The Thirsty Beagle: Vortex Alley Brewing to open to public this week

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Vortex Alley Brewing to open to public this week

We know that over the next year Oklahoma will see a big wave of new breweries opening.

One of the breweries on the front-edge of this particular wave is getting into the act in mere days, as Vortex Alley Brewing is set to open its taproom in Ponca City on Friday, Nov. 3.

The event will be 4 to 9 p.m. at 220 E Central.

I caught up with VAB co-founder David Thomas for a Q&A to learn a little more about his new venture. Check it out: 

Thirsty Beagle: Talk a little bit about your brewing history. How did you get into beermaking, and what made you decide you wanted to go pro?

David Thomas: Our brewing history actually starts with our brewmaster Marc Spaulding. Marc fell in love with Leinenkugel Honey Weiss in 2000 and decided that he wanted to learn how to make it himself. Marc bought books and homebrewer magazines and started studying. Marc is a welder and fabricator by trade so he was able to build almost everything he needed to start brewing. After Marc had introduced me and I feel in love with the world of homebrewing and craft beer, we were brewing in his garage and I was going through a Brew Your Own Beer magazine and in the back was a listing of breweries by state. I came across this one called Hank The Wiser out of Cheney, Kansas. I got on my computer and started looking up this brewery and found out that it was a father and son team that was brewing on a 1/4-barrel setup and brewing 30 gallons a week and opening on Friday night and if they had beer left over they would open again on Saturday. I fell in love with this concept right away and it started the day dreaming of the possibilities. When I started to hear the rumblings of the possibility of the Oklahoma laws changing, I looked at that dream as a real possibility and started putting some data together to show to the guys that our dreams could become a reality.

TB: You're going to be one of the few brewers in the state to open a taproom that's not in Oklahoma City or Tulsa. What does it mean for you to be the first to open in Ponca City?

DT: There was a small mention of VAB in one of your blogs back in late January 2017 and it read “There's a new brewery on its way to Ponca City, of all places!” I loved that when I read it. The reason why I love it because we love being unconventional and we love the thought of having the opportunity to bring a strong craft beer presence to our hometown.

TB: And building off of that, how do you assess the beer culture in that part of the state.

DT: Exciting! This is a great time to be a craft beer lover and Oklahoma brewers are doing some amazing work. I consider us the next wave of breweries hitting the landscape and I have had a chance to talk with a lot of the other breweries in the development stages and I know that Oklahoma has just provided a peek at what we can do.

TB: Talk about your plans -- what type of beers are you looking to bring to the taproom, and then further down the road, do you have plans for distribution outside the taproom?

DT: This has been a constant question for us: 'What will be your flagship beers?' The answer to that is we don’t know what our flagship beers will be. I feel that because we are a nano brewery and we are doing 1.5-barrel brews that it has allowed us a freedom we may not get with brewing 30 barrels. We have the chance to create beer, do a lot of one off’s and to experiment while we let our customer base tell us what they like. Myself being a consumer of beer, I know I like to be offered variety and every time I go to the liquor store or brew pubs I always look to see what is new. Ninety percent of the time I will go with what is new. We will have some beers on heavier rotation then others because Marc has to have his honey wheat pretty much all the time. We have discussed distributing but it’s a little further out in the future. We could look at something once October 2018 rolls around to see what’s available. 

TB: Lastly, I think people have an idea where the name Vortex Alley comes from, what with Oklahoma's weather being what it is, but why did you feel you wanted to settle on that for your brewery's name?

DT: Marc’s fiancee was the one who brought the name Vortex Brewing to Marc and I, and at first I wasn’t over the moon about it, but Stephanie came ready to sell this name to us. Her first pitch was that vortex and Oklahoma is a no-brainer. Her second pitch was that during the whirlpool process of the brewed wort a vortex is formed at the bottom of the kettle. Her third pitch is what sold this name to me. One of the definitions of vortex is a center location pulling objects toward it; I was hooked with the last pitch. I wanted our brewery to be that force, to be the center location bringing people toward it. We had been trying to come up with a name for over a month and to get four different-thinking people to agree on anything is almost impossible. Even Vortex Brewing wasn’t a smash for everyone at first, and we needed a name to start the filing processes so I put it out there that if we didn’t come up with a better name in 24 hours that we were going with this one. The next day (co-owner) Spencer (Boatmun) asked that we add the word Alley into the name and we became Vortex Alley Brewing. I can’t think of being called anything else.

(Blogger's note: You can learn more about the brewery opening by clicking here.)

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