Welcome To Beer Modernity, Oklahoma!

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Ironically, beer laws are just catching up in the Sooner State.

Several years ago, the Craft Brewer’s Alliance of Oklahoma (CBAO) approached the Oklahoma House and Senate about changing alcohol laws to benefit the emerging craft beer industry. Breweries were unable to sell their own beers directly to consumers; they were not able to sell packaged beer for off premise consumption nor pints to be consumed on location at the brewery. This limited the interaction that breweries could have with their customers. Yes, they were able to provide samples of products (not to exceed 12 oz. per day) to brewery visitors, but if someone wanted to purchase beer they had just tasted, they were forced to go to another location to buy it.

It was perceived in the OK craft brewing community that the past setup was causing a disconnect between breweries and their customers. In a lot of industries such a thing may not be a big deal. The craft beer industry, on the other hand, thrives on its ability to directly interact with consumers. Interaction not only improves communication between brewer and drinker, but it also allows customers to have a deeper understanding of the manufacturing process and to have closer relationships with the people responsible for their favorite brews. Young breweries want an environment where they can both get immediate feedback from drinkers and one where they can also educate their new fans from the craft beer community.

So, in June of 2015, Senator Brian Crain (R, Dist. 39) authored and introduced Senate Bill 424 to the Oklahoma Senate. The resulting proposal was based in weeks of education through CBAO presentions to Senate representatives. No one felt that the language was ambiguous at all since it was based on a previous amendment that allowed wineries to serve for on-premise consumption. Of course, this did not result in an immediate ratification of the law, but the process was started. It took the bill a whole year to get through the Senate, then the House, and it was finally signed by the Governor on June 6, 2016. The amendment was set to and did become law on August 26.

How about a toast to OK beer freedom?

Yeah, not so fast… Once the bill was approved, confusion arose regarding what exactly the bill was allowing. The ABLE Commission (Alcoholic Beverage Laws Enforcement Commission) shocked all stakeholders by interpreting the law completely differently, only eight days before implementation. In a complete reversal from the understanding ABLE had given weeks earlier, it now indicated that the amendment did not allow for on premise sale.

CBAO immediately engaged the craft beer community via social media and mobilized breweries, retailers, restaurants, consumer and media to attend the ABLE meeting the next morning. At that point, ABLE stated that they would ask the Attorney General for his opinion. The coalition then began calling, emailing and engaging the Attorney General on social media. According to many in government, the groundswell was powerful.

To obtain a determination from a power on high, A. Keith Burt, Director of the Oklahoma ABLE Commission, contacted the office of the Attorney General and requested the answer to the following questions:

  • Does Senate Bill 424 allow a brewer licensee to sell beer it produces to consumers twenty-one (21) years of age or older for consumption by that consumer on the licensed premises?
  • Does Senate Bill 424 allow a brewer licensee to sell beer it produces to consumers twenty-one (21) years of age or older for consumption by that consumer off of the licensed premises?

Per Patrick R. Wyrick, Solicitor General of the Oklahoma Office of the Attorney General:

“SB 424 states that “[a] brewer license shall authorize the holder thereof: . . . to sell beer produced by the licensee to consumers twenty-one (21) years of age or older on the premises of the brewery.” 2016 Okla. Sess. Laws ch. 367, § 1(A) (eff 8-26-16) (emphasis added). The provision unambiguously authorizes sales of beer on the premises of the brewery to consumers, and does not restrict the location in which consumers may consume that beer”.

He went on to write that if “Legislature intended to limit the location of consumption of the beer that is sold, it could have said so, just as it has done in neighboring provisions…Given that the Legislature knows how to include words of limitation, but chose not to, we conclude that the Legislature intended no such limitation…thus authorizes sales of beer produced by the brewery to consumers on the premises, and in no way limits the place of consumption”.

This determination was provided on August 23, 2016, just a few days prior to the enactment date of August 26, 2016, and sets the stage for massive changes in the Oklahoma brewing industry. As of right now, there are only a handful of breweries in all of the state.

Sean Mossman of COOP Ale Works (Oklahoma City) commented, “COOP launched at a time when the craft beer community in Oklahoma was in it’s infancy. Navigating arcane laws to build a successful breweries was an unnecessary challenge, but we and others overcame the obstacles to get to where we are today. Our hope for the industry overall is that SB 424 will remove hurdles for new, innovative brewers to enter the market and have access to consumers in ways that were difficult for the established breweries in previous times.”

In addition Mossman stated that “for our brewery specifically, it provides a showcase for existing fans and newcomers to COOP or craft beer. People will have more access to the heart and culture of COOP by being able to experience the brewery in ways that breweries in other states have used for success. As we continue to expand our out-of-state distribution, SB 424 will allow us to entertain visitors to Oklahoma City and give them a better understanding of our commitment to quality, consistency and the growth of the craft beer industry.”

That sentiment was mirrored by Blaine Stansel of Roughtail Brewing Company (Midwest City).

Blaine offered, “This bill and ruling is going to bring more attention and more money to the craft brewers of Oklahoma thereby incentivizing more homebrewers to turn their hobby into a profession. I expect to see the number of production breweries in OK double within 3 years. I also expect to see different types of breweries open up, from your small nano breweries, to brewpubs to multi million dollar showpieces.”

It’s hard to put it any better than that. Cheers, Oklahoma! And welcome to the craft beer revolution.

Timeline of actions on SB 424

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Stacey Lynn Juston has been involved in the world of finely crafted liquids for over 10 years, actually drinking them longer than that. Follow Stacey: @thehoppyspirit on Twitter and Instagram, Stacey Lynn on Facebook and at www.TheHoppySpirit.com

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