For today’s post, I bring you Vol. 3 of the Oklahoma Beer Roundtable.
Joining me today is a star-studded cast of beer dignitaries: Wes Alexander, director of sales and marketing for Marshall Brewing Co.; Scott Windsor, co-owner of the Learn to Brew homebrew shops; Chase Healey, brewmaster of Prairie Artisan Ales; William Jones, award-winning homebrewer and member of the Yeastie Boys homebrew club; Tom Gilbert, chief photographer and beer blogger for the Tulsa World; and Brandon Jones, the recently installed president of the Red Earth Brewers homebrew club. Let’s get this thing started!
1. The Thirsty Beagle: What would be one rule/law change you’d make for retail liquor stores in Oklahoma? Refrigeration? Open Sunday? Can bring kids in? What say you?
Wes Alexander: Children in liquor stores. This update to the law is one we can surely all agree on. If children are permitted in on-premise locations where alcohol is served/consumed, surely they could be allowed in off-premise where it is neither served or consumed. Unfortunately, current law, may influence some parents to make marginal choices by leaving their children in the car.
Scott Windsor: This is a question I would have answered differently years ago. I grew up in St. Louis and then lived in California before moving to Oklahoma. Both places had refrigeration and you could buy pretty much any type of alcohol 24/7. I have slowly gotten used to the hours and non-refrigeration. You get used to planning ahead. With that being said a beer is best when it is kept cold for its life span from the brewery to the consumers hands. I would love for liquor stores in OK to have refrigerated cases but I also understand the restraints. It is extremely costly for a small store to refrigerate everything. Breweries also can’t self-distribute here so there are no refrigerated brewery trucks driving around delivering product. It would have to be a chain reaction of refrigerated trucks and distributors keeping the beer cold as well. So until then that “small Belgium” brewery from Colorado will keep driving through our state and not stopping.
Chase Healey: I’m pretty happy with the laws as they stand. I’ve developed my beers with warm storage in mind. I think they improve with time sitting warm, so that’s not really an issue for me. I think if anything, allowing kids in a store if they are with an adult is a good change. I do like how the standard argument for this change is that moms just needs their bottle of wine. I say we allow it for beer purchases only
William Jones: Refrigeration. Storing beer warm accelerates staling and aging properties which is detrimental to many styles. Additionally we’re lead to believe that many of the popular craft breweries we all know and love won’t distribute in Oklahoma due to the laws against refrigeration, so yeah, for me that one is pretty important.
Tom Gilbert: I think refrigeration in liquor stores would broaden the state’s ability to get other beers, then they would have not excuse for not coming in. (Well, maybe not able to keep up with distribution.) Then people under 21 should be able to go into stores. We are teaching our kids that alcohol is bad and by doing this they will abuse it later. Education and common sense.
Brandon Jones: There are lots of changes that would make Oklahoma liquor stores better, but the number one change for me would be refrigeration. It pains me to see all those wonderful beers wasting away on warm store shelves.
2. The Thirsty Beagle: A mini-debate was touched off on social media recently over contract brewing. Why do you think contract brewing is good or bad for the craft beer industry?
Wes Alexander: I am indifferent on contract brewing. It is certainly not our business model, however it has been demonstrated as a successful model over the years by several large and well-thought-of entities. At the first level, craft beer is about beer period. Consumers are educated/opinionated, let them choose what they would like to drink. I do get concerned when we don’t see best business practices being followed by those contract brewing or their marketing firms. These concerns are not however, isolated just to contract brewing. The greatest concern our industry faces in the future is attracting folks to craft beer for reasons that are less than respectable. Unfortunately, the success of craft beer will surely attract these types.
Scott Windsor: There has been quite a bit of discussion on this as of late and many people have very strong opinions on the matter. I don’t work in the commercial brewing industry, but I definitely hear the chatter that trickles down. If you take a step back and look at the brewing culture of Oklahoma before five years ago, it didn’t really exist. Now we have a good handful of breweries producing great beer. A lot of them contract brew or started out that way. Opening up a proper brewery costs hundreds of thousands of dollars. Most people don’t have that sitting in their bank account or don’t have a circle of friends willing to invest the big bucks. It can be a great way to get a brewery off the ground and a lot of them eventually move into their own facility or take on some of the load themselves. At the end of the day a good brewer/recipe will either be good or bad and will eventually sink or swim whether the equipment is owned or not.
Chase Healey: I’m part of this debate I suppose. As a commercial brewer I’ve found it to be a great tool to make some cool beers. It allows some bad guys into the industry, but it does a lot of good too. I think the bigger issue for the industry is the number of people starting breweries that aren’t qualified enough to work in a brewery. Bad beer is bad beer regardless of it being brewed on your million dollar investment/debt or someone else’s.
