I am not a fan of long road trips. I get antsy. So the prospect of again making the long, 12-hour drive to my mom’s house in Arkansas wasn’t sitting too well with me. I decided to break it up and spend the night in Oklahoma City and see what’s happening beer-wise in “The Big Friendly,” a nickname for what I usually just call OKC.
Oklahoma City’s reported population is 610,613 as of 2013, and the estimated 2014 census number is 620,602. I expected that with a population of this size, and the brewing industry exploding nationwide, there would be some interesting new breweries to visit. As it turns out, I had no idea what a chore it would be.
I had already been to Bricktown Brewery in downtown OKC on another trip and wasn’t very impressed. The hotels in the downtown area were too expensive that weekend, anyway, so I found a reasonable hotel on a major corridor with several restaurants nearby. I started performing a search for breweries on my phone. I saw that this month marked the sixth anniversary of a brewery not far from my hotel that I had yet to visit. I was concerned by the description on their website, though, that stated, “We created Mustang Brewing Company to make great, easy-drinking, session beers.” That did not sound very promising.
I never even had the chance to find out what their beer was like. I was going crazy using my phone to try to find their hours. I couldn’t believe it was so difficult on their website. I called multiple times but nobody answered the phone. Shockingly, the reason is that their taproom is only open a couple of times per month (WHAT?!?) and this was not one of those days. I couldn’t even find it on tap at the local establishments near the hotel. Fail.
One local OKC beer I tried on tap at a restaurant was Coop Ale Works IPA. It was pretty good — not overly hoppy or strong, yet definitely good enough that I knew I wanted to go visit the brewery. However, they are only open Saturdays from 1 to 5 p.m. Sigh.
I did finally manage to find one brewery that was open in OKC while driving back home to Albuquerque. Roughtail Brewing’s taproom is only open on Fridays from 4 to 10 p.m. and Saturdays from 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. I was actually driving through town at noon on Saturday. The brewery is three years old, the taproom is cute, they have multiple styles of their beers on tap, and I did like all their beers that I sampled: Hoptometrist Double IPA, Polar Night Stout, 12th Round Strong Ale, and 2nd Anniversary Red IPA. I felt like a pioneer that had accomplished a difficult mission. You’re welcome, beer expeditioners of the world! I wonder how many out-of-towners actually get there while just passing through. It’s not right on I-40; it’s about a 10-minute drive north of the freeway.
And, really, that’s about it for what you could visit brewery-wise right now in OKC. I am so not even kidding. We may bitch and complain about New Mexico beer laws, but they are improving. I am certain that the overly prohibitive laws in Oklahoma are stunting the growth of the industry there. And, as they say, “Wait! There’s more!” I don’t claim to know anything about what the regulations are, but I know from first-hand experience that the antiquated rules include imposing a hugely steep “liquor” tax on all beers over 3.2-percent ABV. Sorry, what year is this again? I was sure it was 2015. At Roughtail, we got one pint and four 3-ounce samples. The tab would have been $9.50, but with the tax it was $12.16. Do the math. Then go buy and drink your beer in some other state. Neighboring New Mexico, perhaps?
Arkansas has always had some wacky laws, too, but the brewery scene does get better when you get to Northwest Arkansas. I am pretty familiar with the breweries there. They even have an Ale Trail with a passport. I think that is pretty cute for a still somewhat rural area. I actually also saw pitchers for sale at one of my favorite Northwest Arkansas breweries: Core Brewing. I did observe both in Oklahoma and in Arkansas that many of the staff members at breweries lack basic beer knowledge. Everyone was very nice, but I couldn’t get many questions answered. Experiences such as these give me even more of an appreciation for the “beeristas” (as our editor is fond of saying) and other beer staff here in New Mexico. You’re awesome and we love you!