feet. Diamond says this passion for ambiance and visitor experience makes Welltown unique.
“Most breweries focus on distribution, but we wanted to focus on the taproom,” he says. “It made sense for us to go all in on that.”
The expanded location boasts plenty of family-style seating to encourage interactions and a sense of community.
“For us, it’s all about people,” Diamond says. “Yes, it’s about beer and creating beer, but we want to be a place that brings people together. We saw a white space and filled it. Everyone has great beer, but what people didn’t have at that time was a great taproom, so we went after that.”
2019 marks the one-year anniversary at Welltown’s current location, and Diamond says this year’s focus is on events to bring people through the doors.
“After we opened our newest location, we sort of became an event venue,” he says. “We have booked weddings, receptions [and] corporate parties. We are packed full of get-togethers.”
Partnerships with the BOK Center and the University of Tulsa keep Diamond on his toes.
“I’m obsessed with looking for things outside the normal brewing box/ When we’re not the new kid on the block anymore, we have to continue finding ways to make ourselves special.”
Welltown Brewing is at 114 W. Archer St. To see what beers are on tap, visit welltownbrewing.com.
3. Prairie Artisan Ales
Photo by Brent Fuchs
A Spin on the Classics
With expert branding, locations in three Oklahoma cities and award-winning beer, Prairie Artisan Ales has quickly become one of the most popular breweries in the state.
Started in 2012 with help from the Krebs Brewery Company and its owner, Zach Prichard, Prairie originally touted farmhouse ales and sour beers before expanding to its Holy Grail – the stout. Its most popular beer, the Prairie Bomb, premiered in 2013 and made Prairie a brewer to watch, not just in Oklahoma but around the United States.
After Krebs Brewing acquired the Prairie brands in 2016, the brewery continued to grow in popularity and garner numerous accolades.
“Our unique perspective to brewing has landed us on the Top 100 Best Brewers in the World list from 2013 to 2016 [on ratebeer.com],” says Wesley Morrison, a partner at Prairie Artisan Ales. “Several of our beers have been named in the Top 100 Best Beers in the World, including three that made the list [in 2018].”
Prairie’s repertoire ranges from farmhouse ales to barrel-aged stouts and sours. Even if you haven’t tried a Prairie beer, chances are you’ve seen the whimsical branding or logo somewhere around OKC – on a T-shirt, a glass or a beer bottle. That’s by design.
“Our approach to branding and beer-making is non-traditional and has been since we started,” Morrison says. “We also focus on taking something that may have existed for a while and making it a little more exciting, either through alternative production processes or incorporating unique ingredients. The feedback we receive from our consumers always helps us drive forward in this direction.”
Prairie has taprooms in OKC and McAlester, along with a brewpub in Tulsa. For information, visit prairieales.com.
4. COOP Ale Works
Photo by Brent Fuchs
A Horizon of Promise
Hatched in 2006 at the start of the craft beer renaissance, the idea for COOP Ale Works arose when some OKC residents, including now CEO and owner Daniel Mercer, noticed their city didn’t have a craft brewery to call its own.
“That summer, they began beer tastings with friends and acquaintances and, in November, they brewed their first 10-gallon batch of a honey porter,” says Maggie Sylke, brand marketing specialist. “The next few years included more than 2,000 hours spent brewing, researching and planning before four COOP beers were launched in March 2009.”
Breakout beers like the Gran Sport Porter and COOP F5 put the brand on the brewing map; it now boasts seven year-round beers, four seasonals and various limited releases. COOP is distributed in Oklahoma, Texas, Kansas, Missouri, Arkansas and Nebraska.
One particular series of beer stands out to Sylke: the Id.
“We started this series last year, inspired by Sigmund Freud’s three divisions of the psyche,” she says. “The id represents the instinctual drives of the psychic apparatus, and our Id Series reflects our brewery’s needs, wants, desires and impulses. Each release is the actualization of styles, ingredients, techniques and flavors sparked by our present state of mind.”
