A pint at Heirloom Rustic Ales in Tulsa, Okla.

Sometimes there is such a thing as coming home.  The opportunity to return home is one of the reasons Jake Miller came to Tulsa after Melissa and Zach French contacted him about opening a new brewery.  The Frenches are both full-time dentists, but Zach has homebrewed since 2001 and splits brewing duties with Miller while Melissa brings a flair for design to the brewery as the creative voice behind the taproom design.  In November 2017, Heirloom Rustic Ales opened in a former automobile repair shop in the Kendall Whittier District.

With the Crosstown Expressway (formally I-244/U.S. Highway 412) behind it, the Heirloom Rustic Ales taproom stretches across a long parking lot.

Main entrance to the brewery.

The exterior appearance of the taproom closely mirrors the interior design, which light, bright, and airy.  Instead of a bold, aggressive font on the exterior of the building, the artistic, flowing script proclaiming the brewery’s name sets the tone visitors will find inside at the taproom.

The design inside the taproom is eclectic, but is also a comfortable atmosphere designed to create a community gathering spot.  The subway tile back splash along the draft wall compliments the reclaimed wood above it.  The cross-section of shiplap used to create the outline of the state of Oklahoma is breathtaking.  The taproom holds approximately 50 people across a variety of spaces.  My wife Katie and I chose to sit at the bar, and eventually go to talk with Jake Miller about his moves and the start-up of the brewery.  However, I was particularly intrigued by the high-top table to the right of the bar because it was partially separates from the rest of the taproom so it could hold a larger group, but it was not completely apart from the taproom.

The beers at Heirloom Rustic Ales tend to cover three broad areas: saisons, lagers, and mixed fermentation, oak-barrel-aged ales.  The beer list reflects the varied options available on draft for visitors.  Regardless of what beers are on draft, the brewery consistently carries about a dozen beers on tap.  If you enjoy a particular beer, you may be able to take it home in a 32-ounce crowler, too.  However, the staff at Heirloom Rustic Ales does crowlers differently than most breweries.  Instead of filling the can from the draft line, Heirloom fills it immediately from the tank and then seals it.  So be prepared to order your crowler early in your visit instead of waiting until the last minute.

While sitting at the bar talking with Jake, I asked about getting a tour of the production area.  Unfortunately, because he was the only person working at the bar he was unable to take me on a formal tour, but offered to let me explore the production side on my own.

As much as I enjoy exploring the production side of a brewery, it can be kind of monotonous when you visit a lot of breweries (mind you, I still love exploring the production side of breweries).  However, because Heirloom Rustic Ales focuses on open fermentation ales, I got to see a tank with spontaneous fermentation going on.

Speaking of beer, I sampled all twelve that were on draft at the time I visited.  Instead of discussing ALL of the beers, I am going to focus on the four that I enjoyed the most.  My favorites were Black Cauldron (a schwarzbier), Under His Eye (an American porter), Tinder Résumé (an American pale ale), and Barking Water (an English strong ale).  Black Cauldron has some great chocolate and roasted notes that are typical of a schwarzbier.  I particularly enjoy schwarzbiers, but they are not a style you commonly find at American breweries.  Under His Eye was quite decadent with some great chocolate and vanilla flavors.  It was so delicious, that Katie and I brought a growler of it home with us.  Tinder Résumé is a great example of the experimental beers that already define Heirloom Rustic Ales.  It is an American pale ale, but conditioned on cinnamon and Fair Fellow cold brew coffee.  So instead of being particularly bitter like most pale ales, it was mellow with great coffee flavors and just a hint of cinnamon.  Barking Water is an ode to traditional English pub practices.  It has noticeable Brett notes, but a smooth brown sugar flavor that almost mimicked syrup.

Like the taproom itself, the beers are a unique reflection on the trio who established Heirloom Rustic Ales.  The beers are far from traditional, but they are all delicious beers with flavors that make the beer drinker ponder the experience.  The taproom decor is eclectic, but energetic and expressive like the beers.  Overall, the atmosphere and vibe is cozy and welcoming, but with a fresh, modernist approach to fostering a community environment.

A pint at Iron Monk Brewing in Stillwater, Okla.

Only in a college town would a guy with a Ph.D. in molecular biology and a guy with an MBA meet and start a brewery.  However, that was precisely the recipe that led Jerod Millirons and Dave Monks to start Iron Monk Brewing in Stillwater, Okla.

Due to Oklahoma alcohol laws, production in the brewery started in advance of the taproom opening.  The brewery, which recently celebrated its fourth anniversary within the past month, did not open its taproom until late 2015.  The modernization of Oklahoma beer laws has given the taproom new life, as they are now allowed to sell beers above 3.2% alcohol-by-weight.  Now the taproom is open more days and attracts larger crowds because of the new laws.  It’s location in downtown Stillwater helps facilitate a steady flow of visitors.

Main entrance to the brewery.

Immediately after entering the brewery, you see the bar a distance from the front door.  To the left is a wall of empty beer cans and to the right are some coolers with beer along with some merchandise for sale.  If you strain when you enter the brewery, you may see the production side of the brewery.

The bar feature a beautiful wooden top with a pair of televisions, so it is a great setting to watch your favorite sporting event and enjoy craft beer.

An overview of the bar.

My wife Katie and I had previously visited the taproom a few years ago when we were in town to visit with friends from graduate school at Oklahoma State University.  With the modernization of Oklahoma beer laws encouraging breweries to offer a wider variety of beers on draft at the tap, which allowed us to build two unique flights of beers.  We shared one flight before our tour of the production side, and the other flight after our tour.

A flight of beers.

