WHEN YOU CONSIDER that three and a half years ago, Oklahoma didnít have a single brewpub, it makes the existence of three sister pubs--Tulsa Brewing Company in Tulsa, Interurban Restaurant & Brewpub in Norman, and Belle Isle Restaurant and Brewing Company of Oklahoma City--borderline amazing. (Their parent company also owns TwoRows Restaurant & Brewery in Dallas, with another expected soon in Houston.)
Together the brewpubs share some fifty beer recipes that their individual brewmasters then tailor to their respective clientele. "We all have our strange twists to them," said Mike Groshong, the brewmaster at Tulsa Brewing Company. "Every brewmaster has a way of getting the flavor he wants."
In Groshongís case, he does not restrain himself with considerations like German purity laws, preferring instead to experiment with flavors, grains, and spices of all kinds in making his beer. "I use real fruit," he said. "In Germany, you canít do that." Still, even the Germans understand the temptation to improve beer: their purity law was amended to allow wheat malt as an ingredient in beer because so many Germans liked weizen, or wheat, beer.
Groshong regularly brews German, French, and British-style beers, but he also usually has a specialty beer on tap (he likes to use pumpkins, peaches, even raw oatmeal in his brews). "Fruit and spices are natural," he said.
Tulsa Brewing Company shares common management with Normanís Interurban Brewpub; Belle Isle is a sister spinoff and under separate management. All three brewpubs, however, share an emphasis on food as much as beer (there are usually five to seven beers on tap any given day at any one of the brewpubs). "We cook with our beer," said Kenny Tolbert, one of the companyís partners, in everything from baked and brewed potato soup to pastas to beer muffins. They recommend customers pair heavy beers with heavy dishes and lighter food with lighter beers (the dessert Chocolate Downpour, which combines chocolate cake, ice cream, and syrup, for example, goes best with either a heavy porter or stout brew). Indeed educating customers about beer and what foods go with which beers is a big part of the job for staffers at these three Oklahoma brewpubs. All three pubs serve the popular Honey Blonde Light (it goes by a different name at Belle Isle), a pale ale that goes down smooth with a subtle taste of hops and honey. Unlike some brewpub beers, Honey Blonde Light has no bitter aftertaste, but thatís not necessarily good or bad, said Rob Hefner, manager of the Norman brewpub. Contrary to popular belief, "bitter is a good word in brewing," he explained. "We have some beers that are more bitter, meaning theyíre more heavily hopped. The hop really gives the beer its flavor."
And unlike commercial beer that may sit for weeks in a bottle, brewpub beer is fresh. "You can taste the freshness when you take your first drink," Hefner promised.
Above, Jack Sparks at Belle Isle.
Interurban is located at 105 W. Main Street, Norman, (405) 364-7942; Tulsa Brewing at 7227 S. Memorial, Tulsa, (918) 459-2739; and Belle Isle at 50 Penn Place, Oklahoma City, (405) 840-1911.
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