By Hollie Stephens
Diversity in Brewing Blog Series
We at Equity Brewing love being part of the bourgeoning beer scene of Oklahoma. We believe that change and growth is a cause for celebration and that looking to history is an important part of recognizing how far the local beer scene has come. In her “Heritage and Disruption” blog series, beer writer Hollie Stephens will examine shifts and changes in the Oklahoma beer scene and beyond.
A Brief History of Brewing in Oklahoma
In 1907, Oklahoma became the 46th state. The first brewery in the state was Choc Brewery, which was started by Italian immigrant Pietro Piegari in 1919. The signature Choc Beer was a recipe passed down from members of the Choctaw Indian Reservation. Pietro opened a restaurant called Pete’s Place in 1925 and served food alongside his beer. The sale of the beer was illegal, as Oklahoma was officially still a dry state, and Pete was reportedly arrested twice during the years of Prohibition.
In April of 1933, President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s signature repealed the Volstead Act, legalizing the sale of 3.2% alcohol by weight beer and clearing the way for the complete repeal of Prohibition later in the same year. But even once all liquor was legalized federally, the 3.2% ‘near beer’ as it was nicknamed endured in Oklahoma. Since the new 21st Amendment was not ratified by the state, stronger beer could not be sold. The state’s first legal brewery – serving only 3.2% beer - was launched in 1934, by John Kroutil, a Czechoslovakian immigrant in Yukon.
It is only in the last decade that Oklahoma has truly had the opportunity to catch up to other states around the nation in the craft brewing scene. Homebrewing beer remained illegal in Oklahoma until 2010, despite the law already allowing for the production of wine and cider at home. This made Oklahoma one of the last states to make it legal for beer lovers to brew their own beer at home, followed by Alabama and Mississippi in 2013. Many of the nation’s most respected brewers began by making small batches in their garages long before owning a business. In this regard, the Oklahoman would-be brewers of the future were held back. The bill to legalize homebrewing was sponsored by Representative Colby Schwartz and Senator Mike Schulz. Gary Shellman of the Oklahoma homebrew club worked tirelessly to pass the bill in an effort which Gary Glass, Director of the American Homebrewers Association called "truly inspiring”.
In the last few years, Oklahoma’s place on the craft beer stage has begun to rapidly change. Following State Question 792 in 2016, it finally became legal for grocery and convenience stores in Oklahoma to sell beer that is stronger than 3.2% alcohol by weight by 2018. The passage of the Oklahoma Senate Bill 424 allows brewers to sell high-point beer directly to customers on brewery premises, effective October 2018. These changes make taprooms a viable prospect for ambitious and innovative Oklahoman brewers who wish to start a business in their own state, and also enable them to have a large distribution footprint by selling their product through grocery and convenience stores. Today, the craft beer scene is increasingly vibrant, and there is no better time to be a brewer in Oklahoma. Here at Equity, we love being part of the brewing community, and we are excited about making our own history as the first female-owned brewery in the state!