We started with Bright D. WeizenSour, Raspberry Wheat, Exit 174 Rye Pale Ale, and Chocolate Habanero Stout.  Bright D. WeizenSour was particularly unique blend of fruits, but a very good Berliner Weisse.  The best beer from the flight was by far the Chocolate Habanero Stout.  Its base is a milk stout that has habanero peppers and chocolate added to bring together a unique mix of flavors.  It is incredibly smooth, but spicy with some chocolate undertones.

Our second flight consisted of the Payne County Imperial IPA, Velvet Antler, Hopped-Up Wheat, and Stilly-Rita.  Among this quartet, the Payne County Imperial IPA was my favorite beer.  It was rather malty for an imperial India pale ale, but it finished with a good bite.

With sampling the beer out-of-the-way, it’s best to delve into how it came to be in the glasses.  So after finishing our first flight, Katie and I got a tour of the production side of the brewery.  The tour starts with a binder of photographs detailing the history of the building, which is not something I’ve encountered on other brewery tours.  Although some photos focus on the transformation of the building to its current use as a brewery and taproom, there were also plenty of photos showing the history of the structure as the former AT&T building where local residents would pick up their phones.

The tour, like those offered at many breweries, walks visitors through the production process from start to finish.  So we started by seeing the grain room and the grain hopper.

A view of the grain hopper.

After seeing the grain hopper and learning about the wheat strains that Oklahoma State University has developed that the brewery using in the production of its beer, we got to see the mash tun.  Seeing a mash tun isn’t necessarily exciting, but because the staff had brewed just a few days beforehand it was open.  So for the first time ever, I got to see inside a mash tun.

Following our view of the mash tun, we got to see the fermentation tanks.

The last place visitors see on the tour is the canning line, which is one of the newest additions to the brewery.  Currently, Iron Monk regularly cans seven beers.

An overview of the canning line.

After completing our tour of the production side of the brewery, we returned to the taproom and had our second flight of beers.  I also took the opportunity to capture a few more photos of the taproom.  Most importantly, I wanted to capture a photo of the area to the left of the bar that provides visitors with a view into the production side of the brewery.

An overview of the production area from the taproom.

Tours of the brewery are offered on Saturdays at two and four o’clock.  People under 21 are allowed to participate in the tour, but because of Oklahoma law those under 21 are not allowed in the taproom.

Even if you don’t go on a tour, the taproom is a great place to enjoy craft beer.  There are a variety of seating options, a handful of televisions, and even a selection of board games.  Like many breweries, Iron Monk has a selection of beers available to take home in their cooler, but they also have a crowler machine that allows guests to take some a 32-oz. can of their favorite beer available on draft.  Katie and I opted to bypass the beer in the cooler and took home a crowler of Chocolate Habanero Stout.

Whether you like a spicy stout or a more mellow beer or a hoppy IPA , Iron Monk Brewing has something to offer everybody.  With incredibly high ceilings and a variety of wood tones, the taproom creates a spacious yet intimate setting to enjoy a quality beer.

A pint at Cabin Boys Brewery in Tulsa, Okla.

Great ideas often originate at communal gathering places.  That is certainly the case of Cabin Boys Brewery.  The idea germinated at a cabin Jeff McIlroy and friends built on his land in Catoosa, about 15 miles east of Tulsa, Okla.  From fellowship fostered at the cabin, Austin McIlroy and Ryan Arnold realized the potential of their joint homebrewing endeavors.  Their passion and skills led to Austin and his wife Lisa and Ryan opening Cabin Boys as a placed “craft for community.”

Visitors to the brewery will notice the distinct Cabin Boys logo that Lisa designed as they come to the intersection of Utica Avenue and 7th Street.

A view of the brewery from the intersection of Utica Avenue and 7th Street.

There is parking immediately behind the brewery with additional parking across the street.  So visitors do not enter the brewery by the beautiful artwork, but through a more nondescript door.

Main entrance to the brewery.

After entering the brewery through a door adjacent to the loading dock door, visitors see a display of merchandise on the right.

A selection of merchandise available at the brewery.

Around the corner from the merchandise area is the bar and a large, custom-built picnic-style table.

An overview of the taproom.

Although the picnic-style table and bar are primary seating options in the taproom, there are a few barrels distributed around the room for standing-room usage.  In addition to seating in the taproom, there is additional seating on the production side of the brewery.

In addition to a set of tables the additional seating includes games like table tennis and cornhole.  Due to the large space, Cabin Boys has hosted swing dance classes on this side of the brewery.  Depending on when you visit the taproom, you may see someone working on the production side, which I captured while taking a few photos.

With the lay of the land established, let’s talk about beer.  When I visited, Cabin Boys had six beers on tap plus kombucha and cold brew.  So there was something for everyone.  One would think that having only six beers on draft would make it easy to put together a flight, but that’s not quite the case.  Cabin Boys offers something unique that I had never heard of nor seen before visiting their brewery.  At the taproom you can have a red, hot iron inserted into your beer of choice in a German process called Gustungling.  So with only four beers on a flight, my wife Katie and I had to decide which beers to put on the flight, and which two we wanted to try Gustungling style.  After some input from the beertenders, we built our flight and decided which beers we’d try Gustungling.

A flight of beers.

The advice we received about Gustungling is that it works best with darker beers, so we put together out flight featuring the lighter beers on tap.  So we ordered Cast-a-Line Kolsch, Cornerstone Saison, Whittier Wit, and Huntman IPA.  Of those four, I enjoyed Whittier Wit the most.  It was light and refreshing like a typical wheat beer.  The Cornerstone Saison was also an excellent representation of its style.  It was light, crisp and had a hint of pepper.

