Gov. Mary Fallin last month signed House Bill 1341, which lets Oklahoma breweries offer customers free samples of beer in their premises.
“This is a major baby step for the brewing industry,” said JD Merryweather, owner of COOP Ale Works. “This gives us the opportunity to bring people in, show them the whole process and let them taste our finished product.”
The change allows breweries to serve up to 12 ounces of free samples per person, per day between 10 a.m. and 9 p.m., the identical hours liquor stores can be open.
Samples can only be served in designated areas and to patrons 21 years of age or over. Breweries are also required to pay excise taxes on the beer poured as samples.
Brad Stumph, managing partner of Black Mesa Brewing Company, said he expects all Oklahoma breweries to begin offering tours as a result.
“Many brewers have offered tours in the past, but this change allows customers to try the end product,” he said. “It’s another excellent way to get our name out there.”
Merryweather said the measure also enables brewers to meet their end customers. Currently, brewers must distribute their products through the state’s wholesalers. By contrast, HB 1341 brings brewers face to face with the customers who actually buy the beer in retail stores, bars and restaurants.
Oklahomans for Alcohol Law Reform founder Chris Herford said this marks a major advances for brewers, but does not yet bring them into parity with the state’s wine industry. His organization has lobbied for such equality since its founding in 2010.
“I think the breweries are very happy with this change, and I think it’s an important change,” Herford said, “but it’s not parity.”
Oklahoma’s wineries are allowed to sell their products — sealed, of course — from the wineries themselves and from any restaurant associated with them.
Herford said the disparity was the result of lobbying in the 1990s designed to help spur growth in the nascent wine industry. In addition, wineries can set up a tent or booth at a festival and sell their product directly to consumers, bypassing the distribution system altogether.
“I think we’re pretty content for now,” Stumph said. “However, if you compare our market to a place like Portland, [Oregon] — where breweries have tap rooms where they can sell their products directly to customers — you’d have to say that’s a plus for the breweries.”
The new law goes into effect in November.