By Keith Eaton
Saint Patrick was a gentleman
Who through strategy and stealth
Drove all the snakes from Ireland …
Here’s a drinkee to his health!
But not too many drinkees,
Lest we lose ourselves and then
Forget the good Saint Patrick …
And see them snakes again!
According to the best archeological evidence, the art of brewing beer and the enjoyment of drinking it has been traced to the ancient Egyptians and Sumerians some 6,000 years B.C. The basic elements of chemistry and the process of making beer remain largely unchanged – cereal grains are steeped in water and fermented with yeast. The refinements deal with specific grains, hops, yeast selection, water quality, the timing and sequence of the malting, milling, mashing, lautering, boiling, fermenting, conditioning, filtering and packaging.
Today, Oklahomans who want to enjoy great beer and great company don’t have to visit Egypt, Sumeria or even the Pubs of England and Ireland; they need only visit any of the fine local establishments reviewed here.
The developing business segment encompassing microbreweries, brew houses and public houses is indeed entrepreneurial, particularly in Oklahoma with its complex, entangled state laws governing all things alcoholic. One such entrepreneur is Tulsan Elliot Nelson. While matriculating at the University of Notre Dame, Nelson chose to augment his education abroad in Dublin, Ireland. During that semester period, he became acquainted with the pub traditions of Ireland, particularly The Stag House and the Porter House in Dublin. After completing his degree, Elliot returned to Tulsa, inspired to duplicate his Irish pub experience by establishing a group of fine public houses. He named these establishments after his father, whose nickname was Nellie. McNellie’s (meaning “son of Nellie”) first served Tulsa, the second Oklahoma City, and the most recent addition is Norman.
McNellie’s customers are transported across the Atlantic and back in time to the welcoming pubs of Ireland by traditional Irish pub décor, furnishings, art, mugs and antique Irish signage, integral to the atmosphere, the ambiance of the pub’s Emerald Isle ancestry. McNellie’s amplifies your positive first impression with another hallmark, a personal greeting by the staff that says, “You’re among friends!”
Joe Wolf, General Manager of the OKC location, says, “McNellie’s is a relationship business. In addition to our great food, beer and service, we know our customers, our suppliers, brokers, wholesalers and civic leaders.”
Part of the first Oklahoma City indoor shopping mall at 10th and Walker, the Oklahoma City Plaza Court McNellie’s was once home to the landmark Veazy’s Drug and the upstairs 1926 location of WKY radio. Today, the Plaza Court McNellie’s serves the mid-town customer with an impressive array of beers from nine countries including England, Ireland, Holland, Belgium, Australia and the good ole USA, featuring several locally brewed Oklahoma beers.
The regular lunch crowd is attracted by the food menu that includes selections prepared from scratch: soups, beer house chili, salsa and queso, crab cakes, artichoke dip, brownies and an amazing carrot cake. The more filling choices include several styles of charcoaled burgers, sandwiches and entrées like Grilled Atlantic Salmon, Southwest Meatloaf and Landlord’s Cottage Pie. Be sure to ask your waiter to recommend the perfect beer to complement your food selection – it’s integral to your McNellie’s experience.
Bar Manager Jake Hickman selected four samples of beer that constitute the most popular, the manager’s favorite, a connoisseur’s selection and a locally brewed transitional beer for the inquisitive, traditional patron.
Not surprisingly, the most requested and the manager’s choice was the same beer, Guinness Stout. No need to give tribute to a beer that is the result of perfecting Arthur’s process and product over 200 years. Roasted barley, nitrogen gas and a still-secret aging process contribute to the worldwide popularity of this Irish landmark.
Jake pulled a sample of a Belgian beer, Triple Karmeleit, adding, “This is a beer I would recommend to an educated customer likely to appreciate its bouquet and unique flavors owing to the complex recipe of barley, wheat, oats, coriander and high carbonation.”
This beer could easily elicit the response, in the words of Mae West, “Too much of a good thing is wonderful.”
The beer most often recommended to traditional three-point-two customers is the locally brewed Marshall McNellie’s Pub Ale – a light pale ale in the tradition of India Pale Ale. A single taste is sufficient to seduce the traditional customer to experiment with and enjoy a broad spectrum of beers.
Downtown OKC crowds and the frequent Bricktown visitor who enjoys a relaxing atmosphere and great tasting, locally brewed beer are drawn to the Bricktown Brewery, the city’s first public brewpub. The management team of Emerging Brands LLC insists with justification that the quality of the product their team brews onsite today has steadily improved, and the range of offerings expanded from their initial 1992 flagship product, Copperhead, to today’s Red Brick, Bison Wheat, Creek Valley Stout and Rock Island Ale, to mention just a few of their customer favorites.