After finishing our flights, Katie and I each ordered the beer we wanted to Gustungling.  Inserting the red, hot iron is supposed to caramelize the flavors of the beer.  The process changes the flavors, so customers who order a Gustungling receive two pours: a 10-ounce pour with the red, hot iron inserted for the Gustungling process and a sampler of the same beer without the hot iron effect.  Katie opted for Felix et Tenebris (an American stout) while I chose Bearded Theologian (a Belgian quad).  If you haven’t seen the Gustungling process it is definitely a great part of the experience, unfortunately I had a difficult time capturing it on video.  However, I did capture the result in a photograph.

The final results of a Bearded Theologian undergoing the Gustungling process (left) and a sample of the original (right).

Both beers were great after under going Gustungling.  Bearded Theologian was a solid Belgian quad whether you heated it or not.  I particularly enjoyed the Gustungling version because the hot iron brought out marshmallow flavors and a little bit of sweetness.  Felix et Tenebris had hints of orange and chocolate, and was equally delicious whether as originally brewed or whether its flavor profile was changed through Gustungling.  The beertenders at Cabin Boys will Gustungling any beer a customer orders, but I can agree that the best beers for Gustungling are the darker options.

The origins of the brewery’s name are clear-cut, and the name really carries over into the atmosphere at the taproom.  The color scheme creates a cozy feeling and the bark on the edge of the bar top reinforces the cabin setting.  The large picnic-style table has the same design as the bar top.  The seating structure creates a place that lives up to the text on the glassware, “crafted for community.”

A pint at Marshall Brewing Co. in Tulsa, Okla.

As craft beer was already experiencing a boom on the West Coast, Eric Marshall opened a production brewery in Tulsa, Okla.  Considering the laws governing alcohol in the state, it was a potentially risky proposition given that distribution regulations heavily favored the major beer producers.  However, Marshall Brewing Company found a niche of loyal drinkers and has grown since starting production in 2008.

When Oklahoma began to modernize its alcohol laws, taprooms became more popular with customers because breweries could serve beer stronger than 3.2 alcohol-by-weight.  I visited Marshall Brewing because the company took advantage of the new beer laws and had its inaugural “Dark Side of the Taproom” event to coincide with the winter solstice.

The “Dark Side of the Taproom” event featured ten of the brewery’s darker beers with options to choose individual beers or pre-organized flights.  We’ll get to the beer in a moment because that’s not the first thing visitors see when walking into the taproom.

An overview of the taproom.

Actually before visitors see the seating, you see a bevy of merchandise for sale.

Some of the merchandise available at the brewery.

Once visitors move past the shuffleboard table, you get a better overview of the seating in the taproom.  There are a handful of couches and a wooden table with benches.

An overview of the seating area in the taproom.

The production area of the brewery is usually blocked off from guests, but because of the enormity of the event guests were able to sit at tables around the brewing equipment.

My wife Katie and I debated what flights to get because the brewery offered multiple vintages of El Cucuy and Black Dolphin in addition to a selection of stouts.  We decided to focus on El Cucuy and Black Dolphin because they are two of Marshall Brewing’s best beers.  We decided to split the flights, so I ordered the Black Dolphin flight and Katie ordered the El Cucuy flight.

We ended up staying longer than initially planned, so we ordered the stout flight as well.

A flight of stouts.

Between Katie and I we shared nine beers.  The Black Dolphin flight consisted of 2015 Black Dolphin, Black Dolphin with chocolate and cherry, and Black Dolphin with vanilla.  Per my conversation with brewery founder and brewmaster Eric Marshall (more on that later), Black Dolphin was inspired and initially released to celebrate Black Friday, the gigantic sale day after Thanksgiving.  It is a Russian imperial stout that is aged in whiskey barrels.  It is an outstanding beer, and it was great having the ability to compare the 2015 vintage to other variants.  The chocolate and cherry version tasted a lot like a chocolate-covered cherry while the vanilla version was very mild.  Among the three, I liked the 2015 vintage the best because it was a big beer, but not overly boozy.

The El Cucuy flight consisted of bourbon barrel-aged El Cucuy, red-wine barrel-aged El Cucuy, and rum barrel-aged El Cucuy.  According to the brewmaster himself, El Cucuy was developed for distribution in time with Halloween.  It is an India-style black ale, so it checks-in at 8.6% ABV with 80 IBUs.  It is one of Katie’s favorite beers, which is why she opted for that flight.  Before my visit, I had never had any variants of the beer.  In hindsight, I cannot say that I liked one of the three beers more than the others although they all taste dramatically different.  The bourbon barrel version has distinct bourbon aroma, but it did not taste particularly boozy.  The red-wine version had very subtle win notes and cut down on the hoppiness of the beer.  The rum version was the booziest of the trio and was a bit sweet.

The stout flight consisted of Belgian Stout, Belgian Stout with cacao nibs, and 2017 Black Dynamite (a blend of Black Dolphin and Big Jamoke Porter).  The Belgian Stout was a solid beer, but I preferred the version with cacao nibs.  The chocolaty notes made the stout more enjoyable to me.  For me, the 2017 version of Black Dynamite was overly boozy, which covered up all the other flavors.

While finishing our flights, I saw founder and brewmaster Eric Marshall pouring beers.  I asked if he had some time to discuss the history of the brewery and the event.  As Katie and I finished our flights, he stopped by our table and I got to talk to him about how he got into brewing beer and some upcoming changes to the brewery.

