The Thirsty Beagle: Oklahoma set to welcome four new brick-and-mortar breweries this month

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Oklahoma set to welcome four new brick-and-mortar breweries this month

In what is turning into a remarkable one-and-a-half-week span, Oklahoma will witness four new brick-and-mortar breweries open for business between today and Nov. 25.

Although I can't say I know the answer definitively, it's hard to imagine that post-Prohibition our state has ever seen such a development unfold.

The veritable explosion of new breweries begins today at 11 a.m. when Prairie OKC opens to the public. We'll then see Heirloom Rustic Ales in Tulsa and Lazy Circles Brewing in Norman opening on Friday, and Cabin Boys Brewery, also in Tulsa, opening Nov. 25.

Wonder if adding four breweries is real feat? Consider that the latest ABLE report on licensed high-point brewers in Oklahoma lists 19. While Lazy Circles is not on the October report, one would presume they would be on the November report, and that would make 20.

So, the next week-and-a-half window is a big deal for the Oklahoma craft beer scene.

Which leads into an interesting point that I've delved into on the blog and podcast, and that is, how many breweries can Oklahoma support?

We know we have 20 licensed right now (not including low-point brewpubs), and we know that about 10 (give or take) brewers are contract- or gypsy-brewing or working to get their own taprooms open or in the early stages of getting off the ground. It may not be a stretch to think that by the end of 2018 -- once the distinction between high- and low-point breweries is gone -- all-told we will be around 30 breweries in the state.

Which makes me feel like I'll be sticking to my prediction that we eventually get to about 50 -- or even 60 -- breweries in Oklahoma.

That seems like a lot, but consider the recent statistic from the Brewers Association that Oklahoma ranks dead-last in the country in breweries per capita. We have a lot of room for growth statistically, and many cities in the state with no brewery.

Seems like the environment is ripe for this thing to take off.

Speaking of taking off, one of those breweries mentioned above -- Heirloom Rustic Ales -- is ready for its Friday launch.

I was able to catch up this week with Heirloom brewer and founding-partner Jake Miller to learn a little more about their brewery and upcoming plans.

A quick crash course on Heirloom: The company consists of Miller, a professional brewer who got started with Prairie and American Solera and moved on to brew in Oregon and Florida, and a pair of dentists, Zach and Melissa French. Zach French is a long-time homebrewer who once blogged about beer under the handle Oklahoma PedAler, and who is well-connected in both the Tulsa and Oklahoma City brewery scenes. He conceived of the idea for the brewery in 2016, and now here they are.

They'll turn out an eclectic run of blended and mixed-fermentation beers, with a lot of barrel aging and unique ingredients.

Check out the Q&A:

Thirsty Beagle: Give the readers a little snapshot of the Heirloom story. Who is on your team, and how/why did you all decide to get into the beer-making business?

Jake Miller: There are three of us. Zach, Melissa, and myself. Melissa has spent the bulk of her time on taproom build-out and design. She’s created a space that’s pretty much an unparalleled experience in Oklahoma. Zach is a very decorated and awarded homebrewer. He’s made incredible mixed-fermentation/blended beer for several years now. I’ve been professionally brewing for a little over three years now and had small stints at three different breweries before Heirloom.

TB: Elaborate on your beers and brewing approach -- what should consumers expect in terms of styles?

JM: People should expect a sharp focus on refreshing and drinkable beers. We want our saisons and lagers to be approachable (as those styles should be), but also intriguing and complex. We have several barrels that are filled, and several that are waiting to be filled. Those will create all sorts of blending possibilities for Zach and I to work with. We’re casting a fairly wide net, as far as styles are concerned. We’ll have pale ales, saison, lagers, porters, milds, and probably a bunch of other beers that are harder to categorize. We don’t want to get cornered into being one-dimensional, but we also don’t want to wander too far from our roots.

TB: How about market plans? Obviously you're starting in the taproom, but should consumers expect to see distribution of any kind?

JM: We plan on putting a lot of focus on selling our products straight out of the taproom. We like that we don’t have to worry about quality issues that way and that we can keep the price affordable. We do plan on self-distributing several low-point options to the Tulsa and Oklahoma City markets.

TB: Talk about your location and building a bit. What should visitors expect in terms of the vibe when they come to visit?

JM: We’re in the Kendall Whittier neighborhood, which is just outside of downtown Tulsa. It’s an artist haven and recently has seen a lot of small business growth. Inviting and comfortable are definitely the two first words that come to mind when describing the vibe of our taproom. Melissa thought about everything. The lights, chairs, plants, and bar all evoke more of a coffee shop feel than a brewery taproom. We’ll be playing old skate videos and cycling races on our projector. We really want it to be a place where people feel welcome and can stay a while.

TB: You guys are joining what has become a really fast-moving market in the Tulsa area. Describe what the energy of the beer scene is like in that part of the state right now.

JM: Absolutely. It seems almost weekly that we hear about a new brewery in planning, or an old brewery in planning starts construction. It’s really cool to see that kind of growth, and we’re excited about being in the middle it. There are several of us that are all within a mile or two of each other, so it’ll be great to watch that culture develop.

TB: Your grand opening is this Friday; can you provide details about what festivities you have planned?

JM: We’ll have seven beers on draft for people to try, and we’re hoping to fill our 32 oz. cans the day before for people to be able to purchase and take home. We’ll have the Mr. Nice Guys food truck on site, and the weather looks really good, so it should be a good time.

(Blogger's note: Good luck to Heirloom -- and the rest of the soon-to-open breweries -- as they open their doors!)

Pints and Pins

We've got a few recently added beer events this week that were not mentioned in my week in beer roundup from Monday.

-Back Porch Draft House in Lawton is holding an Oklahoma Tap Invasion at 4 p.m. Thursday. It's worth noting here that they'll be putting Angry Scotsman on tap, so that may be a first chance for some in southwest Oklahoma to try ASB.

-The Root is hosting a Founders Tap Takeover and Pint Night at 6 p.m. Thursday.

-Roughtail has yet another special release planned for noon Friday. This time it's another run of e-Juice fruit IPA. Interesting detail here: Roughtail has also applied for federal label approval for keg collars for e-Juice, so you should expect to see some retail distribution on this.

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