Skydance Brewing Company founder Jacob Keyes started Oklahoma’s only Native-American-owned craft brewery to spread his indigenous culture and help build community. With new beers launched every week named for different parts of his Native American roots, he’s doing just that.
Skydance Brewing Company has more on tap than different brews. In addition to an ever-rotating beer selection (they launch a new one every Friday), founder and CEO Jacob Keyes said he is crafting a positive representation and voice for Native Americans.
“We go all in on the Native stuff,” said Keyes, a citizen of the Iowa Tribe of Oklahoma. “The reason for that: I grew up really poor. I never thought starting a business was possible for someone like me, and I never saw anyone like me doing it. So, what this taught me is seeing someone like you plays a big role in your ability to have the mindset that’s needed in order to start whatever business it is you want to start.
Keyes is quick to share his success story of founding Oklahoma City’s first native brewery with Native American youth and students in entrepreneurship. At Skydance, all but one of the investors are Native American, and bylaws require at least 51 percent of the business to be owned by natives.
To prompt meaningful conversations with customers, Skydance beers are named after components of native heritage. White Cloud wheat beer pays homage to Keyes’ great-great-great-great grandfather, Chief White Cloud of the Iowa Tribe. Sovereign Nation imperial stout references how each tribe operates within their own sovereign nation, each with a uniquely different culture. Keyes points out there is not just one Native American culture that defines all tribes.
“Through our branding, we’re able to tell our own story,” he said. “If we don’t tell our story, other people are going to do it, and they’re going to do it wrong – through a mascot or something that isn’t how we want to be portrayed.
My grandpa used to say, ‘You’re either at the table or on the menu.’ I’d rather be at the table, making a difference, telling our story.”
Fancy Dance, the brewery’s flagship IPA, is named for a powwow dance style. Of all the various beer styles, the hops-forward, hazy IPA is Skydance’s specialty. Each Friday a new beer is released. Ninety percent of them are IPAs.
“My passion is the IPAs,” he said. “That’s what I like. That’s what I enjoy. So, I knew that those beers would turn out the best, because that’s what I’m reading and studying in my off time.”
Keyes said Skydance doesn’t simply switch out the hops when crafting new IPAs.
“We completely approach it as a whole new beer, playing around with different grains to make it lighter, darker, sweeter,” he said. “I’m not just doing it for the customer either. I’m also learning what combinations I like best together.”
On a warm, sunny weekend, Keyes said customers will pack the patio to try the latest IPA or another Skydance creation. For the non-beer drinkers, the taproom features a local cider from OK Cider Co. as well as several good (“not boxed”) wines.
“We’re trying to create not just beer but also a great place to come hang out,” Keyes said.
People often bring their dogs and kids, with food trucks showing up most Fridays and Saturdays, encouraging the crowd to linger.
Skydance’s branding says, “Our indigenous culture has taught us the importance of community.”
Looking around and listening to the conversations, it seems a community is brewing here.