Jake Keyes and his dad, Ritchie Keyes, homebrewed together when Jake was growing up. They had talked about opening a brewery. But life and, untimely, death got in the way.
“It was like a dream of ours. We put it off and put it off and it never really took off. You think you’ve got forever. Then when my dad turned 56, he got real sick and it turned out he had MS and went into a nursing home. He was in there quite a while; he was dying,” said Jake Keyes, founder and brewmaster of Skydance Brewing Co.
While his dad was in the nursing home, Keyes wanted to make something special for him.
“I took one of the old recipes that I found in one of his homebrewing books; it was for an oatmeal stout. I was going to take this beer into the nursing home to let him try it. So I took it in there and got kicked out of the nursing home, but he got to try it and liked it,” Keyes said laughing.
Keyes was familiar with the brewing business having managed Coaches, a Norman-area brewpub where he fell in love with the business side of beer.
That oatmeal stout recipe changed things for him. He entered that beer in a homebrewing competition in Dallas and won. He wasn’t able to stay for the awards because of work. He got a call from a friend that he had won the category and was very excited. That same day, he got a call from his brother that his dad had passed away. He decided right then that he was going to open a brewery like he had planned with his dad.
“You think you have forever, but you don’t, you might not even have tomorrow,” Keyes said. “I put myself on a time limit. I was going to have a brewery by the time I turned 40. I laid out a plan for that, coming up with recipes, perfecting them, brewing them every weekend till I got them right, then a business plan raising money to do it. We opened this past December but that October I turned 40 so I met my goal, got it open.”
The Brewers Union, 520 N. Meridian Ave., in Oklahoma City is a CO-OP brewing space for start-up brewers to get into the market. Skydance Brewing Co. shares space with Crossed Cannons Brewery, Cross Timbers Brewing Co. and Madhopper Brewing. It is like an incubator for brewers.
Keyes met his first goal and is going after the next one.
“The goal is to have your own location. We are close to signing a lease on a building (in downtown OKC) and start construction. Our goal is to open a taproom in the summer next year and be rolling in our own spot.”
Keyes wanted a name that was inspired by his Native American heritage and being from Oklahoma.
“Being a Native American-owned company, we wanted something that really could tie in well with the native theme and the native look, but we also wanted to be an Oklahoma brewery, we wanted to be something that Oklahomans could gravitate toward. We have the Skydance bridge (in OKC). It is a reference to a dance that a scissor-tailed flycatcher does. We thought it was a great name, it could be Oklahoma and have that Native American look and feel to it as well.”
Keyes is a hophead but understands the business of tastes and what sells.
“We will have a lot of IPAs and stouts. Right now in distribution we have our Skydance IPA. It is what we call a Midwest IPA. I love new England IPAs, and I fell in love with West Coast IPAs. I have really gravitated toward beer that is kind of in the middle. I like the juicy hop flavors, but I always want a little more bitterness, maybe not quite as bitter as a West Coast, so we developed something that was in between. That’s how we came up with Skydance IPA, he said.
“Our best-seller in distribution is our Mosquito Hawk Amber Ale, it’s more of a malt-forward amber. It goes well with food, and the restaurants are killing it.
“Oklahoma Gold is our golden ale, a gateway beer that a lot of Okies like, it kind of gets them into craft beer. Then we have a spring seasonal called Razz-O; it is a raspberry, orange wheat beer that has been huge.
“Our New England IPA called Fancy Dance is a super juicy hazy IPA that smells like orange juice.”
Another one of Keyes’ goals is to get a taproom into a casino.