Brewpub pioneers help Oklahoma return to its pre-statehood roots and pull off a capital success.

THE BRICKTOWN BREWERY made Oklahoma History when it opened in 1992 in a renovated warehouse in Oklahoma City's historic Bricktown district. Until the day it opened its doors, there had never been a brewery in the State of Oklahoma, though pre-statehood was another story entirely: "There were tons," said Bricktown Brewery owner Bryan Jester. "Every little town had a brewery, and they all had their individual beers." Indeed, the 850 breweries now in existence nationwide pales in comparison to the 4,000 that existed at the turn of the century.

At 28,000 square feet, it is one of the largest brewpubs in the nation--10,000 people come through the doors each week.

After visiting brewpubs during a West Coast vacation, Jester decided to open one in Olahoma. He quickly learned such an endeavor was illegal in the Sooner State. With the help of former legislator Kevin Hutchcroft, lobbyist Ken Nance, and the Oklahoma Malt Beverage Association, a bill allowing brewpubs was written and put to a vote in the state legislature in 1992. "It failed miserably," Jester said.

Two weeks later--after educating legislators about brewpubs, pointing out similar legislation being passed in other states, and observing the new tax dollars brewpubs were generating elsewhere--the law passed easily. "Initially, they just didn't understand that it's not like taking a five gallon bucket and mixing up beer in it," explained Jester. "It's a sophisticated engineering and brewing process."

Before the governor had signed the bill into law, Jester and his partners began renovation on a circa 1907 building in downtown's historic warehouse district. It was a risk ("we could have been a brewpub that couldn't brew beer," says Jester) that has paid off handsomely. Today Bricktown Brewery sells 3,800 barrels of beer and $4.5 million in beer and food a year (despite the fact that its beer can't be bottled or sold off premise). And at 28,000 square feet, it is one of the largest brewpubs in the nation. "We have about ten thousand people who come through the doors a week," said Jester.

Bricktown Brewery is in Oklahoma City's historic warehouse district.

Its most popular beer to date is Copperhead Amber Ale. "I'd say it's the most popular brewpub beer in the state," said Jester. "About everybody you ask knows of it...We were kind of surprised that it emerged as the number-one seller, but it has been ever since we opened...I think when people come to a brewery, they're probably a little more experimental than they would be if they were just at their local tavern. They think, 'Gosh, I'm at a brewery. I don't want to drink something that tastes like light beer. I want to get something with some flavor.'"

Known primarily for its ales, Bricktown usually keeps three to five different beers on tap. Though they require longer fermentation (and thus can tie up the brewery's tanks), lagers also make the occasional appearance at the brewery. "I think all beers are pretty good," said Jester. "It's like art. Some people like it, and some people don't. But it's still art."

Bricktown Brewery is located at 1 N. Oklahoma Avenue in downtown Oklahoma City.

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