What’s The Beer Buzz In Tulsa?
From her beautiful, glowing, dancing body to her frosty demeanor that tickles our lips, she is a handful to be held. Perhaps she is dark and exotic with a twinge of boldness. Or maybe she is lite, blonde and smooth in her move with a flowing golden body. Whatever one’s taste may be, she is sought after by young and old alike…and who is this lovely you ask. Her name is BEER!
Yes, that foaming elixir that has spurred country music songs, bar games and festivals worldwide has a history dating back 7,000 years. So, people have been kicking back with the happy drink since early civilization it would seem. To take it one step further, this also means that brewing has been around that long as well. This process of turning hops, barley and yeast into what is now the most widely consumed alcoholic drink in the world, spawned what is known as the brewmaster. Basically, this is just what it sounds like…the master over the brewing process; a natural chemist who uses nature’s bounty to concoct a taste that is unique, flavorful and Robust.
With over 5,500 breweries in the US and 27 in Oklahoma, it’s easy to see that tastes do vary. Most probably do not have a monogamous relationship with one label when there are so many beautiful lagers and ales that fancy our taste. In the past however, it had been the fairly run of the mill marriage between tasters’ palates and one of the classics like Coors, Budweiser or Miller. But as time passed, tasters began to crave a mistress. Tulsa beer brewing lovers were more than happy to introduce potential desires to beer enthusiasts by feeding those cravings through a new area of brewing and marketing dubbed craft beers.
FULL STRENGTH FUN
“There has been an explosion of craft beers in the last three years,” Director of Marketing and Sales for Marshall’s Brewing Company in Tulsa, Wes Alexander said. Having been with the company for nine years, Alexander started out selling and promoting for Marshall’s when they opened. Within 18 months the brewery had grown to the point that Alexander went full-time to keep up.
Marshall’s was the first full strength production brewery in Tulsa opening its doors in May of 2008. Before Marshall’s and the recent big booze bang of the past few years, there had been a couple of brewing pubs in T-town operating during the nineties but still the explosion had a long fuse before detonation. The fever for brewing locally had begun to warm up though. Then in the early 2000s, Huebert Brewing in Oklahoma City began operation as did Krebs Company with Shock Brewing in McAlester. The fuse was burning away and the popular idea of locals everywhere having favorable options to brew their own beer had begun. The keg had been ignited! These companies were able to then begin targeting state laws for changes that made it illegal to produce and sell beer over 3.2 percent alcohol and the localities where that beer could be sampled and sold.
“I think Oklahoma is the hardest state in the union to open up a full-strength craft beer brewery. I think the reason the people of this state have helped us is because they identify with the obstacles we have had to face,” Alexander said. Through the persistence of struggling beer brewing lovers such as Marshall’s Brewing Company founder Eric Marshall and the help of attorney Adam Marshall, (Eric’s brother who authored the bill) House Bill 1341 was passed in 2013. This law granted the rights to in-state breweries to offer up to 12 ounces of free beer samples to visiting consumers on brewery premises.
Last August another breakthrough came with Senate Bill 424 passing finally allowing breweries to sell their beer in their own tap rooms. This allowed for a stream of revenue and it allowed interaction with the consumer. Alexander explained that this sort of interaction is how consumers build loyalty to breweries and is important in building public relations with the business community.
Eric Marshall is the owner and brewmaster of Marshall’s Brewing. Through his studies at TU where he studied German and International business, he was provided the opportunity to study abroad. Already a beer and brewing enthusiast, when that golden mistress beckoned, off to Siegen, Germany he set out in search for the apple of his ale. It was there that he garnered a great appreciation for the cultural side of beer, Alexander said. Instead of looking at brewing beer with only profits in mind, Marshall began to understand that in Germany beer was not so much a commodity for profit as it was the culture of a people. That resonated with Marshall.
He spent three years in Germany working at six different breweries learning from a traditional culture that embraces beer as a part of life instead of a recreational refreshment like in the US. After gaining brewing experience in both Germany and the US, Marshall earned his International Brewing Diploma. He then went to work for Victory Brewing in Pennsylvania for two years working there in many different capacities. Eventually, through the insistence of a friend, Marshall was persuaded that it was time to come home and be on the frontlines of what was certainly going to be a craft beer explosion in the Midwest. Marshall’s Brewing Company was home!