Eric grew up in town and attended the University of Tulsa where he majored in international business and German.  As he was finishing his formal education, he participated in a study abroad program in Germany.  It was in Germany that he realized it was possible to drink “good, fresh, local beer.”  When he looked at the beer scene in Tulsa, he saw a need and opportunity and spent a year apprenticing in Germany before working at Victory Brewing in Downington, Pa.

After the brewery started production in 2008, Marshall partnered with another native Tulsan to brew a beer just for that establishment.  “It is a tip of the hat,” said Marshall, when describing the production of McNellie’s Pub Ale.  For Marshall it is his way of acknowledging the importance of McNellie’s Pub to the revitalization of downtown Tulsa.  It also spawned another partnership, as Marshall Brewing oversees the brewing process at Elgin Park, which is the McNellie’s Group’s brewpub.

The partnership between Marshall Brewing and McNellie’s Pub also inspired a unique poster hanging above a doorway in the production side of the brewery.

A glimpse into the brewery’s storage area with a banner honoring the rating of their McNellie’s Pub Ale by Beer Advocate magazine.

As the beer business continues to grow in Oklahoma, Marshall expressed interest growing, but maintaining the company’s identity as a small, regional brewery.  The biggest thing on tap is the construction of a purpose-built taproom in the brewery’s existing space.  The goal is to open the new space in the summer of 2018.

Marshall gives credit for events like “The Dark Side of the Taproom” was the idea of taproom manager Kyle Johnson, who stored a variety of kegs with the intent of offering them together at some undetermined point.  Marshall relayed the problem of himself and other staff members wanting to put certain kegs on tap, but Johnson having to hide them in the back of cold storage so they would not get drank.  Similar events will be announced throughout the year.

With a tradition of German brewing and innovative American recipes, Marshall Brewing has brought unique craft beer to Tulsa for over a decade.  The beer reflects the Tulsa spirit and the artistry involved in producing quality beer.  “The Dark Side of the Taproom” was a special opportunity for me to try some beers that are not usually on tap at the same time, which for out-of-town visitors is a great way to sample more difficult to find brews.  For locals, the taproom offers a particularly intimate setting with a variety of mismatched seats, a shuffleboard table, and a bevy of board games to enjoy while sipping some of the city’s best beer.

Five great places to drink craft beer in Oklahoma City

There are a lot of great reasons to visit Oklahoma City.  Many visitors think about dining at Cattlemen’s Steakhouse, exploring the history at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum, or watching the NCAA’s Women’s College World Series at the OGE Energy Field at the USA Softball Hall of Fame Complex.  There are countless other things people think about when they consider visiting OKC (see a full list here).

When people think about destinations to visit for craft beer, Oklahoma City probably isn’t on that list.  However, considering recent changes in the state’s beer laws and the growth of breweries in the city, Oklahoma City should be on beer drinkers’ list of must-visit cities.  There are a number of craft beer bars in the city and a dozen breweries to visit, but if you want to get the best beer visitors should go directly to the source.

Anthem Brewing Co. (908 SW 4th St., Oklahoma City, OK 73109)
After relocating to its current location in 2014, Anthem Brewing has gradually become one of the state’s premier breweries.  The brewery’s four core beers cover the bases for novice and experienced craft beer drinkers.  Arjuna and and Golden One are both lighter-body beers that are less hoppy, which makes them great choices for newcomers to craft beer.  For people who enjoy hops and heavy-bodied beers, Anthem offers an IPA and Uroboros, an American stout.  The taproom is incorporated into the brewery, so visitors have the opportunity to watch the brewing process while enjoying a freshly-tapped brew.

A flight of beers.

Coop Ale Works (4745 Council Heights Rd., Oklahoma City, OK 73179)
One of the earliest craft breweries in the state, Coop Ale Works helped pave the way for the growth of craft brewing in Oklahoma.  Coop offers eight year-round beers, so no matter your tastes in beer you will find something that suites your palate.  Among the core, you find an amber, a blonde, a brown, an IPA, and a wheat.  My favorite beer name is hands down the F5 IPA, which plays off the state’s history as part of “Tornado Alley” and the scale that measures the intensity of tornadoes.  To me, the name epitomizes the localism movement that The brewery’s location west of downtown Oklahoma City provides it with more entertainment space.  So visitors can visit the backyard and play bocce, cornhole, or horseshoes in addition to lounging at the picnic tables.

Cans of F5 IPA lined up in the brewery. (Photo courtesy of the Oklahoma City Convention & Visitors Bureau)

Prairie Artisan Ales (3 NE 8th St., Oklahoma City, OK 73104)
One of the most recent additions to the craft beer scene in Oklahoma City is Prairie Artisan Ales.  Prairie began in Tulsa, and opened its new brewery and taproom in Oklahoma City as the anchor tenant of a mixed-use development in Automobile Alley.  Prairie is best known for Bomb!, which ranks among the top-100 beers according to BeerAdvocate and RateBeer), and its many variations.  If you don’t like heavier beer like stouts, Prairie also brews some amazing farmhouse ales, which are a great choices for people who want something lighter but also flavorful.

Stonecloud Brewing Co. (1012 NW 1st St., Suite 101, Oklahoma City, OK 73106)
Oklahoma-native Joel Irby spent nine years working in the Colorado craft brewing industry before returning home and opening Stonecloud Brewing.  The brewery has 19 taps that feature a variety of beers, and other fermented beverages.  For example, people who don’t drink beer could have Stonecloud’s peach seltzer water or kombucha from Oklahoma City’s Big Oak Kombucha.  One of the brewery’s benchmark beers (seen below) is Turtlehead, which is a coffee imperial stout that checks in at 11.0% ABV.

