When Oklahoma voters overwhelmingly approved State Question 792 in November 2016 – a ballot initiative commonly characterized as an opportunity to modernize the state’s oppressive liquor laws – it set in motion a chain of events that, among other things, has resulted in two dozen breweries and taprooms in Central Oklahoma, almost all having been planned and opened as a result of the new law.
By the time the new statutes went into effect on October 1, 2018, what had been a handful of breweries in the state had turned into a legitimate movement.
Overnight, the changes provided local brewers with approximately 3,000 additional outlets for their full-strength product, as grocery and convenience stores were finally allowed to sell beer above 3.2% alcohol content along with wine. Additionally, breweries could now sell their own beer on-site, allowing patrons to come into the facilities and sit down with a frosty cold one adjacent to where it was being created.
Now, there are 20 breweries with taprooms in the Oklahoma City Area; 4 more are under construction, and many more in the planning stages.
Collaboration is key
Limited distribution had previously confined passionate local brewers to more or less be hobbyist rather than scaled businesses. Many of them knew each other and many more waited in the wings, long interested but limited due to regulations.
Seeing the need for a coordinated and professional approach to changing state laws for the betterment of the brewing industry, in 2015 the Craft Brewers Association of Oklahoma (CBAO) was born.
The stated mission of the CBAO: “Dedicated to educating and creating awareness among legislators, regulators and the general public of the issues facing the craft brewing industry in Oklahoma, and to promoting a healthy economic environment that enables public choices in the marketplace for the consumer, and opportunity and access to the marketplace by Oklahoma breweries.”
Most Oklahoma breweries are members of CBAO, with dues based on distribution. In addition to collaborative marketing and promotion, the association also pays a lobbyist to help drive beneficial new legislation.
This past August, the group hired a new Executive Director, Tabbi Burwell, a six-year veteran of the Oklahoma City Convention and Visitor’s Bureau and an experienced public relations and marketing professional.
Burwell is working toward launching a new website which she hopes will launch in the coming weeks: craftbeerok.org. In addition to being a directory for Oklahoma breweries, the site will showcase members and feature news, events and allow for donations directly to the businesses. An enthusiasts program is also in the works where an annual fee will yield a t-shirt and a free beer at participating taprooms.
In addition, the group has also partnered with the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture to create a Craft Beet Trail, which will be vigorously promoted through various state agencies including printed guides and at state welcome centers and a wayfinding system.
The CBAO is also hoping to change the state law that does not allow beer manufactures to specifically name the outlets that offer their products.
Covid-19 challenges brings can shortage
Like so many other industries, the coronavirus has had a strong impact on local brewers.
Beyond the decrease in walk-in business and general supply challenges, the industry is in the midst of a unique problem: a nationwide can shortage.
Before the pandemic, can manufacturing was already experiencing record demand and the big companies like Pepsi, Coke, Anheuser-Busch and Molson Coors began increasing their contracts with large and small canning companies alike.
The rise of craft beer nationwide – and the resulting increase in distribution to grocery and convenience stores – has also fueled demand along with new popular products like hard seltzer.
The result is that local brewers are struggling to get enough cans for their product at a time when corresponding draft sales are down significantly due to reduced business in bars, restaurants and taprooms.
Almost all local breweries now provide carry-out through ‘growlers’, a 64 oz refillable jug made of glass, plastic, ceramic or stainless steel. Some also offer ‘crowlers’, a 32 oz. Can of beer which holds approximately two pints.
Burwell stressed the importance of supporting these breweries, as many are very new operations and are trying to survive after huge investments just as Covid-19 reshaped consumer patterns. “I encourage beer lovers to support the local breweries any way they can, whether you buy in a grocery or liquor store, order local craft beers in bars and restaurants, or buy directly from the taprooms.”
The rise of the taprooms
What started with the Bricktown Brewery has now exploded into 24 breweries and taprooms either open or deep into construction just in the Oklahoma City area.
What follows is a comprehensive list, all offering on-site consumption in a wide variety of friendly taprooms with most featuring both indoor and outdoor seating.
1716 Topeka St., Norman
704 W. Reno, OKC
908 SW 4th, OKC
3801 N. Tulsa, OKC
520 N. Meridian, OKC
1515 N. Portland, OKC
1 N. Oklahoma Ave., OKC
4745 Council Heights Rd., OKC
7 N. Lee, OKC
335 W. Boyd, Norman
1900 Linwood, OKC
1212 N. Hudson, OKC
314 N. Klein Ave., OKC
15 S. Broadway, Edmond
422 E. Main, Norman
815 SW 2nd, OKC
705 W. Sheridan, OKC
3 NE 8th Street, OKC
320 W. Memorial, OKC
1 NE 7th OKC
1012 NW 1st, OKC
1737 Spoke St., OKC
1 NW 10th, OKC
118 NW 8th, OKC