3.2 in OKC
By Bobby Bush
In 1907 Oklahoma was among the first states to ban alcoholic beverages. Prohibition didn't work and by 1933 this noble experiment was repealed. Some states, like Utah and Oklahoma, still cling to the past, limiting alcohol content in beer to such a low level that's it's hardly beer at all. While this trip to Oklahoma City was not my first to a 3.2 state, it was my first time in Oklahoma. The five brewpubs in the Metroplex area upped my brewpub-visited count to 366 in my 26th state. The entire state only has six active brewpubs.
Open since 1995, Belle Isle Restaurant & Brewing Company holds fort in the swanky 50 Penn Place mall northwest of downtown OKC. I was greeted by a friendly bartender, who, as the afternoon progressed, proved to be both efficient and beer-knowledgeable. Behind a floor-to-ceiling glass partition, brewer Mike Eberle was hard at work inside the mash tun, flushing spent grain in preparation for another brew. The dining areas, upstairs and down, were set in early anticipation of a busy night.
I started in the middle of Belle Isle's lineup, with copper, tongue-tingling Flanagan's Amber Ale. Belle's Blonde, a light pale ale, and a spicy, though American-style, Wild Mary's Wheat Ale cover one end. A roasty aroma exuded from the big brown head of Power Plant Porter, which was full of black patent malt flavor with a short bitter finish. An Oatmeal Stout sometimes trades places with the Porter. The seasonal, which is called Brewer's Select at this locale, was El Diablo. Its gold color led to a quick sour hit followed by a lasting bitter bombardment. Brewer Eberle said this special brew, spiced with Northern Brewer and Mt. Hoods hops, fell between categories, in "it's own style." It was so good, I almost forgot the 3.2% alcohol limitation. Brewers have to be extremely creative, sometimes deceptive, in trying to brew anything but the palest of ales. The restaurant offers everything from pizza to Mexican to ribeye. It all looked appetizing, though I stuck strictly to beer.
The OKC city fathers (and mothers, I'm sure), in all their marketing wisdom, are trying to turn the old downtown area into a revitalized canal walk park similar to RiverWalk in San Antonio. If all went as planned, 3.2 million gallons of water (not beer) coursed through the 4,000 feet long, four feet deep, tree-lined man-made river on July 2. Meanwhile, construction booms in the area known as Bricktown Entertainment District, including a beautiful minor league ballpark, home to the triple-A RedHawks, which opened last year.
Among the first new businesses in the renovation area was Bricktown Brewery, which became the state's first brewpub when it opened in 1993. This busy brick (naturally) structure is well-appointed to handle large crowds, pre-game or not. A fully-stocked bar graces each level. Upstairs hosts live bands, a pool hall and is generally reserved for partying. Downstairs there's ample seating for the dining sect.
Served by Lorna, an extremely attentive bartender who knows her business as well as the beers, I sampled through Bricktown's six brews, several times. Bison Weizen Ale is the mandatory wheat, while Copperhead Ale makes fruity mouth sensations with its warm texture, despite its too-cold temperature. Clear copper, Red Brick Ale is lager-like, leaving a crisp hop trail. A seasonal Brown was malty sweet with light hop finish. And Black Gold Stout, though thin due to low alcohol, left a swift, harsh aftertaste reeking of black patent malt. The seasonal Porter, which has no-name (I suggested Panhandle Porter) sported a big brown head, roasted malt flavor and slight tannin taste on the roof of my mouth. Being the helpful soul that I am, I also provided a moniker for another nameless seasonal. How does Will Rogers Raspberry Wheat grab ya? Though they weren't on tap during my stay, Bricktown also brews Rock Island Pale Ale and Land Run Lager.
Brew kettles line one wall. Serving tanks fill a cooler room at the off-end of the three-sided downstairs bar. Great food- try the Jamaican BBQ Shrimp. And it's business as usual in the land of 3.2 beer. Lorna and Bricktown Brewery does a mighty fine job.
This article first appeared in Focus Magazine of Hickory, North Carolina.
© Bobby Bush