How big is craft brewing? As early as 2011, Great American Beer Festival statistics proudly declared that the average American lived within 10 miles of a small brewery. Surely that distance has only shrunk due to three years of unprecedented growth since.
But take the stat with a grain of salt—it was, after all, just an average. The state of Oklahoma is nearly 70,000 square miles, but no one was taking long weekend jogs to the neighborhood brewer back in 2011. Oklahoma is well known for having some of the strictest state alcohol laws on the books, most notably its infamous 3.2% law where beers and liquors above that ABV can only be sold in licensed liquor stores… at room temperature (Oklahoma is one of only four states to still have some form of a 3.2 law). In 2011, there were barely more than 10 brewers in the entire state according to the Brewers Association.
Don’t blame the residents. Oklahomans like a good beer, “Exhibit A” being Tulsa and its long-running, massive Oktoberfest celebrations (among the largest in the country). So naturally, once the state legalized homebrewing in 2010—third-last state to do so, ahead of Alabama and Mississippi—the Okie brew scene blossomed. The last two years in particular have seen the state’s craft movement grow faster than initial Middle of Nowhere sales (sorry). 2013 marked the first Tulsa Craft Beer Week, and Oklahoma City had their inaugural edition this year. Last fall, major players like Anheuser-Busch even started reentering the market with products above 3.2, reflecting a swoon in state beer-interest and potentially pushing for more change to come.
But the most telling sign that Oklahomans have embraced craft beer and run with it? According to Craft Beer and Brewing Magazine, the number of in-state brewers has more than doubled within the last year. (We’ve spotted at least 27 by our count.)
Thankfully, yet another recent change allowed breweries to start offering on-site samples. And as more people get to taste what’s happening, Oklahoma’s craft brewers are beginning to send their products beyond the region. There are far too many solid brewers to highlight them all (some born in the last two years like Anthem or Roughtail, others now World Beer Cup medalists like Black Mesa), but these five can provide outsiders a quick glimpse of what the Oklahoma scene has in store.
Brewer: Mustang Brewing Company
The Details: Started from a homebrew operation and poured their first in-pub pint in 2009. This OKC-based elder statesman of state brewing has been busy since, most notably catching headlines for helping the Hanson brothers bring MmmHops to life.
Availability: Oklahoma and Arkansas, with plans to “expand to additional states in 2014-2015.”
Try (if you can find it): Mustang Summer Lager, a dry Munich Helles-style brew to cut through Oklahoma-style heat.
Brewer: Marshall Brewing Company
The Details: The Tulsa counterpoint to Mustang, Marshall was the first to produce in Tulsa back in 2008. It was founded by a former brewer at Victory in Pennsylvania, and arguably Marshall offers locals’ favorite affordable and available in-state beer.
Availability: Oklahoma, Arkansas, Kansas and Missouri
Try (if you can find it): El CuCuy, a delightfully bitter (grapefruit in this case) India-style Black Ale with its own cult following across the tasting Internet. Sadly it’s a series beer for now.
Brewer: Prairie Artisan Ales
The Details: Started in 2012 by a pair of brothers (the older of the two having spent time as a brewmaster at Oklahoma breweries such as Redbud and COOP), Prairie may be spreading the lure of Oklahoman beer faster and farther than anyone else. The hand-drawn label aesthetic catches your eye, and the beer retains your heart after finishing your first.
Availability: Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri, Texas, Florida, Colorado, Maine, Kentucky, Iowa, California, Oregon, Washington… and even abroad in places like Singapore, Denmark, Iceland, Latvia, Italy and the UK. (Recently reviewed at Paste via a Whole Foods in Louisiana)
Try (if you can find it): Ask any beer loving Oklahoman for their favorite, and odds are Prairie Bomb!—an Imperial Stout aged on coffee, cacao, vanilla, and chili peppers—is the response.
Brewer: COOP Ale Works
The Details: Recently celebrating its fifth year in operation, COOP was another early player in the state’s brewing scene. (When the Thunder made the finals two seasons back, this was the beer most often offered to represent OKC in various related blog posts.) Perhaps as a birthday gift, it recently opened a new 15,000 sq. ft. brewing space in Oklahoma City. More growth seems imminent.
Try (if you can find it): F5 IPA, an American IPA that delivers citrus and bitterness with medium heft. It’s an IPA that can become your regular drink of choice.
Brewer: Dead Armadillo Craft Brewing
The Details: Indicative of just how young craft brewing is in-state, Dead Armadillo didn’t even have its own space secured until this year. And despite a limited array of beers—only five—its reputation rightfully outpaced its still-growing operation. That’s why locals were excited when news broke that Dead Armadillo plans to move into its own Tulsa-space within the year (it previously brewed at Roughtail in OKC.) It’s been a crazy journey, but perhaps a bit of the brewer’s good fortune comes from the fact that a trained pastor (who learned to brew during seminary) acts as brewmaster.
Try (if you can find it): Dead Armadillo Amber Ale, a slightly unorthodox take on an Amber that’s hoppy, earthy and unquestionably drinkable.