2019 marks COOP’s 10th anniversary, and Sylke says a March 2 party will be the biggest taproom event of the year, with all proceeds benefiting the Central Oklahoma Humane Society.
Another project in 2019 includes a big renovation.
“We are restoring the historic 23rd Street armory building, which previously served as home to the Oklahoma National Guard for several decades,” Sylke says. “We love that this building is part of Oklahoma’s history, and we are excited to rejuvenate the building into a state-of-the-art brewhouse, restaurant and taproom [with] event spaces and a boutique hotel.”
The facility is set to open in fall 2020. For information, visit coopaleworks.com.
A Brief History of Brew
From ancient times to the enactment of new liquor laws in Oklahoma, beer has a lively lineage.
Which came first, the bread or the brew? It’s an argument that has puzzled anthropologists for decades. Some believe the origin of beer came with the cultivation of agriculture, and that ancient peoples stumbled upon fermentation while experimenting with bread-making, enabling them to tinker with alcoholic beverages. Others believe the motivation to create beer led to the side benefit of yeast products, including bread. Either way, beer is still a beloved beverage, thousands of years later.
Sumeria 2500 B.C.
The “Hymn to Ninkasi” was passed down orally through generations; it worshiped the goddess of beer, extolled its value and preserved recipe directions for the elementary brewing process. About 500 years later, the famous epic Gilgamesh shows how celebrated beer had become, as well as its intoxicating effects, when a man in the book-length poem is told to “drink the beer, as is the custom of the land,” so “he drank the beer – seven jugs! – and became expansive and sang with joy! He was elated and his face glowed.”
Western Europe 600s A.D.
In contrast to many religious groups today, European monasteries were largely responsible for brewing and selling beer.
Early America 1620
Beer is perhaps America’s founding beverage. The Pilgrims cut short their journey to the New World by landing at Plymouth Rock, rather than sailing farther south, in part because of a shortage of beer aboard the Mayflower.
Alcohol was a vital part of the Wild West. Oklahoma Territory, opened with a land rush in 1889, had a lore filled with taverns in nearly every settlement. That all changed with statehood.
When Oklahoma became a state, residents adopted prohibition as part of its constitution. Until 1918, alcohol was (ironically) only allowed for the critically ill when prescribed by a doctor and supplied through a regulated dispensary system.
Oklahoma became the 18th state to ratify the 18th amendment, making prohibition a national law. Bootleggers and speakeasies sprang up as alcohol sales went underground and continued to thrive – until the Great Depression and Dust Bowl hit Oklahomans hard.
National prohibition was overturned with the passage of the 21st Amendment, but Oklahoma did not follow and never ratified this amendment. Still, the effects of the depression made revenue from alcohol sales appealing, and prohibition laws in the Sooner State began loosening over the coming decades.
The Liquor Control Act passed in Oklahoma and allowed the manufacture and sale of alcohol in the state – but with heavy regulation. Sales by the glass were not permitted until 1984, and, even then, drinking on-site was on a county-by-county basis.
The Oklahoma Modernization of Alcohol Laws, passed in 2016, took effect Oct. 1 and altered the landscape of alcohol consumption in the state. Perhaps the greatest change was removing the distinction between low-point and strong beer, making it easier for consumers to purchase and drink beer with higher alcohol levels both on and off the premises of bars and eateries.
Raising the Bar
Fun and creative drinks, beer cocktails range from the simple to the elaborate. Jump into this ongoing fad with recipes from some of Oklahoma’s favorite watering holes.
Jam Session Bar 46, Tulsa
Founder’s Rubeaus Ale pairs perfectly with cloves and other spices, giving this drink depth while keeping it refreshing.
1 ounce Averna
½ ounce lemon juice
¼ ounce clove syrup
1 dash Angostura bitters
Shake all ingredients, strain, then pour into a tulip glass over ice. Top with 3 ounces of Founder’s Rubaeus Raspberry Ale.
