The inaugural Oklahoma Beer Roundtable that I posted on the blog last month was such a great success, we’re bringing it back for another go. The format: I pose some serious and not-so-serious questions to some movers and shakers in the Oklahoma beer world, and post all their answers here.
Joining me this time are: Wes Alexander, director of sales and marketing for Marshall Brewing Co.; Wes Glinsmann, former president of the Red Earth Brewers homebrew club; Freddy Lamport, owner/operator of BierGarten Wine and Spirits in Jenks; John Elkins, Midwest City homebrewer and aspiring commercial brewer; Zach Prichard, president of Choc Beer Co.; and Brad Stumph, marketing and sales director for Black Mesa Brewing Co.
Let’s do this!
The Thirsty Beagle: Ever been to the Great American Beer Festival? If so, give a short synopsis of why that should be on a beer geek’s bucket list. If no, is it on your beer bucket list?
Wes Alexander: This is the first time in five years that I have missed GABF. It is bucket list in terms that at the festival Thursday you can usually find your favorite brewers pouring hard-to-find beers. Further, the mountains in autumn is a magic place enhanced by all the fantastic breweries that open their doors to receive the GABF masses. Finally, special events and rare beer trappings all around the city during GABF complete the bucket list mystique.
Wes Glinsmann: Just got back from my second GABF. If you’re a craft beer fan, it really is something worth doing at least once. First, nowhere else will you have the opportunity to sample so many beers that you would otherwise never get a chance to try. The variety is astounding and you learn quickly that the big-name breweries have definitely not cornered the market on good beer. But even beyond the festival itself, it’s a great atmosphere and environment for beer lovers. A lot of the local bars and breweries will have tap takeovers, special collaboration brews, etc., going on during GABF week. And there are all sorts of other special events going on (e.g. Rare Beer Fest, What the Funk Fest). I know a lot of people who don’t even go to GABF, but come to Denver that week just because of so much else going on. With so many great beers and great beer people all in one place, it is well worth the trip. My advice is to pick one or two GABF sessions and spend the rest of your trip hitting up all the great bars and breweries that Colorado has to offer.
Freddy Lamport: Never been. But I also have not been in the beer game for that long… five years tops! I have spent that time developing my business. Plan is to go out with a brewery in 2014!
John Elkins: Yes, just got back from there. I think it is something everyone should do at least once in their life. It is a place where you are just engulfed with other beer fanatics. The vibe is great and yes it is a huge party. You get to try several beers you would not be able to taste otherwise. But once that session is over, spend the rest of your time visiting fantastic beer dinners, special tappings at local breweries. So enjoy all the things that proud state puts on for beer visitors.
Zach Prichard: I have been to the GABF. I have not been in two years so my comments may be somewhat outdated. The best reason to go the GABF is the sheer size of the event. There are just so many beers to try and so many people interested in the beer. It illustrates how passionate some drinkers are about their beer while also demonstrating that there are thousands of drinkers that are less educated about craft beer, but very willing to learn.
Brad Stumph: I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t on my beer bucket list, because it is. But to take all that innovation and stick it in one place is overwhelming to me. I have this compulsion to be thorough, and there’s bound to be some collateral damage if you take that approach at GABF. I organize my craft beer mental library by geography and I would rather slowly pick off America’s craft beer hubs one at a time by traveling to them: Portland, San Diego, the Colorado front range, and of course Vermont, who I hear boasts the greatest number breweries per capita.
TTB: Which do you prefer and why — an IPA with a noticeable malt backbone or one that is a straight-up hop bomb?
Wes A.: It’s a bit of an apple and orange when it comes to balance vs. hop-forward IPAs. More often than not I find myself reaching for a balanced IPA for a drinking beer and tend towards the hop bomb as a sharing beer or night cap.
Wes G.: This is a little bit of a cop-out, but I’ll say it depends. If I know I can get it fresh, I’ll take all the hops you can give me. But as hoppy beers age, you tend to lose a lot of the flavor and aroma and are left with just the hop bitterness (which is sometimes still good, but not always). So if I have the choice between an eighth-month old West Coast IPA vs. a more balanced, malty variety, I may lean toward the latter. But if I can get it fresh, I’ll take the hop bomb every time.
