COOP Ale Works
A Brewery OKC Can Call Its Own
When I started drinking craft beer seriously in 2008, it was almost unthinkable that one day, several nationally recognized breweries would exist in this state. The breadth and depth of selection of craft beers available in stores is exponentially higher now than it was even just eight years ago. Last month, thousands of eager beer drinkers attended an Oklahoma Craft Beer Festival in the Cox Convention Center. A craft beer renaissance is afoot in Oklahoma, and OKC’s own COOP Ale Works is one brewery that helped launch Oklahoma’s blossoming craft beer scene.
While living in Oklahoma City in 2009, an interesting new bar opened in a rambling old house less than a mile from my home. The Speakeasy on 51st street was a new kind of bar for OKC, converted from an old house off of Western and focused on sipping craft local beer while lounging on a spacious outdoor patio. Right next door to this bar was a brewery, with many of the brewery’s offerings being made available first at The Speakeasy. I can remember drinking Native Amber and Territorial Reserve Imperial Stout for the first time there, and being surprised and proud that these exceptional beers were being produced not only in my state, but right here in my neighborhood.
Co-founder Daniel Mercer filled me in on some of those early days of the brewery. The idea for COOP Ale Works was hatched by Mercer, JD Merryweather and Mark Siebold during a few meetings back in 2006 and 2007, time spent sharing their love of good beers and sailing. As the conversation turned to Oklahoma City’s breweries, they realized that OKC was missing a full production brewery capable of releasing quality brews to local beer enthusiasts. Mark Siebold was the home-brewer of the group, and as he began creating some of the recipes that would become COOP staples, the men hosted informal tastings for their friends, quickly realizing they were onto something special. They envisioned a brewery that would become synonymous with Oklahoma City craft beer, like Fort Collins with New Belgium or Escondido with Stone.
The original COOP Ale Works brewery opened its doors on 51st Street in January of 2009 with beers coming to market immediately. They started with a small but strong lineup of original beer recipes. Native Amber, Gran Sport Porter, and the Belgian Strong Ale DNR were all conceived and honed by the founders between April of 2006 and the opening of the brewery. Chase Healey, the head brewer at the time of the opening, was responsible for Horny Toad Cerveza and the Zeppelin/ Elevator German Wheat Hefeweizen. Healey went on to start Prairie Artisan Ales, brewing in Krebs and Tulsa, and is now focused on his new urban farmhouse brewery, American Solera. But a creation by current head brewer Blake Jarolim would become COOP’s flagship brew. Mercer hails their aggressively hopped F5 India Pale Ale as the “best selling craft beer in the state.”
“Our vision from day one was to create a brewery that Oklahoma City could call its own,” Mercer said of the brewery’s goals. “We are focused on continuing to develop our craft, sustainably grow our regional footprint and foster a company culture and work environment that empowers and fulfills our team members. And make amazing beers every day.”
The COOP birthday parties have become an annual event in Oklahoma City, and a rite of passage for any beer enthusiast in the metro. I attended the first birthday party in 2010; it was freezing outside and crammed with excited imbibers inside. “During our first year, we didn’t really know how we would be received by the beer consuming public,” Mercer remembers. “We decided to host a free party and invite all of our new friends via social media. The weather was abysmal (high of 28F and low of 7F) and we weren’t sure anyone would show up. To our surprise, 1,200 people came out and we had a wild party that included several hundred gallons of beer.” These annual parties have only grown ever since. The 2016 celebration included more than 35 different beers as well as a small entry fee through which COOP has raised more than $16,000 for the Central OK Humane Society.
With the passage of State Bill 424 in May, breweries in Oklahoma will finally be able to sell their own beers of any strength to the public. COOP plans to “expand our tap room offerings to every beer we make, instead of just our 3.2 beers,” Mercer said. “This will also allow us to create some small batch creations that you may never see anywhere but the tap room.” A tantalizing promise, as I know there are dozens of barrels full of delicious DNR variants aging in the brewery, just waiting for a special release. Mercer tells me to be patient, as they have plans in store for those.
Some breweries have taken a route different from the traditional direct and wholesale business model. Tulsa’s American Solera, for example, has decided to start a membership or subscription based sales model, as have other breweries such as The Bruery. While this may create a rare opportunity for a small number of beer lovers, COOP has decided against a similar path. “Our general opinion is that the exclusionary aspect of the programs isn’t what’s best for our fans. Our limited release program is going to grow substantially over the next year, but we don’t plan to exclude any of our loyal fans,” Mercer told Edible OKC.
The future looks bright for COOP Ale Works. Their beers consistently earn high marks on Untappd and Beer Advocate. Plans are in the works for an expansion within two years into Texas and Missouri, as well as a tank and equipment expansion inside the brewery. There are new beers being developed for their improved strong beer tap room as well. Mark your calendars for August 26th, the unveiling of the tap room with a full menu of beers as well as the annual release of COOP Oktoberfest. Come out to the brewery at 4745 Council Heights Road in Oklahoma City and raise a glass to one of Oklahoma City’s most beloved breweries.