A glass of Turtlehead Stout. (Photo courtesy of the Oklahoma City Convention & Visitors Bureau)

Twisted Spike Brewing Co. (1 NW 10th St., Oklahoma City, OK 73103)
One of the first breweries to open in the state specifically with the objective of taking advantage of the state’s more progressive beer laws was Twisted Spike Brewing, which opened in Automobile Alley.  Bruce Sanchez spent over twenty years as a home brewer before opening Twisted Spike in 2016.  The brewery offers Dirty Blonde and Crew, which are great beers for first-time craft beer drinkers.  However, there are also more complex options like Two Bean or Not Two Bean, which is a vanilla coffee porter.  The taproom is an elongated building, so there is plenty of space to hang out and enjoy eats from the occasional food truck that visits the brewery.

A view of the bar area from the counter top.

Regardless of what brings you to Oklahoma City, there are some excellent breweries for the experienced and novice beer drinkers to enjoy while exploring town.  Additionally, many of the breweries are in the Midtown Oklahoma City, so visitors can sample several beers at different breweries.

A pint at Dead Armadillo Craft Brewing in Tulsa, Okla.

The armadillo is an animal closely associated with the American Southwest, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that a brewery in Oklahoma seized upon the animal for its name.  So when Mason Beecroft and Tony Peck started a commercial brewery production, Dead Armadillo Craft Brewing was born.  In 2016, the brewery opened its own taproom in an industrial area of town.

Main entrance to the brewery.

Like most craft breweries, Dead Armadillo celebrates the unique tastes it brings to beer drinkers.  Customers see this irreverent humor on the door before walking into the taproom.

Front door cautioning people about taste ahead.

The taproom used to be home to Fourth Street Auto Repair, which was ideal for a brewery because it provides plenty of space to install the brewing equipment.  However, it meant the taproom was smaller.  The bar is immediately to the left upon entering with a small seating area to the right.

A view of the bar, randall, and beer list.
View of the brewery’s seating area.

The bar seats about a dozen people while the seating area, which features high top tables, seats about nine people.  Even the glass behind the bar pays homage to the building’s former occupant with “Fourth Street Auto” stenciled above the brewery’s logo.

The brewery offers flights, so my wife Katie and I took advantage and ordered two different flights.  She ordered the Berliner Weisse flight, which featured a selection of Berliner Weisse beers mixed with a variety of simple syrup flavors.  On my flight, I ordered the Amber (an American amber), Inland Porter (an American porter brewed in collaboration with Hanson Brothers Beer), IPA with Pineapple, and Renaissance Black Gold (an American stout).  The Amber is a bit hoppy in the traditional American style, and is one of the brewery’s flagship beers.  The Berliner Weisse and Inland Porter were my two favorite beers.

A flight of beers.

Perhaps the coolest aspect of the taproom was the tire tread on the bar counter.  It runs across the entire bar except where a metallic version of the brewery’s logo sits in the middle of the counter.

A view of the dead armadillo on the bar.

I visited the taproom during a midweek holiday, so despite it being a Thursday and the brewery offering special one-off beers through their Randall.  However, the crowd appeared to consist of some regulars and a few newcomers trying the brewery’s beer with a flight.

A pint at Anthem Brewing in Oklahoma City, Okla.

Transitioning from an 8th grade U.S. history teacher to become a brewmaster isn’t usually in the cards for most people, but it’s the path Patrick Lively took.  Lively came on board at Anthem Brewing Company in 2014 after founder and brewmaster Matt Anthony left the company (read more about the brewery’s early history).  Patrick spent five years working at COOP Ale Works before coming to Anthem, which had just relocated to its current location on S.W. 4th Street following a 2013 tornado that destroyed the brewery’s previous co-operative location on North Meridian Avenue that it shared with OKCity Brewing, Redbud Brewing, and Black Mesa Brewing.

Like many breweries, Anthem is in an industrial area with few restaurants or other entertainment options nearby.  According to Lively, the building was previously a transmission shop.  Visitors driving up to the brewery wouldn’t be able to tell what is inside the building without the exterior signage.

Entrance to the brewery.

Once inside the brewery it’s quite a different feeling.  There’s even signage making sure you don’t get lost after entering the lobby and turn around and leave.

Sign pointing customers to the taproom.

The signage directing people to the taproom is humorous because the only other option is to turn around and leave.

Once inside the taproom, visitors see the brew kettles and fermentation tanks you’d expect to see at an American craft brewery.  At work since 5 a.m. standing over a brew kettle is where my wife Katie and I found Patrick when we arrived around ten o’clock.

Brewmaster Patrick Lively at work in the brewery.

As Patrick finished up his work, we were greeted by taproom manager Ben Childers.  After updating the brewery’s beer list on Untappd, he asked what we wanted to drink and then decided he’s give us a sample of everything they had on draft.  The brewery is a verified venue on Untappd, which means people who use the free social media app are able to check the brewery’s tap list without leaving the comfort of their home.

Taproom manager Ben Childers working on preparing a flight of beers.

As Ben worked on preparing the flights, I took the opportunity to walk around the taproom and take a few more pictures.  So I found the brewery’s merchandise in a corner with a display of all its T-shirts.

The corner of the brewery with its selection of T-shirts and other merchandise.

The taproom is part of the brewery itself, so I didn’t feel like walking through the entire working area to get pictures.  However, I made sure to capture a picture of the barrels Anthem was using for some specialty beers.

A view of the seating area and some of the brewery’s barrels.

It is through the loading dock that all of the company’s supplies arrive and all the beer departs.

Occasionally, a food truck parks outside.  However, the lack of other potential customers in the area has made it difficult for Anthem to consistently attract a food truck.  Lively noted that the biggest boom to the brewery has been the change in beer laws allowing breweries in Oklahoma to brew higher ABV beer, and most importantly, to sell beers with higher ABV on site at the brewery.