A sample of Copperhead made it easy to understand why this light-bodied amber ale with distinctly caramel flavor remains a customer favorite. The English Pub fan should try the Red Brick amber, or perhaps you’re one who enjoys a German Hefeweizen with banana and clove flavoring – with or without the lemon peel, you won’t be disappointed. And for those preferring a lighter taste, there’s the smooth and crisp Rock Island Ale to quench your thirst.
General Manager Greg Powell described “… an India Pale Ale named ‘07 Statehood that’s sure to please the IPA connoisseur, and a seasonal treat named Old Blueberry Ale. This beer drinker’s treat is prepared using fresh orange, coriander, honey and dry hopped brewing that requires special techniques developed over time by head brewer Mark Hopkins.” Both are coming soon.
Food service at the Brewery deserves to be explored over several visits. Whether your appetite requires one of the half-dozen burger treats with your favorite beer, a Pot Roast Sandwich, or something more substantial – like a St. Louis Style Rib dinner or the Brewery Pot Roast supper – you’ll finish full and satisfied, from exquisite taste to moderate ticket price.
Just a half hour south of OKC by car and within walking distance of the University of Oklahoma campus sits an “original.” The Library pub house, on Boyd at Chautauqua, began as a residence in 1920. Over the intervening decades, it has been reinvented as a neighborhood grocery, the Brown Owl bar, Pancho’s pizzeria in the mid-sixties and Pink’s bar in the late ‘80s. In its present incarnation, the Library rates a solid 79 points of pure enjoyment according to Esquire magazine’s latest cross-country survey of pubs. A long history with Norman and close proximity to the campus are part of the Library’s successful recipe, but there’s more. It’s the feeling that Norm, Carla, Cliff or Coach might just stroll in and sit down next to you at the bar. It’s that stuffed owl up there somewhere in the rafters, a mainstay since it was donated by an OU biology professor years back; and the decadal visits from the mysterious Carol, who carves her name and the current year on a corner of the bar.
All of the above permit General Manager John Howell to describe the Library Philosophy as: “Keep it simple, keep it friendly, strive for quality in the beer and the food, make sure every customer leaves feeling special, and success follows, always.”
Tasting the locally produced Brewhouse IPA that is dry hopped for three weeks is a beer drinker’s treat, for sure. Equally worthy of the educated palate are the Brewhouse Irish, the lighter Wheat and the rotating seasonal favorites.
Under the watchful eye of kitchen master Victor Rojo, the pizza is one of Norman’s best kept secrets. You might be eating the 500,000th pizza Victor has prepared in his long Library career, with hopefully thousands more to follow. Or match your favorite Brewhouse beer with the spicy chili and ward off a chilly spring day … yummy!
Don’t be concerned about a full house at the bar. There’s always the outdoor patio area with a talkative crowd of regulars or out-of-town sports fans to meet and discuss the game. The service is excellent with a staff that has little turnover and exhibits through training the Library Philosophy.
Howell emphasizes, “We are very careful in the employee selection process and training so we have long-term relationships with them, including student staffers. We reach an understanding that we’re not their first priority, nor should we be, but we expect them to show up and do their job well and in keeping with our traditions.”
Since the entire pub house business depends on the brewing industry, it’s the natural course of this new and growing Oklahoma industry to find room for niche breweries to fill the need – the demand – for locally brewed boutique beers that insure freshness and a distinctly Oklahoma taste. Sure enough, the team of J.D. Merryweather, Daniel Mercer, Mark Seibold and Chase Healy has found success as the COOP Ale Works. With responsibilities divided among them according to education, experience and interest in marketing and public relations, financials, operations and brewing, the partners continue to prosper.
As a manufacturer, the public knows about COOP beer through their retail public house customer base. Maintaining a consistent, high quality product while expanding the book of product, building awareness, branding and being involved in community relationships is a difficult balancing act requiring diligence and long hours.
The key element is market acceptance of the beer, which is determined one customer at a time. Sampling the Zeppelin spicy wheat gives an appreciation for the carefully crafted recipe that includes Maris Otter white wheat, Cascade hops, German Hefe yeast, a hint of rye, clove and banana. Reinforcement of a first-time customer’s positive experience comes with the other members of the beer family. Don’t miss the Native Amber with its caramel note. The DNR (10 percent ABV) is a delight in moderation with its fruit, cinnamon and vanilla flavors intermingled with just the right balance of bitterness from Noble hops. Several visits to your favorite pub will complete your appreciation of the COOP family, including the Horny Toad cerveza and the dark, nutty, aromatic Gran Sport Porter with its hint of chocolate. Two new seasonal beers will be distributed this year – the India Pale Ale will enter the market this spring, and the second is oak Barrel Aged Imperial Stout for the fall. Customer expectations are running high for these two additions. Oktoberfest will also return this fall.
So if it’s a great beer and food combination you’re after or an evening with like-minded Oklahomans, it’s right here in the greater OKC metro area at the pub of your choice.
Clearly, it’s no longer “The beer that made Milwaukee famous” or “From the land of sky blue waters.” Rather, it’s
“Éireann go Brách!”