When the sun came up on June 1, the brewhouse at the OKCity Brewing Cooperative did not look good.
The combination of winds, rains and tornadoes that swept through the Oklahoma City area the night before caused the roof to collapse, sending debris crashing down onto the gleaming stainless steel beer brewing tanks below.
One of the cooperative's brewers, Matt Anthony, of Anthem Brewing Co., described the scene as “devastating.”
“I knew it was bad, but I had no idea just how bad it really was until I saw it in person that morning after the storm,” Anthony said. “The devastation inside was incredible — mangled steel, wires and insulation on the tanks and the floor.”
When co-op owner and Mustang Brewing Co. President Tim Schoelen showed up at the building that morning, he too saw the damage. Only the blue sky was where the roof used to be. A large, rooftop air conditioning unit hung perilously over the brewhouse, which is on Sheridan Avenue just west of downtown Oklahoma City.
Move ahead nearly two weeks, and things haven't improved much, Schoelen said. The air conditioner has been removed, but more segments of the roof have fallen in. Debris still covers the brewing tanks. The structure suffers from a lack of stability that makes it unsafe — leaving demolition a likely option.
All that damage came only days after Mustang opened and filled its 12,000-square-foot warehouse with donations to support those affected by the May 20 Moore tornado.
“It's just a little irony that two weeks later, our brewhouse was taken out,” Schoelen said.
Nobody was at the brewhouse — which is home to Mustang, Anthem and Black Mesa brewing companies — at the time of the storms. The building also contains warehouse and storage space and an office area, but those areas did not sustain damage, Schoelen said.
“We've looked at some of the surveillance footage and you can see debris spinning around before the cameras were knocked out of commission,” he said.
Since that night, adjusters and a structural engineer have visited the site. Schoelen said all indications point to a three- to six-month period until the brewhouse will be operational again. As it stands now, the brewers are not allowed to enter the brewhouse because of the safety concerns. That obviously hampers beer-making efforts for all three companies.
Fortunately for Mustang, it may be positioned ideally to survive the lull.
“We luckily had just delivered two- to three-months' supply to distributors in Oklahoma earlier in the week,” Schoelen said.
In addition, Mustang has brewed or still does brew under contracts with breweries in Wisconsin, Tennessee and Krebs. Schoelen said they will shuffle and shift production to those locations.
“We were on track to have 40 percent-plus growth this year,” he said. “That may slow down a bit, but we do not foresee any major hiccups in production.”
The situation is a little trickier for Anthem and Black Mesa.
Both companies brew all their beer at the cooperative. Black Mesa's Brad Stumph said other local brewers have extended invitations to brew at their facilities during the rebuilding process, but that won't help with the nearly 1,400 gallons of beer still in three of the tanks at the co-op.
Stumph said all three batches may be lost. By the time the brewhouse is deemed safe to access, the beer will likely have been in the tanks too long to fit within Black Mesa's desired freshness window, he said.
Anthony did not have beer in any of the tanks, but he said he planned to brew several batches at the co-op in the coming weeks.
“We have beer in stock at the distributor for the time being,” he said, “but it looks like it will be gone before we get to brew again.”
Anthony recently announced the purchase of his own brewery building near downtown Oklahoma City, and said his hope now is that the permit and licensing process will proceed swiftly so he can begin brewing at the new location.
Schoelen said he aims to rebuild the brewhouse structure, but the future of the brewing system itself remains up in the air until crews are allowed to access the area and remove debris.
“A visual inspection indicates damage to much of the system, but we need visits from salvage and sanitary equipment experts to determine the full extent,” he said.
Despite that uncertainty, Schoelen said the recovery process is off to a strong start.
“Everyone has been incredibly helpful,” he said. “It looks like we could be brewing again by fall.
“We'll be back — bigger and better than before.”
We've looked at some of the surveillance footage and you can see debris spinning around before the cameras were knocked out of commission.”
Mustang Brewing Co. President