For example, Anthem had on draft Bourbon Barrel Golden One, which is a variant of one of the brewery’s core beers Golden One.  Bourbon Barrel Golden One has a 7.0% ABV, which means the brewery would not have been able to serve it in the taproom under the previous state laws.

So onto the beer…

A flight of beers.

With more freedom to brew different beers, the draft offering at Anthem have expanded since the beer laws have changed.  The flight pictured above is a great example.  Ben set us up with four lighter beers, their OK Pils (a German pilsner) and three goses (their standard gose, a blood orange gose, and a dry-hopped gose).  Although sour ales are growing in popularity they can be hit-or-miss for some drinkers, but the brewery’s four core beers provide a great introduction to craft beer.

I sampled Arjuna (a Belgian wit), Golden One (a Belgian blonde), IPA, and Uroboros (a stout).  All are excellent representations of their styles.  However, my favorite beer was the Blood Orange Gose.  It was tart yet with a hint of sweetness.  It was so delicious that my wife and I got a growler fill because we wanted more of it.

Katie and I were at Anthem during the morning in the middle of the week, so we didn’t get to see or get a feel for the customers at Anthem.  However, the taproom has plenty of space with a variety of seating options from the bar top to bar-height tables to a countertop facing the brewing equipment.  With less restrictions, the brewery also features beers that you can only find at the taproom like the Blood Orange Gose.

A pint at Twisted Spike Brewing in Oklahoma City, Okla.

Since 2016, Oklahoma has taken strides to modernize its beer and liquor laws.  One of the biggest changes was the state allowing breweries to sell beer on premise that was above 3.2 alcohol-by-weight.  The change in the law motivated Bruce Sanchez to finally open his own brewery after 25-plus years as a homebrewer.  So on December 10, 2016, Twisted Spike Brewing Company opened its doors.

Like many home brewers who realized their dream of opening a brewery, Bruce has a technical background that prepared him for his current undertaking. He worked for 25 years as a software engineer for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). He also won a handful of awards as a home brewer, too (see the list here). However, it was the changes in Oklahoma law that led him to open a brewery.  As with any business, it was a lengthy process to find an appropriate site. Eventually Bruce settled on a location in Midtown Oklahoma City because of its proximity to a growing restaurant scene in the area and the more established Bricktown entertainment district, which is about a mile away.

Exterior of the brewery.

Customers see the bar the instantly when they come inside, but the layout also created a space in the front to display the brewery’s swag for sale.  The building is also very long, which has allowed the brewery to rent out its space to host corporate holiday functions.

Wall of merchandise.

The bar was built from a shipping container, which figures prominently into the brewery’s architecture.

A view of the bar.
A view of the bar area from the counter top.

Shortly after arriving and sitting down at the bar, we got to meet with owner Bruce Sanchez and got a detailed tour of the brewery.  We started the tour in the brewing area, which has a window into the bar area.  However, if you get to tour the facility, you enter the production area by walking through a shipping container.

A view from the bar to the brewery’s sitting area.

After walking through the shipping container, which Bruce employs to give the brewery a bit of an industrial feel because of its location in Automobile Alley, you see the fermentation tanks and other brewing equipment.

A view of the fermentation tanks in the production area.

From the production area, you can see the bar because of the cutout window.

A view from the brewing area to the bar and sitting area.

So like many breweries, customers enjoying a pint can see the beer being brewed on site.

In the back of the brewery, again with another window providing access to the process, is what Bruce calls “Funky Town.”  A vibrant, eclectic design covers the wall looking down on a half dozen barrels that contain batches of barrel-aged beers.  It is also the area that Sanchez hopes to use to brew sour beers, which have become a growing trend in the craft beer scene.

Bruce plans to use a space in the back of the brewery for barrel-aged and sour beers.

After getting a tour from the owner and learning more about the brewery’s history and Bruce’s personal history as a homebrewer transitioning to full-time commercial brewer, we came back to the bar to have some beers.

Laminated sheets detailing each of the brewery’s core beers.

Twisted Spike has a pair of laminated sheets describing each of their eight core beers, so whether you’re a craft beer expert or novice you’ll learn a lot about your choices before ordering.  With my wife Katie along, we split up the offerings to cover our bases.  I ordered the Golden Spike (a saison), Crew Kölsch, Dirty Blonde, and Twisted Stache (a milk stout).  My wife Katie had the whiskey-barrel-aged Black Snake (a Russian imperial stout), 10th St. Pale Ale, Holy Beer (a Belgian quad), and TSB IPA.  All we very solid options.  My favorites were the Golden Spike and Crew Kölsch, which are both light and approachable and very true to the traditional style.

Additionally, Twisted Spike’s beer is bottled and distributed throughout the state.  So if you like something you had at the brewery the odds are very good that you can find the beer at home.  Of course, you can also fill a growler and take home a 32- or 64-oz. bottle home with yourself.

Like many breweries, the atmosphere at Twisted Spike is fairly relaxed with a unique cross section of people.  It is walking distance from a handful of Midtown Oklahoma City hotels and some residential areas, too.  It’s also a great starting point for people exploring downtown wanting to sample some local craft beers before eating at one of the restaurants in Bricktown.

My night with the Oklahoma City Dodgers – July 4, 2017

There are a lot of pluses and minuses to regularly visiting Minor League Baseball stadiums.  The biggest minus for me is that I only starting blogging about my ballpark visits consistently five years ago.  So I haven’t blogged about all the stadiums I’ve visited over the years.  However, that is also a plus because it gives me incentive to re-visit and blog about those parks.

Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark is one that I originally visited in 2009 while in graduate school at Oklahoma State University, but I hadn’t started blogging about my stadium visits at that time.  So when planning my summer road trip to visit my wife’s family in Oklahoma, I wanted to be sure to visit the stadium.

Over the eight years since my first visit to the stadium, a lot has changed.  The name changed from AT&T Bricktown Ballpark to RedHawks Field at Bricktown (2011) to Newcastle Field at Bricktown (April 4, 2012) to the current moniker the next day.

The team itself also changed affiliations since my initial visit.  The team was a Texas Rangers affiliate (until 2010) and then became a Houston Astros club (2011-14) and ultimately became affiliated with the Los Angeles Dodgers (2015).

The change in affiliation and ultimately ownership resulted in the team becoming the Oklahoma City Dodgers in 2015, as L.A. Dodgers minority owner Peter Guber bought the club (read more details here).

Despite multiple changes through the years, one thing has not changed.  The beautiful view fans get when walking up to the stadium’s main gate.

Stadium’s main gate (a.k.a. Johnny Bench Plaza).

There are two murals that flank the main gate.  The art installation is called “Bricktown Experience” and depicts facets of the area’s community.  In the word’s of Susan Morrison, the artist who created these mosaic murals in 2000: “The juxtaposition of old Bricktown and that of modern skyscrapers suggest a physical and spiritual connection between the two.  By placing 1890 motifs alongside present day images, a visual metaphor is created that evokes the timeless connection between past and present.”

The exterior of many stadiums can be rather ho-hum, but Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark celebrates the Hall of Fame careers of a trio of baseball players with ties to Oklahoma.

The statues are a great way to celebrate the state’s baseball heritage, but they are not the only pieces of art outside the stadium of note.  Along the third base line there is a row of six busts celebrating players like “Bullet” Rogan and Lloyd Waner.

A collections of busts outside the stadium celebrate native Oklahomans elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

While the team store isn’t usually something to celebrate, unless it has an unusual name that is a terrific pun, I thought the wraparound stickers were noteworthy because of the clear connection between the Oklahoma City affiliate and its parent club in Los Angeles.

The exterior of the team store plays up the club’s relatively new partnership.

After walking around the stadium for a few minutes and capturing photos of the numerous statues, Katie and I finally entered the ballpark.  We walked around the concourse taking in the sights and contemplating our choices at the concession stands.  Before we delved into food, I was particularly struck by the amount of images depicting Oklahoma City’s and the state’s baseball history.

The concourse also features a couple of signage pieces celebrating the team’s more recent history.

The Esurance Call Up Worthy marker celebrating former players who have made their Major League debut.

One of the coolest things about attending Minor League games is getting to see future stars, and the #CallUpWorthy marker celebrates those players.  Another cool part about MiLB games (at least for me as a geographer) is getting to see geographical representations of a MLB’s Minor League affiliates.  Not very stadium has something, but I really enjoyed the display at Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark.

A banner along the first base line shows the distance from Oklahoma City to each of the Los Angeles Dodgers’ other affiliates.

As we were not hungry just yet, I snapped pictures of the starting lineups and the Pacific Coast League standings entering play that night.  Like some other clubs, Oklahoma City displays the starting lineups and league standings on TV screens instead of writing them out on dry-erase boards.  I’m still unsure how I feel about teams using TV screens to display the lineups.  It is certainly easier for the staff to use the electronic format, but as a fan I felt like I was blocking the walkway waiting to get a photo of both lineups and the league standings.  Granted, I probably wasn’t in anybody’s way.

After capturing the lineups and league standings, we waited around a few minutes because it was almost time for the game to begin and I wanted to capture my usual photo of the first pitch from behind home plate.

Oklahoma City Dodgers starting pitcher Madison Younginer delivers the first pitch to Iowa Cubs center fielder Jacob Hannemann.

After snapping a picture of the game’s first pitch, we found our seats along the first base line and enjoyed some of the game.

After watching a couple of innings, we decided it was time to get something to eat.  So we checked out the concourse to weigh our dinner options.

Most of the concession stands have the standard ballpark fare like hot dogs, hamburgers, chicken tenders, and more.  There are some unique options at Burgertopia and Franx, although these are both chains found at baseball stadiums.  So it was difficult for me to choose something that I felt was truly unique to this particular stadium.  After much debate, I opted for…

Porker Hot Dog, available at Franx, is a foot-long dog covered in pulled pork BBQ, BBQ sauce, and coleslaw.

The Porker Hot Dog was good.  It wasn’t anything super unique, as I’ve seen this style of hot dog throughout the South (yes, we can kind of call Oklahoma part of the South).  Don’t get me wrong, I’d encourage others to order it and I’d have it again myself.  However, in my stadium journeys I try to find something that is truly unique and reflects the local culture and cuisine.

I finished my hot dog while catching up with grad school friends who met us at the game.  However, these friends were late buying tickets and had to purchase general admission seats because the Fourth of July game is almost always a sell out for the Dodgers.  So instead of trying to find spots for four of us, we chatted and walked around the stadium a bit as I took some photos.

As we walked around the stadium, I was able to capture a few more photos of the game action.

The Dodgers were greeted with raucous cheers after winning the game.  However, I attended a game on the Fourth of July.  So people were there to see fireworks.

The start of the fireworks extravaganza following the game.

I didn’t get many great photos of the fireworks, but it was an awesome display.  It was a national holiday, and it was clear the Dodgers went above and beyond to celebrate America.  However, I saw something this night that I haven’t seen before at other games featuring a fireworks display.  I saw players sitting on the field with their wives and girlfriends and children enjoying the show.

