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.
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.