As with beer and food pairings where it’s prudent to either complement or contrast, a suitable counterpoint to
Copenhagen is found in the “buckle” of the American Bible Belt. Oklahoma City is equidistant from coastal beer capitals like San Diego and Philadelphia and, perhaps as a result, bestselling local beers include Mustang’s Washita Wheat and COOP Ale Works’ Native Amber. (Then again, 100 miles up I-44 in Tulsa, Prairie Artisan Ales was the only brewery from the Sooner State invited to Copenhagen Beer Celebration.) Beer and the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum (1700 NE 63rd St.) make for a wild ride.
Gary Shellman, whom I’ve known since his days as president of the High Plains Draughters homebrew club before ascending to brewmaster at Mustang Brewing Co. (520 N. Meridian Ave.), offers tips on where to visit during an OKC beer trip. The city is blossoming into a beer destination thanks in part to changes in the law that allow brewery tour goers to sample beer at the conclusion of said tours. This past May saw the launch of Oklahoma City Craft Beer Week, which in years past was simply a one-day gathering. When taking the Mustang tour on the first and third Fridays of each month, you can taste beers from its various series, such as the “Throwback” series of easy-drinking, lawn mower beers (including Washita Wheat) or progressive “Unbridled” series creations like Hoplahoma, a red IPA, and some oak-aged beers that Gary gets to experiment with.
COOP (4745 Council Heights Road) in Southwest OKC recently unveiled a new 15,000-square-foot brewing facility and 30-barrel brew house that enables the brewery to can beers like aforementioned Native Amber among its core lineup, but it also has a specialized series of beers called Territorial Reserve with one-offs such as a bourbon-aged Wild Wheat Wine.
Shellman calls Roughtail (1279 Air Depot Road) the “best new brewery in Oklahoma … with a great variety of styles.” The brewery is located five miles from OKC’s central hot spot of Bricktown but worth the trek for fans of big-flavor and high-gravity beers, since most of its line-up resides in the 7-10% range, including Rock Tsar Russian Imperial Stout (actually 10.3%) and Hoptometrist, a limited-availability double IPA bursting with pine and citrus and hops from the dank side.
Of course there are tap houses with prolific draft lists of local and regional beers, and Shellman notes that more are in the works. In the heart of Bricktown, he begins with TapWerks Ale House (121 E. Sheridan Ave.). As if it wouldn’t have been popular enough for folks looking for a pre-game pint (that’s OKC Thunder for hoops fans as well as Redhawks during AAA baseball season), there are a staggering 109 taps (not to mention an extensive bottle list) where you can try other Oklahoma brews, such as Choc Brewing’s Oatmeal Oklahoma Pale Ale and Anthem’s Golden One, a fruity Belgian blonde.
After TapWerks, you’ll need something substantial to refuel, and it’s all of a
minute walk (crossing Flaming Lips Alley, an honest-to-goodness tribute to the homegrown psychedelic pop group) to get to Earl’s Rib Palace (216 Johnny Bench Drive). Shellman calls it “one of OKC’s best barbecue stops” and cautions to “get there early since the line can quickly stretch out the door.” Pig out and get Earl’s Binge, with ribs, brisket, a hot link and smoked bologna.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention one other of Shellman’s feasting tips, since he declares OKC “as much of a food destination as anywhere else in the USA,” and residents certainly don’t take an insouciant approach to meat. Be sure to dine at Cattleman’s Café (1309 S. Agnew) in the historic Stockyard City neighborhood. He adds, “The 1950s café motif still reigns supreme in this legendary OKC restaurant” where chefs sling steaks from chicken-fried up to filet mignon. Best of all, Choc brews a proprietary beer for the steakhouse called Cattlemen’s Double Deuce (named after another historic district that interestingly served as the wellspring for Oklahoma jazz), an American light lager, as befits the Okie ethos.
Day trip: Tulsa, OK
Tulsa is Oklahoma’s second-most-populous city—for residents and breweries alike. It’s also a creative enclave and home to The Hop Jam music ’n’ beer festival headlined by native sons, the band Hanson (and don’t forget they have their own pale ale, Mmmhops, brewed at Mustang). While I met Prairie Artisan Ales (1803B S. 49th W. Ave.) owner/brewer Chase Healey in Copenhagen, I look forward to checking out the plans he talked about for a brewery expansion and destination center on an old golf course that will include its own disc golf layout! Prairie built its reputation on bold, adventurous beers like Bible Belt, a collaboration with Evil Twin Brewing by Mikkel Bjergsø’s hardly-nefarious twin brother Jeppe. It’s an imperial stout with coffee, cacao nibs, vanilla beans and chilies. Marshall (618 S. Wheeling) is regarded for its “great beers and great people,” says brewer Gary Shellman, and offers a snazzy bar area with tastings to show everything off.