Players, their wives, and children watching the fireworks on the field after the game.

It was awesome seeing the players and their families watching the fireworks display.  It’s a great reminder that no matter how old we are that it’s always special to watch a fireworks display.  It also reminds me of why I enjoy attending Minor League games.  There’s always something new to discover and a memory to be created at every single baseball stadium.

Final Score: Iowa 2, Oklahoma City 5
Box Score

My night with the Tulsa Drillers – May 25, 2013

When you attend games at a stadium on a regular basis, you don’t think about taking photos and sharing your experiences.  For me, this is definitely applies to ONEOK Field in Tulsa.  I have a close friend who lives in the area, so I’ve seen at least one game at the stadium each season since the ballpark opened in 2010.  Additionally, I’ve been to the stadium to watch Bedlam baseball games on two occasions.  However, I’ve only taken photographs on one previous trip.  So I wanted to make sure that I took some photos during my next trip to attend a Tulsa Drillers game.

My most recent trip to ONEOK Field was over Memorial Day weekend.  The club’s premium promotional item was a R.A. Dickey garden gnome (more on the gnome later).  Of course, a weekend game and a giveaway item attracted a large crowd, so I made sure to arrive early enough to secure one of the garden gnomes for myself.

The line waiting at the Oil Derrick Entrance at the intersection of Elgin Avenue and Archer Street.

In addition to the giveaway item, the Drillers promoted the game as part of Walk to End Alzheimer’s Night.  So players wore special purple jerseys that were auctioned off through a silent auction during the game.  So I didn’t get a picture of the team in its traditional home whites.  The home team dugout sits along the first base line where fans sitting in the River Spirit Casino Party Platform or the Coors Light Refinery Deck have an excellent view of the action.

Tulsa Drillers players sign autographs for fans before the game.

ONEOK Field is in the Greenwood District of downtown Tulsa, which is undergoing gentrification.  The district abuts the Blue Dome District, which is home to several restaurants that spurred gentrification in downtown.  Greenwood is also near the Brady Arts District, which attracts concertgoers with Cain’s Ballroom and the Brady Theater as its two main venues.

After getting my giveaway item and settling into my seat, I made sure to capture a picture of the game’s first pitch.

Tulsa Drillers left-handed pitcher Tyler Matzek delivers the first pitch of the game to Frisco RoughRiders left fielder Teodoro Martinez.

Like most newer stadiums, ONEOK Field takes advantage of sponsorship opportunities.  While outfield signage is a staple of Minor League ballparks, most facilities do not sign sponsorship deals with competing companies.  However, the abundance of casinos in Oklahoma leads to multiple gaming establishments sponsoring the Drillers.

The scoreboard in left field towers over the Budweiser Terrace seats.

You can see the Osage Casino signage in the outfield contrasts with the River Spirit Casino sponsorship along the first base line.

MiLB.com is currently running a “food fight,” which allows fans to vote for their favorite local delicacy.  There are four categories: gut busters, hogs ‘n’ dogs, local legends, and scrumptious sandwiches.  The Drillers entry is the Firecracker in the “hogs ‘n’ dogs” category.  Naturally, it was a no-brainer that I had to try one.

Two fans contemplate which specialty hot dog to order.

The Firecracker is the Drillers’ featured hot dog for MiLB.com’s contest, but Franx serves four other specialty frankfurters.  I have not tried the other varieties, but ONEOK Field features locally-made Seigi’s Sausages that I have eaten at previous games.  I have had both the chicken-jalapeño and the jalapeño-cheese varieties from Seigi’s, which are both very tasty.

The Franx menu offers a variety of hot dog options.

The tradition continues with a picture of the encased meat with game action in the background.

The Firecracker Dog, which features shredded spicy chicken, pepper jack cheese, jalapeño sauce, and chipotle mayonnaise served on a pretzel bun.

From the third base line fans get an excellent view of downtown Tulsa.  The setting sun reflects off Tulsa City Hall, but the view is spectacular.

The downtown Tulsa skyline with the BOK Tower standing tall.

As I mentioned earlier, the premium giveaway item was an R.A. Dickey garden gnome.  Dickey pitched for the Drillers in 1999 when he was in the Texas Rangers system.  The club has changed its color scheme since that time, but Dickey sports the era-appropriate uniform.

The R.A. Dickey garden gnome giveaway item.

From my seats along the third base line I also took some photos of the game.  I tried taking a few shots of the Drillers’ specialty jerseys to show off their purple tops, but also wanted to capture the Frisco RoughRiders and their logos, too.

Since I started working in athletics in 2001, I have watched baseball games with a keen eye for one event.  I have been hoping to capture a photograph of “Scoreboard Yahtzee!”  I don’t know the statistical odds of witnessing Scoreboard Yahtzee!, but it’s difficult to accomplish because teams must have players wearing 11 or 22 playing in the game.  This is the first time that I’ve witnessed Scoreboard Yahtzee! during a professional game.

Scoreboard Yahtzee!

It may be biased at this point for me to say that ONEOK Field is one of my favorite Minor League Baseball ballparks, but it’s the truth.  The park has some delicious food and a good beer selection while the club has built a first-rate venue and provides top-notch entertainment.

I also enjoy the surrounding area as there are plenty of good local restaurants, some that have been featured on Food Network.  The stadium does not have a specified parking deck, instead fans must utilize street parking or one of the many lots nearby.  The stadium has a modern feel despite its downtown location, and creates a very welcoming atmosphere for fans.

Final: Frisco 3, Tulsa 1
Box Score