The Thirsty Beagle: Mustang Brewing: Looking back and looking ahead

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Mustang Brewing: Looking back and looking ahead

Back in January of 2016, I wrote a blog post about my predictions for Oklahoma craft beer in the coming year. 

Among upbeat predictions like getting alcohol reform legislation passed was a more somber premonition: Someone will close up shop and call it quits. What I never really said to anyone was that I had a particular brewery in mind when I wrote that. 

Wednesday, my hunch was affirmed – albeit a little later than supposed – when Mustang Brewing’s owner confirmed he will shut down the company. 

Following up on a tip I received, I reached out to the owner, Scott White (who bought the company from founder Tim Schoelen in 2016). White told me he has left the company permanently and that he would be shutting the business down. 

White, who posted on Facebook in June that his father had passed away, said he has left the state to attend to family matters. He did not disclose an exact date for when the brewery would shut down, but suggested it would be by the end of this month. 

Out of respect for White and his personal situation, I did not press for further details on Mustang when we communicated on Wednesday. I offer my condolences to him as he moves forward. 

I do take at face value the idea that White pulled the plug because of his family development. 

So the question is, why the earlier assumption that Mustang would call it quits? If anything, there was some evidence that Mustang may have recently been on the upswing. Following the departure of Elk Valley from the N Meridian Avenue brewery in late May, Mustang showed a renewed presence on its social media channels (that presence often was lacking, in terms of marketing best-practices). They had filled out as many as 15 taps at their taproom with some new and innovative recipes. 

And White had announced his intentions to move to a new building – possibly even featuring new construction – closer to the heart of downtown. 

What drove that earlier prediction was a sense of inconsistency and volatility within the company that, despite new ownership, it seemed it could never shake. Even though Mustang appeared to have a broad and loyal following, I always had a feeling they were scuffling to some degree. 

Their production plans seemed murky or scattershot – from the numerous suggestions that they would revive the Redbud Brewing label, to what appeared to be an ever-shifting roster of beers, to a lack of consistency and direction in their labeling and branding. 

And even while a shiny new taproom was built out in the front of the building on Meridian, the brewery in the back could be found looking more like a brewhouse-in-planning than a well-oiled machine. 

I reached out to Schoelen and offered him the chance to share any thoughts on the shuttering of the business. The founder, who said he sold any remaining interest in the company last year, described the news regarding Mustang as “unfortunate.” 

He said he did not wish to say anything else at this time, but may have more to share at a later time. 

Looking back, Mustang seemed perpetually at odds with some insiders in the Oklahoma craft beer industry. In the early days of the company they faced some thinly veiled – and some outright overt – criticism for the decision to brew beer out of state. 

One source with insight into the situation told me the company’s original business format – brewing in Wisconsin or Tennessee and having the beer shipped back to Oklahoma for sale – proved difficult to sustain and served to stifle growth, with shipping costs eating away at profitability. 

At the same time, Mustang was ahead of the curve in some regards. They were one of the first (if not the first) state breweries to get low-point cans in grocery stores. 

They formed partnerships with local musicians, sponsored local events to get their beer in front of the masses. They opened the state’s first craft brewing cooperative, where Anthem Brewing got its start. 

While any consumer could see those things, it was the other stuff, not visible to the average consumer, that led me to believe and predict that if any of Oklahoma’s young craft breweries were to close up shop, that it would be Mustang. 

Would White – by all accounts a successful businessman – have ultimately centered and invigorated the company? 

Unfortunately, it appears that’s a question we won’t get the answer to.

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