Irish Double Dunk The Jones Assembly, OKC
Inspired by Prairie Artisan Ales’ Double Dunk Oreo-infused stout, this local beer is reduced to a syrup as the base flavor for an Oreo Irish coffee-themed drink.
1 ounce Jameson
1 ounce Prairie Double Dunk reduction syrup
3 ounces coffee
2 ounces Oreo cream filling-infused heavy cream
Oreo cookie crumbles
Mix all ingredients.
White Pine Bay Roosevelt’s, Tulsa
This tropical concoction, flavored with pineapple and strawberry, is a succulent choice when the weather is warm.
½ ounce pineapple syrup
½ ounce strawberry syrup
1 ounce anejo rum
1 pinch salt
Shake all ingredients, strain, then pour into a rocks glass and top with Avery Liliko’i Kepolo, a Belgian ale with passionfruit.
Chester Copperpot Roosevelt’s, Tulsa
Bold and smoky flavors highlight this beer cocktail infused with coffee.
½ ounce Chase smoked vodka
1 ounce OK Distilling Company Strongbrew
3 ounces coffee stout
Shake all ingredients, strain over ice, then top with a cold brew of coffee concentrate.
D’Jeatyet Roosevelt’s, Tulsa
When beer meets whiskey, the result is a flavorful cocktail with lemon and honey.
1½ ounces OK Distilling Company Rectifier’s Select blended whiskey
½ ounce fresh lemon juice
½ ounce honey syrup
Shake all ingredients, stir, then top off with Kronenbourg Blanc, a wheat ale.
The True Brew
As much as we all want to believe the contrary, there aren’t many health benefits to consuming beer, which holds strong as the favored alcoholic beverage for Americans, according to a 2018 Gallup poll. (Forty-two percent of Americans prefer beer; wine comes in second at 34 percent; then liquor at 19 percent.)
Yes, downing a brew or two lowers stress and tension, but don’t expect to lose weight, improve cardiovascular health or lower your risk of diseases by drinking beer. A 2015 Gallup poll says Americans, for the most part, understand that concept. When asked if moderate alcohol consumption is good, neutral or bad for one’s health (with moderate drinking defined as 1-2 drinks a day), 17 percent believed it is good, 52 percent believed it bears no effect and 28 percent believed it is bad. The bottom line: Moderate drinking won’t make you skinnier or less prone to disease, but it will likely improve your mood. Cheers to that.
Sometimes you need a glossary to keep your brew terms correct.
There are two major categories of beer: lagers and ales. Their difference lies in fermentation. Lagers use yeast that ferments at the bottom of the mixture, and ale’s yeast ferments at the top. Under those two umbrella terms is a bevy of other styles of brews. Find which one seems tastiest to you … or try them all.
The grouping of Belgian ales – considered by many to be the world’s best – includes everything from fruity to spicy to malty. Their common characteristics are high alcohol content and low bitterness.
Standing for India Pale Ale, this brew is vast but characterized by hops, plus herbal and citrus flavors. The high use of hops makes these brews more bitter than other beers, and they are usually high point.
Much like IPAs, pale ales are hoppy, but usually have more of a malt taste and are lighter than IPAs. Think of pale ales as less-intense IPAs.
This lager originates from the Czech Republic. These brews look and taste light, and usually have a lower alcohol content than other lagers.
Always dark, heavy lagers, porters typically utilize flavors like chocolate, coffee and caramel. This strong beer got its name because it was created especially for doormen and gatekeepers who (as the thinking went hundreds of years ago) needed stiff drinks to stay awake. That’s why the Porter in William Shakespeare’s Macbeth is drunk.
For those who don’t dig the taste of wheat or hoppy beers, the whimsical sour ale might be a good start. Made from spontaneously fermenting yeast, sour beers are usually fruity and tart with low alcohol content.
Much like porters, stouts are also dark, heavy lagers with flavors like coffee, caramel and chocolate. They typically have medium to high alcohol contents.
Typically pale, wheat beers are the antithesis of stouts and porters – light, fruity, tangy and lower in alcohol content.
Glossary made with help from webstaurantstore.com.