Local breweries scramble as ABLE Commission interprets SB 424’s impact on taprooms 

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What was planned as a celebration might now be a protest after Oklahoma’s Alcoholic Beverage Laws Enforcement (ABLE) Commission decided Senate Bill 424 does not give breweries the ability to sell beer for consumption in their taprooms.

Both COOP Ale Works, 4745 Council Heights Road, and Anthem Brewing Company, 908 SW Fourth St., expected to welcome crowds of fans with pints of full-strength beer Friday when SB 424 goes into effect.

The planning began July 29, when ABLE officials met with brewers and seemed to say local beer makers could serve their creations in taprooms, said COOP director of sales and marketing Sean Mossman.

“In our first meeting with ABLE after the law was passed (signed by Gov. Mary Fallin June 6), their interpretation was that consumers would not be able to purchase beer for on-premises consumption, but could buy it to take off-premises,” he said. “Two weeks ago, they agreed the law did intend to allow for on-premise consumption.”

But that changed Aug. 18 when brewers meeting with ABLE were told the agency had reversed its decision once again and would not allow consumers to drink full-strength beer in the taprooms.

Shortly after that meeting, Mossman said the decision hit them hard.

“At this point, we don’t know what to do,” he said.

Clarity sought

As news spread of the enforcement change, ABLE began receiving calls from breweries and consumers.

At ABLE’s regularly scheduled meeting Aug. 19, director A. Keith Burt said he was taking the advice of ABLE’s legal counsel and asking for guidance from state Attorney General E. Scott Pruitt on interpretation of the law.

According to the bill, those with a brewer’s license can “sell beer produced by the licensee to consumers twenty-one (21) years of age or older on the premises of the brewery; and to serve free samples of beer produced by the licensee to visitors twenty-one (21) years of age or older.”

That means breweries can sell canned or bottled beer or sealed growlers of beer direct to consumers, but it does not explicitly say that breweries can sell beer for consumption in their taprooms, Burt said.

“Two weeks ago, I didn’t know they wanted on-premises consumption,” he said. “If it’s not spelled out, you can’t do it.”

Legislative intent

Bill co-author Rep. Cory Williams, D-Stillwater, told commission members at the meeting the intent of SB 424 was always to put local breweries on a level playing field with local wineries, which can directly sell wine to consumers in tasting rooms and sell glasses of wine for drinking on-premises.

Burt said that while the authors’ intent was clear, he was not sure if the legislature that approved it intended the bill to be interpreted that way.

Williams said one problem with proving legislative intent is that there was not a lot of talk needed on the House floor to get SB 424 passed because legislators view the craft brewing industry as “the darlings of the alcohol reform era.”

Several brewers said they came to Oklahoma City specifically to open a taproom. Ross Harper, who is working on Angry Scotsman Brewing, and Bruce Sanchez, who is weeks away from opening Twisted Spike Brewing Co., said the current ABLE stance on SB 424 would have a significant impact on businesses’ ability to hire staff and repay construction loans.

Prairie Artisan Ales, brewer of popular Bomb! beer, recently announced plans to start brewing at 3 NE Eighth St. by spring 2017.

Prairie Artisan Ales was acquired by Krebs Brewing Co., based in Krebs, OK, in June. The business is best known for making the classic Choc beer. President Zach Pritchard said the passage of SB 424 was integral to the decision to open a brewery and taproom in Oklahoma City.

Parties paused

Though the taprooms at COOP and Anthem will remain open and serving low-point beers, the sudden shift in interpretation has squelched plans for celebrations.

• COOP will still hold a party 4-8 p.m. Friday in its taproom to celebrate the release of its seasonal Oktoberfest beer, but it will be unable to fill the 50 special one-liter German beer boot glasses it will sell at the event.

“We intended to have a celebration of the new law,” Mossman said. “Now we may have to have a call-to-action from craft beer fans.”

The brewery is also giving away a trip for two to the Oct. 8 Great American Beer Festival in Denver, including festival tickets, round-trip airfare from the nearest local airport to Denver, hotel and a $100 Visa Gift Card for meals.

• Anthem’s taproom event runs 5-9 p.m. Friday and all day Saturday, said president and head brewer Patrick Lively, though without the ability to pour any beer higher than 3.2 ABV. Local designer MENT Apparel is selling a new T-shirt to commemorate SB 424 going into effect, and food truck Murphy’s CookShack is selling barbecue Friday.

The taproom is open noon-9 p.m. Saturday. Mim’s Bakery and The Flying Pig BBQ trucks will be on hand 5-9 p.m.

Anthem’s taproom also hosts the third Good Time Fun Show comedy event 7-9 p.m. Saturday with comedians Mac Blake, Kath Barbadoro, Aaron Brooks and Matt Raney.

• Craft beer bar Oak & Ore, 1732 NW 16th St., is still moving forward with Oklahoma Tap Liberation Tour Friday, regardless of the decision. Tickets for the free OKC Party Bus tour of local breweries are available on eventbrite.com, but seating is limited. 

Print headline: Heavy pour, Local breweries scramble as ABLE Commission reinterprets SB 424’s impact on taprooms selling cold, strong beer.

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