The Thirsty Beagle: August 2017

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Oklahoma court denies liquor association lawsuit

A federal judge in Oklahoma City today ruled against a lawsuit that challenged State Question 792, leaving the law in tact as it was approved by state voters in November 2016.

State Question 792 -- approved by more than 65 percent of voters -- reforms Oklahoma's alcohol laws, amending the state constitution and introducing a large amount of significant changes to the state's Prohibition-style regulatory set-up.

Primarily, SQ 792 will serve to eliminate the sales distinction between high- and low-point beer in Oklahoma and allow grocery and convenience stores to sell wine and high-point beer. On the whole, the changes will affect all levels of the alcohol industry, from production, to distribution to retail sales.

Liquor store owners argued, in part, that they would be treated unfairly under SQ 792 because grocery and convenience stores would receive unfair business advantages. This, they argued, violated the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. They argued they should be held on a level playing field with grocery and convenience stores because they are similarly situated.

They sued in December, asking the court for an injunction to block the law from going into effect.

In a 13-page opinion issued today in federal court in Oklahoma City, District Judge Robin Cauthron ruled that the Retail Liquor Association of Oklahoma had "not upheld the burden ... for their requested declaratory relief."

There was, of course, a rather glaring problem with the liquor store argument: Liquor stores have a significant distinction that naturally makes them not similarly situated with grocery and convenience stores. That being the ability to sell liquor.

The court pointed this out in the opinion.

"Plaintiffs essentially argue that because Oklahoma has drawn the dividing line for regulation between all beverages containing more or less than 3.2% ABW in the past, any change to the division is unconstitutional," the ruling states. "This simply cannot be the case."

"...the Court finds Plaintiffs’ argument that Oklahoma’s history of regulation shows spirits are similarly situated to wine and beer unconvincing."

The court went on to rule that evidence provided by the defendants demonstrating that liquor is different from beer and wine, and showing that 23 other states regulate liquor differently than beer and wine, "makes it rational to conclude all alcohol sellers holding licenses in Oklahoma are not similarly situated."

The liquor stores had challenged several other portions of SQ 792, but the court found cause to reject all claims.

As it stands, SQ 792 is still on track to go into effect on Oct. 1, 2018.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Prairie OKC brewery taking shape

I had a chance last week to stop by and tour the new Prairie OKC brewery, and things are really starting to take shape there as they near an opening date for the facility on NE 8 near downtown.

The major components of the brewery -- walls, windows, doors, floors, walk-in cooler, etc. -- are complete and you can really get a feel for the layout and possibilities for the space.

Some finish work still remains, including the bar top and tap area, tables and chairs and artwork.

But all the brewing equipment is in the brewhouse (although not in its final arrangement when I was there) and brewery general manager Greg Powell said they are looking at a possible mid-September opening, pending any last-minute delays.

Powell said they plan to feature at least eight beers at opening, and told me OKC fans should typically expect to see beers that are unique to the OKC location.

One notable exception will be Prairie Bomb!, which will likely be on tap year-round. Powell said because of space and storage constraints at the OKC facility, the Bomb! wort will likely be produced in McAlester or Krebs and then shipped to Oklahoma City, where it will be fermented and spiced.

He said fans should expect multiple Bomb! variants throughout the year.

Maybe the best way to get feel for how things look is to take a little photo tour. Here we go!

First, you have a look at the entry on the west side of the building. This is directly to the east of the train tracks:

Next you have a look at the bar area. Two rows of taps will be located under the shelves: 

Here you have a view looking west at what will be the main seating area:

Similar view as above here, but now you can see the west entry and the large roll-up garage door:

Here's a look inside the brewhouse. In the back, you can see a staircase that leads up to an upstairs area that will likely be used for private events:

More brewhouse and fermenter action. Powell said one of the neatest features of the brewery will be its serving tanks, where beer lines will run directly from the brewhouse to the taps. He said this is a great way to protect beer integrity because it limits the amount of time beer is moved around from vessel to vessel:

A look at the walk-in cooler. This view will actually be obstructed by some fermenters and/or tanks that will eventually be moved into that area:

A different angle of the brewhouse:

Here's a look at the brewhouse from the staircase that heads up to the private event area:

And here is said area. The windows with the blue Xs look out over the bar and seating area:

Here's the view of the brewhouse from the private event area:

And here's what you will see when you're enjoying drinks in the main seating area:

And finally here's a wider view with the bar at the right, the seating area straight ahead and the private area upstairs. You can see the space will allow for a ton of natural light:

What you can't see from the pictures is the rest of the building. Prairie will be one of several tenants in an indoor-open-air concept that developers hope will eventually hold restaurants and art galleries. With the right mix of businesses, this could quickly become a destination area for locals and out-of-towners.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Now live: Episode 3 of the Thirsty Beagle Oklahoma Beer Podcast

Newsflash people: Episode 3 of the Thirsty Beagle Oklahoma Beer Podcast is now posted for your listening pleasure.

In this episode, I provide a re-cap of the Oklahoma Craft Beer Summit, and play back a recording of the Hops Panel that I moderated at the Summit.

We also cover progress for some of our breweries-in-planning, run down an insane beer events calendar and bring you our Hot Brewer of the Moment and Best Thing I've Had to Drink Lately features.

Give it a listen, and as always, I appreciate any feedback or suggestions!


Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Oklahoma beer label report

It's always fun to peruse new beer labels as our local brewers submit them to the feds for approval, and we've had quite a bit of action on that front over the past few weeks.

Let's take a look!

(Reminder: These labels are not always indicative of the final version of a particular label -- more on that in a minute -- and don't always equate to a brewer bringing said label to market. But they are generally a good indicator of what new beers brewers are planning to introduce.)

First, we have a new canned offering for Nothing's Left, with their 6.5% ABV Strawberry Blonde. This one has been on draft for a time now, but it looks like it may be headed to liquor stores, too:

We've got a new beer from Anthem, Family Tree. This 9.3% ABV farmhouse/saison brett has been aged in oak barrels, according to the labeling:

The latest from COOP's DNR Cask-It series has been aged in rye barrels:

It looks like Dead Armadillo is going a little dark with a new canned Dunkelweizen:

We just recently saw a new beer unveiled by Iron Monk -- The Nine IPA. That beer features a cool label design completed as part of an Oklahoma State University Graphic Design Challenge. Now Iron Monk has filed two new labels, which certainly have the look of art-level graphic design. We have Outland, a 6.7% ABV dry-hopped citrus pale ale, and Roadtripper, a 5.6% ABV saison:

Now we get to the part about label submissions that almost assuredly will not be the final label that hit the market. It looks like both Prairie and American Solera are from time to time employing the tactic of submitting a placeholder label to the feds for approval, then revising the label before the beer hits the market. I asked Prairie President Zach Prichard about this practice, and he said the feds allow revisions to labels without brewers having to resubmit the updated label for approval. So this appears to be a good tactic if you want to keep secret what your label will look like until the beer is released.

Anyway, the placeholder labels do still seem to reveal a beer's name and some basic info. In recent public filings, we've got a trifecta of such labels from Prairie: Booyeah, which is described as a 7% ABV imperial stout aged in rum and whiskey barrels with coconut, vanilla and cocoa nibs; Double Barrel Noir, a 13% ABV imperial stout aged in rum and whiskey barrels; and Imaginary Friends, a 7% ABV IPA:

And then one from American Solera -- Sobo Pils, a 4% ABV offering that appears headed for release in kegs and bottles:

It will be interesting to see if the placeholder tactic is one that more brewers will employ down the road in order to the control the reveal of their branding and images.