The Thirsty Beagle: Stonecloud climbs ambitious course toward opening

Friday, March 17, 2017

Stonecloud climbs ambitious course toward opening

There likely are very few breweries in Oklahoma -- heck, maybe in the world -- who can say their brewery building for years had no roof, had trees growing inside of it and had a boat hanging from the rafters.

OK, maybe even "very few" is overstating it.

There's a good chance that odd confluence of circumstances has only happened once -- and it happened in Oklahoma City.

Say hello to Stonecloud Brewing:

OK, so that's not what Stonecloud looks like now. In fact, it's more like this now:

Interestingly enough, that picture of the fermenters is looking at about the same part of the building as the no-roof-boat-hanging-from-the-rafters photo -- if that gives you an idea on the magnitude of the transformation.

"It was hard to imagine what it could be," Stonecloud brewmaster Joel Irby told me recently as we toured the brewery. "It was in such bad shape."

If you haven't been keeping up, Stonecloud is located in the old Sunshine Laundry building along Classen, just west of downtown OKC.

The same developers who are helping launch Elk Valley's new brewery in Midtown purchased the building in October 2015 with eyes on developing it into a brewery, restaurant and office space.

The building was constructed in 1929 and served as an industrial laundry for many years, eventually closing in the mid-1980s. At some point, a huge portion of the roof was removed. Trees, weeds and shrubs took over the inside of the building. It became a haven for crude graffiti and a home for the homeless.

The taproom area prior to renovations. Photo courtesy Stonecloud Brewing.
Stonecloud's renovated taproom.

Enter the developers and Irby, a homebrewer in Stillwater who struck out for Colorado and ended up cutting his teeth with pro brewing jobs at Boulder Beer Co. and Avery Brewing.

After brewing for several years in Colorado, Irby decided to move home to be closer to family in Oklahoma, with intentions to open his own brewery.

Now, he's building out an impressive facility.

The whole building is open, light and airy. The taproom will have space for 75 patrons and room for 19 taps. It'll include RV plug-ins so food trucks can tap right in and not need to run a generator.

The 30-barrel brewhouse is all-new and is backed up by five 60-barrel fermenters, in addition to several smaller fermenters intended to handle sours and one-off projects.

Irby said he will work on a barrel program as well, and that his selection of styles will definitely include an IPA, but will range across the spectrum.

He's targeting an opening in late spring, but hopes to be brewing soon on his system so that he'll have about 10 or 12 beers on tap at opening.

One question I've had for some time was about his brewery's name. Where does Stonecloud come from?

Irby said it's a reference to clouds on the horizon in the distance, when you can't tell if the clouds are actually clouds, or if they're mountains.

That's an homage to his time in Colorado, where he grew to love climbing. In fact, he even had climbing equipment set into the bar top in the taproom.

"The mountains and climbing were such a big influence on me," he said.

Now Irby is climbing toward a new summit -- minus the Colorado mountains.

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