William Jones: I think any time more craft beer is in the market it’s good for the craft beer industry. More choices for the consumer and more exposure for the industry, I just can’t see how that is a bad thing.
Tom Gilbert: I don’t have a problem with contract brewing. A lot of brewers can’t front the cost of a full-blown brewery but they have great beers that need to be made. They also make less so it is incentive to get their own breweries, hire their own labor and contribute to the beer culture and the tax base. Now if they claim it is an Oklahoma brewery when in fact it isn’t brewed in Oklahoma then that is a different story.
Brandon Jones: I have no problem with contract brewing as long as it is not abused like back in the 90′s. There are a lot of great brewers that otherwise could never bring a beer to market without contract brewing.
3. The Thirsty Beagle: I know a lot depends on the venue, time of day, etc., but generally speaking, are you for a variety of several good session beers or one rare, high-alcohol beer?
Wes Alexander: Beer is for drinking. I love bottle shares and limited large-format beers as much as the next craft beer fan, but I am a beer drinker. I prefer a session beer for prolonged social interaction. Further, as an industry insider, I can offer that in most instances the session-style beers keep the lights on at craft breweries, allowing for experimentation.
Scott Windsor: To be honest I love variety whether that is sessionable low-ABV beers or huge imperial-barrel-aged-wild-hoppy-what-have-you’s. I really enjoy any bar, restaurant or brewery that has the option of the 4 oz. tasters so I can try as many of the beers without getting too out of control.
Chase Healey: I own cases of “rare” low-alcohol beer… I don’t drink a lot, so one, maybe two rare beers in a sitting is good for me.
William Jones: That is a hard question but I’d probably have to go with the session beers. In most cases I’d rather sample multiple session beers over one or two high-ABV beers.
Tom Gilbert: I am for all of the above. Several good beers and a high-ABV beer are all good. Really depends on my mood.
Brandon Jones: I love opening a special high-alcohol beer on occasion, but I find myself brewing and drinking more session beers. I would much rather have several different session beers and socialize with friends rather than try just one rare beer.
4. The Thirsty Beagle: We’re diving into the new year now, but what is one Christmas/winter beer — local or otherwise – you enjoyed a lot this year and wish you could get year-round? (Blogger’s note: It’s Choc Winter Stout for me)
Wes Alexander: Tough question. Maybe the Russian Cantillion Pliny Topper Zombie Bourbonola. (BTW, I know you were trying to trick me into choosing Straw-Ber-Ita. Nice try!)
Scott Windsor: As far as favorite winter seasonal there are so many great ones but the one I go back to year after year when I’m out at a bar/restaurant would be the Big Jamoke Porter from our buddies over at Marshall in Tulsa.
Chase Healey: I’m a big fan of Hair of the Dog beers like Fred. I wish I had some access to those. ISO: More Hair of the Dog beers.
William Jones: There are so many winter beers it’s hard to keep up and I missed out trying a lot of them this time around, however, Sierra Nevada Celebration is mandatory. Having said that, Roughtail IPA has been the winter beer of choice since its release in cans… it’s not a winter beer but it is a delicious IPA and for me, it’s really hard to beat fresh, local IPA.
Tom Gilbert: In other states this is a year-round beer, but the Lagunitas Brewing Company’s A Little Sumpin’ Sumpin’ Ale was really good. It was a gift from a traveler in Texas and not available here.
Brandon Jones: Wow, tough call. I really didn’t drink any Christmas beers this year, but one of my favorite beers in the winter months is Left Hand Fade to Black. I tend to gravitate to the darker beers in the cold months.
5. The Thirsty Beagle: Speaking of New Year’s, let’s go ahead and make ”New Beer’s” resolutions for 2014. I think I’m going with “Try new hops.” You?
Wes Alexander: Spread the craft beer gospel. As successful as our industry has become of late, we still have only a 7 percent share of beer sold by volume. Many don’t know about our industry and need to be educated and brought along slowly
Scott Windsor: I’m not huge on resolutions because those are only meant to be broken right? As a homebrewer I guess this year I would like to go back to experimenting with different styles that I normally wouldn’t brew. Sometimes I get too comfortable brewing the styles I know I can brew with good results. I guess I have to get back to those darned lagers!
Chase Healey: Fill 1,000 oak barrels and try new hops. I’m looking for 800 lbs. of the next new “it” hop.
William Jones: I have a few — brew more beer, seek out and try more beer, visit all of the new Oklahoma brewery tap rooms!
Tom Gilbert: I would say drink more beer, but I am always doing that! So I will go brew more beer. I have a two-keg kegerator and would like to keep both kegs on all year. Seems like one is always out and I don’t have one in line to fill the void.
Brandon Jones: My resolution this year is to convert as many people as I can to craft beer.