The Oklahoma Craft Brewers Association hosted their annual summit in August at the River Spirit Casino in Tulsa. Executive director Tabbi Burwell said the event drew representatives from 43 of the state’s 78 craft breweries — the OCBA counts 64 breweries as members. Nine of the 78 are in the planning stages, and homebrewing continues to thrive around Oklahoma, and like many hobbyist endeavors, saw an uptick during the pandemic.
Burwell said the turnout was the highest yet and indicated the strength of the state’s craft brewing industry.
“Numbers are always one year behind,” Burwell said. “But the latest numbers show strong growth and increasing interest in craft brewing. For example, Beavers Bend Brewing Company increased from a 7-barrel system to a 20-barrel system over the past year. The demand keeps increasing.”
In brewing, a one-barrel system yields 330 beers per batch, so Beavers Bend increased their per batch production from 2,200 beers to 6,600. Given that craft brewing had a $580 million economic impact on the state last year — according to numbers compiled by the Brewers Association USA — Oklahoma is likely to see an increase in that number in 2022 due to the growth of sales and demand.
In the three years prior, craft breweries in the state numbered 55, 67 and 76. The pandemic slowed the growth, but the attendance at the summit seems to indicate that brewers are back and ready to grow.
“The new law that allows breweries to operate in three locations has helped growth and economic impact,” Burwell said. “They can also brew in three separate locations, but usually the model is to have one brewing facility and separate taprooms. Having brewing equipment at every facility would be cost prohibitive.”
The multiple taproom model allows a brewery to make the beer in Oklahoma City and then have taprooms in the two obvious locations — OKC and Tulsa — and then one other based on demand: Ardmore and Lawton are popular choices. Legal issues like the new law were part of the summit’s focus, with a legal panel addressing the questions and concerns of current and hopeful brewers.
Burwell said one of the most hopeful signs about the future of craft brewing in Oklahoma is the proliferation of craft breweries in rural areas and small towns, including Okarche, Hochatown, Clinton, Enid, etc.