It’s 9:30 am on a Saturday. I have a plastic cup full of FDR Coffee Stout from 405 Brewing Co. in one hand and a bag full of carbs in the form of pretzels, Cheez-Its, and Animal Crackers in the other. Rarely could one justify starting a day this way, but I’m in good company, and it’s for a good cause. I’m surrounded by hundreds of beer enthusiasts, brewers, media, and event organizers at last weekend’s 2017 Oklahoma Craft Beer Summit in the Tower Theatre on NW 23rd.
Last January Oak & Ore hosted the first annual Oklahoma Craft Beer Summit in an effort to bring awareness to the state’s antiquated alcohol laws and to raise money for the Craft Brewers Association of Oklahoma (CBAO). The weekday event featured a few speakers and panels focusing on the efforts involved in starting a brewery in this state and much-desired law reform. While the event was fairly small, it made a huge impact in the community and provided an awesome platform to voice concerns and rally together to bring about change in the state.
Fast forward to this year. Rows of chairs and standing tables filled every level of the Tower Theatre with local breweries like Anthem, Twisted Spike, American Solera, Vanessa House, and Marshall pouring beers for approximately 315 people as the space buzzed with excitement. The agenda was packed with panels spanning topics from quality control to hop contracts as well as a keynote speaker from the Brewers Association to discuss the current state of craft beer in America.
At 10 am the lights in the theater pulsed, the crowed settled in, and Micah Andrews, owner of Oak & Ore, took the stage to kick off the event and introduce the first panel.
Beer Quality Panel
“The greatest asset of this industry is the camaraderie” – Eric Marshall
Moderator: Micki Bell – Prairie Artisan Ales
Panelists: Steve Bradt – Micro Matic; Shawn Savuto – COOP Ale Works, Reed Jaskula – Prairie Artisan Ales; and Eric Marshall – Marshall Brewing Co.
While I wasn’t sure how long the topic of beer quality assurance could sustain engagement among the hundreds of attendees, the moderator and panelists did a great job of framing the challenges that breweries of all sizes are up against regarding producing consistent products free from infection or oxidation. From the small OKC Prairie Brewpub to the large operation that is today’s COOP Ale Works, each brewery must implement its own processes to provide quality control and assurance within its beers. COOP, for example, has an in-house microbiologist, Shawn Savuto, that thoroughly tests each batch of beer for various micro-organisms and works on ways to decrease dissolved oxygen in their beers, therefore extending shelf life.
The discussion eventually shifted to one of my favorite aspects of the craft brewing industry: teamwork. The brewers discussed sharing information, strategies, and tips in an effort to combine experience and keep Oklahoma beers as good as they can be. It could have been the early morning beers, but those emotions filled me with warmth.
State of the Brewnion
“We are in Oklahoma. We are selling booze. There are going to be restrictions.” – Charles Stout
Moderator: Zach Prichard – Prairie Artisan Ales
Panelists: Patrick Gaines – Gaines Government Services; Charles Stout – Bricktown Brewery, Adam Marshall – Marshall Brewing Co.; Rick Patino – Beverage Coordinator for Pub W & The Garage.
Much like last year, the “State of the Brewnion” resonated as a call to action for everyone in and around the Oklahoma craft beer community. While major alcohol reform such as SB 424 and SQ 792 have started to change the landscape of the state’s industry, plenty of emphasis was put on the fact that the battle isn’t over. The panelists reiterated the need for continued support of the states locally owned liquor stores and breweries, stating that the public can’t expect to pass law reform and consider the job done.
Zach Prichard kept the conversation incredibly fluid and presented insightful and reactive questions in response to the panelists points, which served to really move things along and get the most out of the conversation. The panel was well balanced as we were able to get perspectives and opinions from multiple angles within the industry. Rick Patino spoke to his passion for local beer and the impact he can have at the point of sale while Charles Stout spoke to the lifting of restrictions on his brewpubs in the ability to brew “real” beer and not be limited to 4% brews.
If there was a single takeaway from the summit, it’s that we aren’t done yet, and the industry still needs our help to not only grow, but to survive.
Speaker: Damon Scott – Technical Brewing Projects Coordinator. Brewer’s Association
If you are data nerd and you like beer, this was the keynote for you. Damon Scott brought slide after slide full of craft beer statistics from not only Oklahoma, but from around the country. It was incredible to see industry growth from state to state, showing the overall trend towards craft offerings becoming more and more popular. States like Colorado, with an already mature craft industry, had a small amount of negative growth where the “behind” states like Oklahoma showed huge growth. Per Brewer’s Association data, Oklahoma craft production volume grew by a staggering 28% between 2015 and 2016. 28%!
Larger industry data trends provided the bullet points for Scott’s presentation. For example, when it comes to alcohol preferences, beer reigns over wine and liquor per a recent Gallup Poll with 40% of respondents favoring brews as compared to 30% going with wine and 26% for liquor. We also saw that within beer, small and independent American breweries have had a massive growth over the last few decades with an increase in production of 24 million barrels since the early 80s.
I could go on and on quoting stats that Scott presented, but I’ll refrain and instead just say that beer culture isn’t going away anytime soon, and we are lucky to have such as strong one here at home.
Drinking Beer, Talking Hops and Malts
After the Keynote the Summit turned into half festival and half panels with the lower level of the Tower Theater playing home to a collection of home-brewers and breweries-in-planning pouring their offerings to thirsty fans. Upstairs, breakout panels featured talk of hop contracts, ingredient trends, and the role that malt plays in brewing beer.
As the Summit wound down in the mid-afternoon hours we made one last lap around the theatre and watched as brewers and fans shared their experiences in the community with each other. Beers weren’t being judged at this event, they were being supported. It was a good day.
When asked about the event, CBAO Executive Director Shea Gillock reflected:
“With the success of last year’s State of the Brewnion at Oak & Ore, we (CBAO) knew we had an opportunity to go big this year. Adding panel discussions, breakout tasting sessions and an afternoon beer fest, all held in the newly renovated Tower Theatre, proved to be a hit with attendees. As the Oklahoma craft beer industry and culture continues to grow, we’d like the Summit to become a renowned regional event. Our minds are already spinning with ideas to make next year’s Summit even better.”
I couldn’t have said it better myself.
One last thing, A Shout-Out to Geeks Who Drink
Between the panels at the Summit Justin, Kate, and I were able to engage in a battle of wits via a Geeks Who Drink trivia contest against teams from Stonecloud Brewing and Vanessa House Brewing. Hopefully watching us struggle to answer questions provided a good break in the action, we know it did for us. Thanks to Geeks Who Drink for letting us play, and cheers to Stonecloud and Vanessa House who were not only worthy opponents, but are just plain good people.
Until next year folks, keep drinking local and supporting Oklahoma business.