Coming Thursday: Local beer sales exploding
BY NICOLE MARSHALL MIDDLETON World Scene Writer
Wednesday, October 17, 2012
As Choc Beer president Zach Prichard stood to claim a gold medal in the Belgian Ale category at a national awards ceremony a few years ago, he had a memorable — and funny — encounter.
It was at the equivalent of the World Series of beer, and Choc — Oklahoma’s first brewery — had beaten out 57 entries with its Signature Dubbel.
“The guy sitting next to me leaned over and said, ‘Who is Choc Beer and where is Krebs, Oklahoma?’ ”
But slowly and surely Oklahoma craft brewers are making a name for themselves. About every month another brewery opens or a new beer premieres. The state’s bigger brewers have tactical plans for regional expansion.
And the awards keep coming.
Choc has won about 20 more awards since claiming that gold medal in 2009 at the Great American Beer Festival, Prichard said. And just Saturday, Choc won a silver medal at that same festival for their Signature Gratzer.
“We are definitely making a name for ourselves,” Prichard said. “And there’s a lot of interest being created about Oklahoma beer.”
And this weekend with Tulsa’s celebrated German festival, Oktoberfest, underway there’s a lot of interest in beer in general. Taste beer from two Oklahoma brewers, Marshall and Mustang, at the festival.
Beer without borders
After its opening in 2008, Tulsa’s Marshall Brewing Company became a fast success with revered beers such as Atlas India Pale Ale, Sundown Wheat and McNellie’s Pub Ale. With a firm foundation in the local market, the company started to expand into other states last summer.
“The take-home market started to reach the saturation level in Oklahoma and the move to expand out of state started with Kansas,” said Wes Alexander, director of sales and marketing for Marshall.
Since June 2011, the beers have been sold in stores in Wichita, Lawrence and Manhattan, Kan. After completing an expansion in February, Marshall Brewing gained the capacity to move into Missouri and Arkansas, selling in cities such as Little Rock, Springdale, Joplin, Springfield and Branson. They expect to sell 4,000 barrels this year.
“With word-of-mouth marketing and slow growth it will give us a good feeling about being able to go into giant markets like Dallas or Kansas City,” Alexander said.
The last thing a brewer wants to do is grow faster than its capacity to supply, he explained. Or, lose focus on making quality beer.
“In the ’90s a lot of people got into the beer business to make money, and many of them didn’t make it,” Alexander said. “It has to be about the beer, first and foremost.”
The “buy local” movement has also driven the craft beer industry, where building relationships and “meeting the guy who makes the beer,” is a strong selling point, he said. Marshall beer launched during the recession yet prospered because consumers took a look at what they had in their pockets and demanded quality in return.
“If you only have so many dollars to spend, you should spend it on something you believe in and something you really enjoy,” Alexander said.
In addition to Oklahoma, Choc Beer Co. sells in Arkansas, Alabama, Nashville, Tennessee and Florida. They produce about 3,000 barrels this year.
Prichard said that the brewery is interested in expanding its Signature series, “geographically, maybe to different countries.”
COOP Ale Works of Oklahoma City began production in January 2009. Now, the brewery produces just under 3,000 barrels of beer that’s sold statewide. But COOP would also like to broaden their market.
“I think the industry as a whole is really taking off. People are interested in drinking a better-made product. We are working on an expansion right now,” owner, J.D. Merryweather said. “And sales have doubled almost every year.”
Read more of this story and find everything you need to know about Oktoberfest in Thursday's Weekend
From left: Choc 1919 American Wheat, Mustang Pawnee Pale,Coop Native Amber, Battered Boar Coconut Cream Stout, Marshall's Oktoberfest. CHRISTOPHER SMITH/ Tulsa World File