The ancient Egyptians and Mesopotamians recorded a beer-like beverage as far back as 5,000 years B.C. The ancient Sumerians prayed to Ninkasi, the patron goddess of brewing. A poem in her honor, nearly 4,000 years old, survives to this day. Beer, it seems, has been around a while.
Brewing has become big business, dominated primarily by a handful of multi-national corporations in the 21st century. More than 35 billion gallons, with total revenues exceeding $300 billion, are sold each year, and the numbers are increasing annually.
But while mass production of the ancient Sumerians’ unique libation proliferates – often resulting in a bland and banal brew – there are those who view the art and craft of brewing in a different light. From the dedicated garage brewer to the corner brewpub to the steadily growing numbers of small craft breweries, there are those who are dedicated to beer as an art form, the perfect melding of art and craft, technology and science; to creating a product that brings real enjoyment to those who will take the time to savor it.
Slice went searching for brewpubs and craft breweries that share their passion with Oklahomans. And “passion” is the proper word – almost all of these brewers use the words “passion” or “love” when talking about what they do – even “obsession.” They care about creating something that isn’t mass-produced, commercialized and standardized into tasteless oblivion. Labor of love? Without a doubt. An expression of creativity and commitment? Indeed. And while the history of brewpubs and breweries in Oklahoma is considerably less lengthy than that of Egypt or Mesopotamia, the future of the movement is no less bright. From pale ales to lagers, pilsners to stouts, and everything along the brewing spectrum, Oklahoma is home to a burgeoning, exciting and altogether tasty industry.
Enjoy an Oklahoma brew, and raise a glass to the goddess Ninkasi while you’re at it.
THE CRAFT BREWERIES
Mustang Brewing Company
When Tim and Carmen Schoelen decided to go into the beer business, they went in a big way. After putting together their business plan, they sold their house, cashed out their 401(k), moved into a rental house and began brewing in the garage. In July of 2009, the first pint of Mustang beer was served at James E. McNellie’s in midtown Oklahoma City. They sold over 200 pints in 15 minutes. In 2011, Mustang Brewing sold 24,000 cases of beer in Oklahoma alone.
The Schoelens set about creating full-flavored craft beer that is easy to drink. All their beers are rated as very low on the “bitter” scale and smooth to drink. The company’s philosophy is nicely summarized on its website: “At Mustang Brewing we believe we can make the world a better place – one beer at a time.”
The brews: Washita Wheat, Golden Ale, Route 66 American Lager, Mustang ’33 (the only Oklahoma-brewed beer available in grocery and convenience stores), Summer Lager, Pawnee Pale, Harvest Lager, Winter Lager
Eric Marshall holds a degree in international business and German from the University of Tulsa, and he has put both aspects of his education to good use. In 2004 he left his native Tulsa to study brewing beer in Munich, Germany. He received the International Diploma in Brewing from the World Brewing Academy.
In 2007, after serving apprenticeships in Germany and working as a brewer in Pennsylvania, Eric returned to Tulsa, where he opened Marshall Brewing the following year. The brewery – Tulsa’s first – focuses on producing full-strength top-quality ales and lagers, combining Old World knowledge and experience with quality ingredients and a strong work ethic to create a fine assortment of craft beers.
The brews: Arrowhead Pale Ale, El Cucuy India-style Black Ale, Revival Red Ale, Atlas India Pale Ale, Sundown Wheat, McNellie’s Pub Ale, Old Pavilion Pilsner, Oktoberfest Lager, Big Jamoke Porter
Choc Beer Company
The history of Choc Beer Company is a wonderful American – and Oklahoman – success story: a young Italian immigrant coal miner; the original recipe for home brew coming from the local Native Americans, who shared it with the Italians flocking to the area to work in the mines; a restaurant; Prohibition. It has all the ingredients of any good story, and the tale continues to unfold.
The brewmaster of Choc Beer today is Michael Lalli, who first began working at Pete’s Place (see Brewpubs, page 43) at age 16, and aside from two brief periods, has been with the company ever since. He began home brewing over 20 years ago. The first commercial batch he made was – you guessed it – for Choc.