Freddy: I like a balanced IPA. One that is all hops is either too astringent or dry and is not desirable. Balance is everything.
John: I prefer an IPA balanced on the bitter side, but not a bitter bomb. I love a hop bomb when it comes to flavors and aromas.
Zach: Hop bomb, without a doubt. All the malt should be doing in these beers is creating a platform for the hops to shine. There are plenty of beers that should be malt-forward, an IPA is not one of them.
TTB: We had big news last month about AB-InBev posting some full-strength Budweiser products for sale in Oklahoma. If 1 is “Not a big deal at all” and 10 is “Will change Oklahoma’s beer landscape,” where would you rate this development?
Wes A.: I give AB’s entry a solid 5. Is the move reactionary to the growth of craft beer? It’s likely, however I am convinced that the main purpose is to bring in the Lime-a-Rita and other similar products that are doing well outside of Oklahoma. I am not sure that they can/want a 3.2 ABW version of those products.
Wes G.: There are definitely two schools of thought out there. Some people think this will lead to A-B pushing for liquor law changes that allow their high-point products in grocery stores. I tend to take the much more cynical view. InBev/SABMiller/Coors already have 100% of the grocery store market — why on earth would they want to change the law in such a way that would allow other brewers to move in on that territory? So I tend to be much more pessimistic — this move is only about InBev trying to muscle in and get a share of the Oklahoma high-alcohol market. Best case scenario, nothing significant changes. Worst case, retailers start giving A-B increased shelf space at the expense of local and other craft brewers. I do think the overall impact will be minimal (I’ll go 1 or 2 on your 10-point scale) but I do think any impact will be negative rather than positive. But I’d love to be proved wrong.
Freddy: I’d say its a 3 for me. Because it IS changing the landscape. These are products that most people felt they would never see on an OK liquor store shelf. As to whether it will help change laws? Probably not. I think this is just a move by AB-InBev to get the chance to sell Lime-A -Ritas in OK.
John: Probably a 6, we will see.
Zach: This is much closer to 10 then 1. With that being said, I am not sure how it will affect the landscape but this is a fairly significant development. It’s a strategic departure for ABInBev as it relates to their position in Oklahoma.
Brad: 10. Will change Oklahoma’s beer landscape — for the better. I think this is a great development. It brings Budweiser drinkers into liquor stores and puts them in front of craft beer. The transition may take some time, but most of those drinkers are going to experiment with better options given enough time, and AB-InBev is helping us train them that a little planning and up-front refrigeration time is worth the wait. I wish Black Mesa was in cans right now!
TTB: Name the one brewery we don’t get in Oklahoma that you wish we would.
Wes A.: I am a huge Odell Brewing fan. And in the same breath love Ska Brewing’s beer. I think both would be great offerings for Oklahoma. The Odell IPA is an all-time favorite. Further, Ska’s canned offerings are quite intriguing.
Wes G.: Only one? Wow. That’s a tough one. I have yet to have anything from Cigar City that I didn’t love, so I’ll go with them.
Freddy: Crooked Stave.
John: Russian River.
Zach: I can’t think of one. I try a lot of beers and I have trouble keeping up with the amount of different beers we already have in state.
Brad: Live Oak Brewing Co., Austin, Texas. These guys have no intention of distributing beyond Texas, but I wish they would. They are students of the art and history of brewing and still do decoction mashes even though modern brewing equipment makes it totally unnecessary. They brew some of the richest, most complex state-side lagers I’ve ever tried.
TTB: Word association! The word is “Prohibition.” GO! (No profanity)
Wes A.: Prohibition kills. Prohibition killed the culture of beer in the U.S. Prior to prohibition, the U.S. melting pot had attracted brewers from the world bringing techniques, ideas, and ingredients to our great country. The result was a debatable 2,800 unique breweries dotted across the American landscape. Prohibition killed the culture of beer in the U.S. as we moved into an age of industrialization, standardization, and consolidation that resulted in American lager and light lager dominating the landscape. As a result Americans had few choices, fewer local breweries, and fewer opportunities to truly understand beer. Craft beer is trying its best to restore the connection and understanding that people have of beer.
Wes G.: A solution worse than the problem.