In 2012 St. Louis native Brian Welzbacher took notice that the beer culture in Tulsa was almost non-existent; a small blimp on the radar, he said. Hailing from St. Louis, he was raised in an environment where brewing beer was part of the community identity. He decided it was time to remedy this and help bring attention to those brewing enthusiasts who were working to bring craft beers to Oklahoma.
He began networking with other “beer geeks” in the area where they could come together, try the new beers that locals were producing and discuss aspects ranging from tastes to legislative issues pertaining to the laws governing brewing. This spurned his website, Beer is OK. The site initially began as a platform to inform people about beer in Oklahoma through blogging. The following year he kicked off OklahomaCraftBeer.com. Through this endeavor he began doing podcasts about the history of breweries in the state and the people behind them.
Using his graphic design background, Welzbacher began creating merchandise such as t-shirts, stickers and hats to sell on his site that promoted craft beers in Oklahoma. As his enterprise grew, he split the sites with BeerisOK.com being the retail site and the OklahomaCraftBeer.com site becoming the information tool for craft beer enthusiasts to catch up on the newest breweries, their beers and the impact craft beer is making on the community. He is passionate about educating people about beer. Not just the science of brewing but also about the realities and difficulties these breweries face financially, legally and logistically.
“Anytime someone says they’re in it for the money, they’re lying. Brewing is a hard job like anything else or digging ditches. It’s a form of art and people are putting their blood, sweat and soul into creating these beers. I think one of the reasons craft beers have gained such popularity is because people relate to that,” Welzbacher said. This passion by these brewers is in part why he helps promote and educate the public about their beers. He explained that most of them operate on “bare bones” budgets and as such marketing is not an option for them.
“These breweries need revenues,” Welzbacher said. He urges people to come out and support taverns that carry local beers. He suggested that McNellie’s on Elgin Street, Roosevelts on Cherry Street, R Bar in the Brookside area and Tap Works in Oklahoma City are currently the best options available to get local craft beers.
On 12th and Lewis there is a new structure being erected. It is a metaphorical cultural bridge like the one between the Middle Ages and modern history known as the Renaissance. Its owners Glenn and Sarah Hall are helping bridge between the age of old when big beer breweries in the country ruled to a smaller ruling class which believes in old world tradition with a new taste for the craft. They are the owners of the small Tulsa brewery Renaissance Brewing and they are helping build that bridge to the new age of local craft beers.
The building will house the brewery, tap room, event center and eventually a full catering kitchen. Glenn has been home brewing since 1994 and always had an interest in the professional side of brewing. He and Sarah have spent the last six years building Renaissance Brewing. The past year, however, he has been contract brewing at Dead Armadillo while awaiting completion of the new facility. They currently have four beers out in the market. Renaissance Gold, Black Gold, Indian Wheat and Gamma Ray IPA.
“I like the engineering and chemical aspect of brewing. I even like the equipment. It had been a dream of mine for over 20 years,” he said. He explained that he enjoys all the aspects of brewing from the science to the cultural community.
“Our goals are to be a neighborhood brewery and be ultra local,” he said. He explained that he has no plans to go outside Oklahoma but to focus on Tulsa and then once established there, to work on promoting throughout the rest of the state. They will be open to the public in a matter of weeks and are currently focusing on selling their beers wholesale through liquor stores.. They are available statewide as are many other Oklahoma brewed beers and that people just need to ask for them.
Shelby Rifai, who works at Liquor Mart in Broken Arrow, said Oklahoma beers are very popular because she believes people like the idea that they can enjoy a beer brewed right here at home as opposed to Milwaukee or Colorado. In addition, many of the beers have a very unique taste that people like to experience, she added.
So, whether it’s a night out with friends at the local pub or a quick dash into the area liquor store, remember that there is a native Oklahoma beauty, a tall cool drink of a lass who satisfies the thirst of our tasty desires…and her name is BEER.