The brews: Signature Biere de Garde, Signature Belgian-style Amber, Signature Smoked Porter, Signature Quad, Signature Belgian-style Dubbel, Signature Super Saison, Pietro Piegari, Waving Wheat, Last Laugh, Basement Batch, Miner Mishap, 1919, Summer, Wild Brew, Kuehner Weisse
COOP Ale Works
A home brewer and a dream… that is how it often begins, and COOP Ale Works is no exception. In this case, three partners – Mark Seibold, J.D. Merryweather and Daniel Mercer – did their homework. They spent two years traveling the United States, Europe and Central America visiting breweries and talking to entrepreneurs, brewers, biologists, operations personnel and consumers. They coupled this international insight with local input, and in 2008 COOP was born.
Today COOP is a thriving enterprise whose beers have fast become Oklahoma favorites, with six signature originals and one seasonal beer.
The brews: Horny Toad Cerveza, Zeppelin German Wheat, Native Amber, DNR, Gran Sport Porter, F5 IPA, Oktoberfest
Redbud Brewing Company
“I didn’t just want to make beer, I wanted to make great beer that people would keep coming back to as their favorite,” says Jae Kang, owner/founder of Redbud Brewing.
A lofty goal, to be sure, but Kang has oriented his business to doing just that. The company began in 2010, and one of Kang’s first acts was to hire brewmaster Chase Healey, who brought experience at many of Oklahoma’s brewpubs to the new enterprise. The result has been an increasingly popular line of beers available on tap at restaurants and bars in Oklahoma City, Norman and Tulsa, and soon to be in bottles as well.
The brews: Cuvee 1, Redbud Pale Ale, Redbud Wheat
Anthem Brewing Company
Until May of this year, Matt Anthony had enjoyed a 12-year career as a motion graphics artist and video editor. But his passion for brewing beer – a passion nurtured gradually over a decade – eventually persuaded him to step beyond simple home brewing. The result is Anthem Brewing Company, Oklahoma’s newest addition to the craft brewery scene.
“After several years of traveling to different breweries, and devouring every book and podcast I could find, I decided it was time to start the serious work on making it happen,” Anthony says. “As soon as I had all the groundwork laid, a couple of great opportunities presented themselves earlier this year that made it all become a reality. I’m really excited to be a part of the craft beer movement here in Oklahoma.”
The brews: Golden One, White Flame
Huebert Brewing Company
Rick and Shaneen Huebert started with their love of good beer. Rick learned his craft working for several brewpubs before beginning the process that would lead him to open his own brewery. There were a few legal and logistical hurdles in the way, and Rick worked with the Oklahoma legislature to change laws governing the establishment of stand-alone breweries.
The business is going strong, from an unassuming building in the historic Capitol Hill area of south Oklahoma City. Every beer is created from Rick’s original recipes, and he oversees all aspects of the brewing operation personally. It is a true craft brewery in every sense of the word.
The brews: Deep Deuce OKC Porter, Wild Pony Wheat, Tucker Pale Ale, Rasenmaher German Style Kolsch, Rock Hard Root Beer (Huebert is one of only three companies in the United States to produce and market alcoholic root beer.)
Battered Boar Brewing Company
Battered Boar Brewing Company opened in 2009, with the expressed intent of beginning and remaining a small-batch brewery. It is all about quality, not quantity. “Beer is as diverse as the brewer’s imagination,” says owner/brewer Mike Sandefur. “Water, barley, yeast and hops conspire to create endless varieties of flavor. The beer we produce lifts the mind and spirit, reminding us life should be enjoyed, and is too short to drink bad beer.”
The Edmond-based operation has sought not only to create fine beers, based on their personal passion and insight, but to elevate the market as a whole. It seems to be working – customers have traveled hundreds of miles to get their Battered Boar fix.
