OKLAHOMA liquor laws can be so Byzantine they are often misconstrued. Take for instance breweries and brewpubs: until 1992 it was illegal to operate a brewpub (where beer was brewed and sold on premise), but not to operate a brewery so long as your beer wasn’t sold on site (imagine a Napa winery having to sell its estate wines off site).

The law makes it more difficult for a microbrewery to make money or become a tourist site, compounding the fact that setting up a microbrewery is expensive to begin with. Needless to say no microbrewery has opened yet in Oklahoma. The state’s two microbrewed beers--T-Towne Red and Redding Premium Golden Ale--are both brewed and bottled out of state and then shipped home to consumers (technically making them contract brewed beers, not actual microbrews).

But times, they may be a-changing. The Potawatomi Tribe of Shawnee has applied to build a microbrewery with plans to brew beer and then sell it at its tribal bingo hall, convenience stores, and restaurant, according to J.D. Colbert, tribal administrator. There are also whispers that another microbrewery (different owner) will be operational in Tulsa this year. When it opens, Paul Eagleton plans to bring his T-Towne Red production in-state.

For now T-Towne Red, a robust Scotch ale named after its owner’s home town, is brewed in Dubuque, Iowa. "I wanted to pick a beer (style) that I thought would be successful in Oklahoma," said Eagleton. "I wanted a beer that was clearly different from Miller, Bud, and Coors, but not so com-pletely beyond the spectrum of people’s tastes that they would reject it as undrink-able. Scotch ale is enough different that people would recognize it as being different, but not so bizarre that people wouldn’t drink it."

For Eagleton, a University of Texas law graduate with a master’s in tax law from Southern Methodist University, making beer has fulfilled a desire to become an entrepreneur that dates to his thirteenth year. It also answered the long-running question of his youth: "An entrepreneur of what?" Becoming a brewer occurred to him after visiting a Colorado brewpub. A fourth-generation Tulsan, Eagleton is from a family of ministers and lawyers (he is one of only two exceptions). And he has brought the clan’s Presbyterian work ethic to bear on his latest venture: he worked two years in breweries in Napa and Lake Tahoe before tackling his own label; his own 3.2 brew hit Tulsa store shelves in January of 1995 (he now sells a 4.8 elsewhere in Oklahoma).

Competition has since appeared in the form of Barleyfield’s Redding Premium Golden Ale. "It’s as clean-tasting as beer can possibly be," said Tulsan Charlie Culbreath of his Redding ale.

Brewed at the 1860 August Schell Brewery in New Ulm, Minnesota (one of the oldest family breweries in the U.S.), Redding (a 5.3 beer) is sold in Oklahoma liquor stores and throughout Texas. Culbreath, who owns Mecca Coffee Company in Tulsa, oil businessman Ty Thacker, and Davis Redding, a graduate of the Brewing Institute in London, England, with a degree in biochemistry, are the powers behind the Barleyfield name. Redding serves as brewmaster and has his name on the company bottles--"It’s a good English name," Culbreath said by way of explanation.

And they make a good beer, sparing no expense. Barleyfield brews its ale lager-style, aging it for thirty days and adding fresh leaf hops and oak chips for aroma and flavor (the oak adds a vanilla overtone). "Beer needs to be aged," said Culbreath. "It smooths it out. It just makes it a better quality beer." And taste, after all, is what fuels the microbrewery and brewpub movement.


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