The Thirsty Beagle: What's in store for OK beer in 2018?

Sunday, January 7, 2018

What's in store for OK beer in 2018?

There's no doubt we've had a couple big years for Oklahoma craft beer.

And as we dive into 2018, it's a good time not only to reflect on what we've just seen transpire, but also to look ahead.

Both 2016 and 2017 have been transformational. It's hard to beat what we saw in 2016, when two highly significant pieces of alcohol legislation were passed, and breweries were allowed to start selling beer by the glass for on-site consumption.

And then in 2017, we started to see the immediate impact, with several new brick-and-mortar breweries opening shop and several more announcing plans for new brewery buildings.

But perhaps we haven't seen anything yet.

This next year promises to deliver historic changes to the alcohol industry in Oklahoma. Let's take a look at some predictions for Oklahoma beer in 2018.

The brewery boom is just beginning

By the end of 2018, we should be floating around at least 15 brewery/taprooms in the OKC metro area alone. We've got two breweries in McCurtain County. We've got a brewery in Ponca City and one in Pryor. The freight train that is the taproom business is moving forward at full steam right now. Statewide, we should pretty easily get to 30 brewery/taprooms by the end of 2018, and don't be surprised if by the end of 2019 we're at 50. Of course, the real question will be this: Will the beer be any good? I've shared this sentiment before, but with how restrictive Oklahoma's alcohol laws were, and how much money was required to start a production brewery, only serious players -- and generally really good beermakers -- got involved prior to 2016. Now the barriers to the market are as low as they've ever been. Craft beer history around the U.S. tells us we will see some fly-by-night operators whose beer is average at best.

Who'll join the Brewers Union?

The brewing cooperative formerly known as OK City Brewing appears to be primed for a good run in the first half of 2018, with quality beer coming from Elk Valley, Angry Scotsman and Vanessa House. But with all three brewers looking to move into their own buildings this year, who'll slide in to take their places in the Brewers Union when they leave? Will it be a brewery-in-planning like Frenzy or Skydance? Or someone we haven't heard of yet? There's a chance things may get rocky for the co-op in the latter part of 2018.

The next frontier: Beer and food together

Part of the new law going into effect on Oct. 1 will be a new brewpub license. Think Bricktown Brewery and Belle Isle Brewery, but if they made high-point beer. Think Republic Gastropub, but with a brewhouse in the back. It'll be exciting to see what new concepts will emerge, but you can count on a brewery incorporating high-end pub food for a full food-and-drink experience.

What exactly will grocery stores carry?

Cheap wine. That's the easy part. A liquor store owner once told me that what he feared most about alcohol reform was grocery and convenience stores gaining access to the market for $8 to $15 wine. Well, we know they'll stock plenty of that, but how about beer? I predict we'll be decidedly underwhelmed by the beer selection at grocery and convenience stores come Oct. 1. There will be plenty of BMC mainline stuff, some Sam Adams, probably a little bit of Boulevard and a lot of the crafty brews spun off by the BMC crowd. But for the good stuff, the liquor store will still be a required stop.

Will ABI make a play in Oklahoma?

There's no reason to think Anheuser Busch will curtail its practice of scooping up craft breweries, but can we expect to see that happen in Oklahoma? We saw a few rumors swirl about local buyouts in 2017, but in the end there was no real smoke and certainly no fire. In reality, there are only a couple state breweries that fit the profile of an AB-takeover target. That's mainly based on production volume, and most likely only COOP and Prairie fit that bill. Would either of those companies sign a deal with the craft beer devil? Most likely they won't get the chance in 2018 as AB focuses not only on other, even larger craft breweries, but also on rolling out high-point beer throughout Oklahoma.

Do you have a prediction for Oklahoma beer in 2018? I'd love to hear it -- post in the comments or on my Facebook page.

1 comment:

  1. I believe OK will see a surge in neighborhood (Nano) breweries in 2018. The thought that only breweries can only exist in large populated area's will be changed with smaller communities supporting a community brewery and the knowledge that a lot of these nano breweries are producing some really great beers.

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