Coop Ale Works Brews Up Passion For Craft Beer

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Daniel Mercer and JD Merryweather.
Beer table.
Coop.
Beer boxes.
Taps.

Oklahoma sees growth of craft breweries, thanks to local enthusiasts

By Heide Brandes

Oklahoma is known for its sprawling oil fields, red dirt and Will Rogers, but thanks to the budding craft brewery industry, the state is getting on the national map for its home-grown beer.

From sharp and hoppy IPAs to dark and moody stouts, the state is brewing up a selection of beers that it can call its own. In Oklahoma City, COOP Ale Works is among the favorites.

Founded in 2008 by beer enthusiasts JD Merryweather, Daniel Mercer and Mark Seibold, COOP Ale Works already has a rabid following, due in part to such selections as the popular F-5, the DNR (Do Not Resuscitate), a Belgian brew boasting of 10-point alcohol and the Native Amber, a beer that blends hops and malt with carmel notes.

In January, the little brewery celebrated its fourth anniversary in Oklahoma City with a fundraiser and party benefiting the Oklahoma Humane Society. But, COOP’s story begins with a love of craft beer and an unorthodox approach to making quality craft brew a growing trend in the state.

Beer me

“Upon discovering a vacancy of local offerings, we decided to embrace Oklahoma City’s need for a top-shelf craft brewery,” said Merryweather. “The response has been overwhelming, and we look forward to growing with Oklahoma City as it grows. People can expect full-flavored beer with no punches pulled.”

The American Brewers Association defines a craft brewery as “small, independent and traditional,” and has a production size of less than 6 million U.S. beer barrels a year.

COOP’s founding partners traveled throughout the United States and Europe visiting breweries to learn about the brewing process, but also the commercial brewing business. They tasted local beers and picked the brains of the nation’s top brewers, consumers, entrepreneurs and more.

Taking that knowledge, the trio returned to Oklahoma City with three years of research to create and grow COOP Ale Works. COOP was capitalized in July 2008, and in less than a year, COOP completed the regulatory process, leased and remodeled a warehouse, purchased and installed a commercial brewery and created original recipes.

And so far, Oklahomans love it.

Walk into most pubs in Oklahoma City and Tulsa, and you’ll likely see the signature COOP anvil on the draft beer selection.

“As a whole, the craft brew movement has taken off nationwide,” Merryweather said.

Many restaurants carry COOP beers – known for their full flavors and high alcohol content – in either draft form or cans, and package stores throughout Oklahoma are selling the beer.

“We saw a vacancy in the market when we started and there weren’t a whole lot of competitors. Once we saw there was a need for (local beer), we focused on creating a top shelf product and built a following,” Merryweather said.

“With a limited budget, we focused on a more effective grassroots (campaign) to ingrain ourselves in the market,” he said. “We used a viral approach to getting the word out there. We had overwhelmingly positive response.”

From 2009 to January 2010, COOP saw successful growth. However, from 2010 to 2011, the brewery experienced more than 100 percent growth in sales.

Many customers are embracing Oklahoma beers due to state pride as well. Having a hearty, tasty brew that was produced in-state puts Oklahoma on the map in the craft brew world.

“People are amazed by our growth,” Merryweather said. “It’s been four years, and I think our success is because of the consistent quality of product. We’ve not put out a bad product or a bad batch yet. F-5 is by far the best seller.”

COOP beers are carried in hundreds of bars and restaurants across the state, and currently the brewery offers Native Amber and Horny Toad Cerveza in cans at package stores, as well as DNR and seasonal offerings in bottles.

But the beer is flowing, and that means changes. Because of the growth and high demand for the Oklahoma product, COOP is planning an expansion to increase brewing capacity and to add more products to the shelves.

“There’s been a significant request for F-5 and DNR in cans, and doing that would broaden our shelf presence,” Merryweather said. “We’re looking to expand our market regionally, too.”

COOP Ale Works, located at 1124 NW 51st Street, also prides itself on its sustainability by being 100 percent wind-powered, reducing cleaning chemical loads, using ultra high-efficiency water tanks and participating in a spent-grain reuse program. The brewery is tight with the communities it serves. The company often hosts events, sponsors fundraisers and exposes the public to local brew.The saga of the budding Fairport Brewing Company all began as a home brewing operation in a “man cave.”“This all started out as a hobby and it sort of grew from there,” said co-founder Tim Garman.

He started making beer with buddy Tom Bullinger at Garman’s rental home in 2010. After obtaining their federal brewing license, they set up their brewery in a tiny back bedroom.

It didn’t take long before they needed more elbow room and space to store their barrels of brew. They then began looking for a commercial location to not only make beer, but sell it.

They signed the lease to rent space at CanalWorks, off Turk Hill Road, and began the lengthy process of getting their liquor license.

After months of waiting, the brewery officially opened for business in October 2012. Bullinger left to pursue other interests and Garman hired a small part-time staff to handle operations.

He describes the 870 square-foot facility on the second floor of a brick building as a step above a home brewery.

The walk-in cooler, for example, was made from scratch with four makeshift walls and a rewired air conditioning unit.

COOP is leading the way to create an Oklahoma Craft Brewers Guild with other state breweries like Choc, Marshall Brewing, Anthem Brewing and more.

“Our mission is to unify all beer producers in the state, to communicate among ourselves, to promote independent breweries as a whole in Oklahoma and to move forward and advance our industry from an economic standpoint,” Merryweather said. “We just keep growing.”

– (published April 28, 2013)

 

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