Rule of fours
Practical packaging for Oklahoma brewers
So, you like beer, and you really like Oklahoma beer.
Your hot summer, beer-loving daydreams are filled with the sounds of tasty, wonderful local ales filling lovely flute-topped glasses. In these thirsty moments you daydream of the bittersweet aroma of Okie-made brews like those made by Black Mesa and Iron Monk and Renaissance, and your heart fills with gladness.
But then, when Friday rolls around, you go to the liquor store, headed to a party with friends who you’d like to impress with your excellent taste and local savviness, and a thing happens. A shitty, no-good thing.
You see that nearly every Oklahoma brewery, with a couple of notable exceptions, such as Marshall Brewing Company here in Tulsa and COOP Ale Works in Oklahoma City, only sell beer in four-packs.
Despair fills you. Your palms begin to sweat.
Goddamn four-packs, you think.
And instead of Oklahoma beer, which you spent all week waiting on, you pull down a six-pack of Bridgeport Kingpin Double Red from Portland, or Redhook ESB from the Seattle area, or Crazy Mountain Amber from Colorado, and you head to the checkout counter.
After all, you want to bring enough brews to share. And those beers are good, and they come in sixes.
Besides, you don’t want to appear stingy at the get-together, do you? Who wants to be the jerk who only brings four beers to a party?
Many times I’ve stood next to the local beer section of my neighborhood liquor store, wondering why, why, why at the iterations of four.
Turns out the answer is pretty simple: for most brewers, it comes down to production costs.
“So, why the four-pack, as opposed to a traditional six-pack?” I asked Iron Monk Brewing Company’s Director of Marketing and Sales Mark Waits over the phone. Iron Monk, based in Stillwater, makes a milk stout that is to die for—and really ought to come in packs of six.
“That’s a good question,” Waits said. “I think it’s to keep the prices manageable. With the Payne County IPA, which retails at $11 or $12 for four beers—if we made it a six pack, it would be at the point where people wouldn’t buy it.”
There is hope, however, for those of us who like to purchase tasty local brews in iterations of six. Iron Monk is planning to transition their Stilly Wheat beer from 16-ounce cans to 12-ounce cans, which will come in packs of six and stay at a price similar to what it is now.
I also spoke with Chris Sanders, co-owner and master brewer at Black Mesa Brewing Co., makers of Endless Skyway Bitter Ale—one of the best ESBs I’ve ever tasted. He said the original reason they only sold four-packs was to “keep cost down. If you went to six-packs the price point would be over $10.”
But there is hope still.
“We’re switching right now, from four-pack bottles to six-pack cans,” Sanders said. Black Mesa is taking advantage of the change to repackage their flagship ESB and rename their Kolsch, which will become Mountain Boomer, the nickname of Oklahoma’s state lizard.
Sanders said Black Mesa transferred its brewing operations from O’Fallon, Missouri to Oklahoma City this past April, where Black Mesa now brews out of Urban Farmhouse. Their new six-packs appeared in May.
“We wanted to pass that saving on shipping from going from Missouri to OKC to the consumer,” Sanders said. “The more you brew, everything gets cheaper.”
Tulsa’s Renaissance Brewing Company, which will open a taproom near 12th Street on South Lewis Avenue sometime later this year, also sells its beer in four-pack pints. Owner Glenn Hall added that, besides the fact that the cost of packaging for 16-ounce cans is actually higher than those of 12-ounce cans, he had an even more practical reason for sticking to the four-pack: “Because of the pint’s size. That’s the proper way to serve a beer, in my opinion … When you go to have a beer, 12 ounces just doesn’t seem to be enough.”
I couldn’t argue with that.
Drink to this!
New laws to take effect in 2018
Last November, Oklahomans voted yes on State Question 792, also known as The Oklahoma Regulations Governing the Sale of Wine and Beer Amendment. In the recently ended legislative session, Oklahoma legislators made changes to our state’s alcohol laws, which will take effect October 2018.
Under this new legislation, liquor stores can be open until midnight, giving Oklahomans an extra three hours to do their runs. Spirits can also be sold on holidays, except for the two when many people need booze the most: Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Another major adjustment allows grocery stores with retail beer and wine licenses to sell alcoholic beverages between the hours of 6 a.m. and 2 a.m.
Separate licensing for beer, wine, and spirits will mean that a retailer with a beer license can sell beer up to 9 percent ABV (but not wine or spirits); a retailer with a wine license can sell wine up to 15 percent ABV (but not beer or spirits); a retailer with a spirits license can basically sell any strength or type of alcohol.
Also next year, the same store that sells your lake beer will be able to sell your $17-a-bottle beer—and it will be cold.