The brews: Briarpatch Amber Ale, Coconut Cream Stout, Company Man Pale Ale, 405 Oklahoma Lager, Babs Belgian Ale, Blue Face Scottish Ale, Chocolate Cherry Porter, Chuck’s Pumpkin Ale, Hard Hat IPA, Heartbreak Hefeweizen, Lions Tooth Floret, Nero Porter, Red River Rye
101 S.W. 8th, Krebs
Pete’s Place is the stuff of legend in Oklahoma, and patrons from all over the state (and beyond) make the drive to the small town of Krebs for stellar Italian cuisine. But it all began with beer. Pietro Piegari, who later changed his name to Pete Prichard, began making beer using a recipe he learned from the Native Americans in the area. The restaurant was a natural progression, and Prichard opened for business in 1925.
Choc Beer, Prichard’s brand, is iconic in Oklahoma, and the Choc Room at Pete’s Place is the perfect spot to relax with one of the handcrafted brews that are still lovingly made by the Prichard family.
The brews: 1919, Miner’s Light, Peach, Last Laugh, Spring IPA, Summer Ale, Signature Dubbel, Signature Biere de Garde, Signature Gratzer
Royal Bavaria Restaurant and Brewery
3401 S. Sooner Road, Moore
Jorg Kühne was a businessman from Munich who settled in Oklahoma and had the dream of bringing German hospitality and cuisine to his adopted home state. Ground was broken for Royal Bavaria in the summer of 1993, and the brewhouse was up and running by November. The outdoor beer garden, with seating for 175, opened in the summer of 1994.
Executive chef Andy Gmeiner, also from Munich, arrived in 1994, and in 2007 took over the operation of the business from the founders. With recent renovations, Royal Bavaria continues its tradition of good times, beer and food in the fine European tradition.
The brews: King’s Gold, King’s Weizen, King’s Oktoberfest
1 N. Oklahoma, Oklahoma City
The Bricktown Brewery celebrates its 20th anniversary this year, making it one of the earliest and most enduring destinations of its namesake district. Founder and Bricktown pioneer Jim Cowan sold the business in 2007 to Edmond-based company Enduring Brands, who embarked on a series of renovations, from the physical appearance to the menu.
From its 1903-era building – which was once a candy company – Bricktown Brewery continues as a mainstay among Oklahoma City beer destinations.
The brews: Old King Kolsch, Wiley One-Eyed Wheat, Remington Red, 46 Star Oklahoman Amber Ale, Bricktown Brown
Belle Isle Restaurant and Brewing Company
50 Penn Place, 1900 N.W. Expressway, Oklahoma City
The site of Belle Isle Restaurant and Brewing Company in 50 Penn Place has seen its share of Oklahoma history, from rangeland days before the Land Run to its purchase by the Oklahoma Railway Company in the year of statehood, 1907. The ORC constructed a dam that formed a lake, supplying power to the city’s electric cars and steam trolleys. The area eventually sported an amusement park boasting dancing pavilions, picnic areas, a shooting gallery, canoe rides, a bowling alley and a roller coaster. The ORC named it Belle Isle.
The restaurant and brewpub on the site is the vision of Neill Hardin and David Riesenberg. With years of experience in the restaurant business, they purchased the Interurban Restaurant, the Urban Market and Interurban Catering at 50 Penn Place in 1994. They closed it for remodeling. That renovation included the addition of a brewpub. They gave it a name to honor the area’s history, and it has since become a favored spot for those who desire handcrafted beer and good food.
The brews: Wild Mary’s Wheat Ale, Belle’s Blonde Light Pale Ale, Flanagan’s Amber Ale, Power Plant Porter Ale
110 W. Main, Norman
Alongside the railroad tracks in downtown Norman, The Brewhouse began life as something of a supporting act, to supply beer to all the Coach’s Restaurant concepts. Eventually it evolved into a standalone enterprise and has become one of Oklahoma’s most popular brewpubs. It is a 30-barrel brewery – which translates into 900 gallons at a time. The stainless steel brewery works are enclosed in glass, so that brewpub patrons can see the process in operation.
The Brewhouse also features pool and darts, and has become a premier live music venue. Don’t forget to ask about the Mug Club!
The brews: Brewhouse Pilz, Brewhouse Wheat, Brewhouse Brown Ale, Brewhouse Irish, Brewhouse Stout