A group of visionary Oklahomans made their inaugural appearance at the Untapped Festival last year, gripping attendees’ attention with a self-assured style honed in a hostile environment. This year, for the Fort Worth edition of the cool beer/good music festival, our neighbor to the north has gifted DFW with a second set of fearless freaks — unlike the Flaming Lips, these Oklahomans come bearing kegs, not guitars, and their ride gets much better mileage than Wayne Coyne’s giant gerbil ball. COOP Ale Works' — both their beer and their curious pub-on-wheels — is bound to turn heads this weekend.
COOP Ale Works sold its first beer in March of 2009 (as it happens, the same year the Lips’ “Do You Realize?” was declared the official rock song of Oklahoma), making it one of the more seasoned breweries in the state. Starting and sustaining a craft brewery wasn’t exactly shooting fish in a barrel, either. Oklahoma’s notorious blue laws create numerous obstacles to alcohol sales and distribution: Breweries can’t sell any beer above 4 percent ABV from their taprooms for off-premise consumption, and beers above 3.2 percent ABV can’t be shipped to, stored in or sold by stores at cold temperatures. But COOP persevered, and, after receiving their brewery approval from the TABC this past April, the company started to lay plans for their North Texas launch. According to Sean Mossman, COOP’s director of sales and marketing, the link-up with Untapped came about in a most practical way.
“We honestly Googled ‘beer festivals in DFW’ to start building our calendar of events,” Mossman says. “We saw that Untapped Fort Worth was scheduled for the first Saturday after our June 6 launch, and we decided we would try to do something bigger than the normal tent/table/jockey box festival presence.”
Much bigger, in fact. Thanks to a friend who had retrofitted an old school bus into a pub on wheels (dubbed the Big Friendly Beer Bus) COOP has taken their show on the road, making 16 pit stops in eight days all over the DFW area to pour pints.On Thursday, COOP is sponsoring a pre-Untapped party at the Fort Worth Flying Saucer, where Dallas rocker Jonathan Tyler and Fort Worth’s psych janglers The Hendersons will join them for some tunes. Big Friendly even got permission to roll up directly onto Untapped’s festival grounds.
Texans are already well-acquainted with the outsized flavors and antic artwork of Tulsa’s Prairie Artisan Ales, and old-guard brew hunters may recall picking up six-packs of CHOC pale ale on trips across the Red River. COOP’s inaugural Texas menu focuses on the fundamentals, but head brewer Blake Jarolim tapped into some red-dirt wildness for their Gone To Texas, a peach Berlinerweisse limited to 3,000 bottles and brewed exclusively for the occasion.
If you find yourself riding shotgun with Big Friendly sometime this week, we have a few suggestions for your first round. Despite its Midwestern origins, the F5 IPA has distinguished itself as West Coast-style IPA, topping out at 100 IBUs with flavor to spare. The Native Amber diversifies both its hop list and grain bill, blending eight malts and seven hop varietals to produce a decidedly American take on an amber ale. And, if you want to cut to the chase, order a snifter of the DNR, a Belgian strong dark ale brewed with candied rock sugar.
Market expansion isn’t the COOP’s only endeavor. They’ve also entered the fray of legislative negotiations, locking arms with Prairie, Mustang and other Okie breweries to pass laws to reform the state’s booze laws.
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“The Craft Brewer’s Alliance of Oklahoma has been openly supportive of modernizing our state’s liquor laws,” Mossman says. “It’s been a pleasure setting aside the daily grind of competing with each other in the marketplace and working together to advocate for the entire industry.”
Government red tape will drive anyone to drink, and so COOP has also helped out with Collaboration for Legislation, a collaborative white IPA that has served as a fundraiser for the group’s lobbying efforts. Such legislation would doubtless have the same invigorating effect on craft brewing that similar action did for Texas brewers in 2013, but according to Mossman, the issue isn’t driven so much by fiscal considerations as it is by the integrity of the craft.
“It’s not about being able to sell ‘strong beer’ in grocery stores,” Mossman continued. “It’s really about us having greater control of the experience consumers have with our beers.”
After Untapped, COOP will wrap up their visit weekend with Sunday brunch at Bird Café, where attendees can compare grain bills with brewer Will Quinlin, and a final stop at Braindead Brewing Monday night. It was a plucky plan, one that fits right in with the fightin' spirit of Texas brewing. Saturday can't get here soon(er) enough.