Tulsa Craft Beer Week founders talk about building a tradition
Behind any craft — any art form — there are the true believers.
And just hearing Josh Royal and Freddy Lamport talk excitedly about their passion for craft beer and their motivation for founding Tulsa Craft Beer Week, it's obvious they believe.
Lamport owns BierGarten Wine & Spirits in Jenks, and Royal owns and tends bar at R Bar & Grill in Brookside.
Count them among the movement — along with the ever-growing number of brewers, bars and liquor stores — that is making craft beer actually happen in Oklahoma.
The second TCBW kicks off Thursday, and these guys tell us it will be bigger and better than last year. Events span nine days to include two weekends and, oh, so many more beers.
"People are much more excited about it after seeing what happened last year," Royal said. "And we had so many more people want to get involved."
The time was right to create a craft beer week last year, Lamport explained.
"We could see every town, every city or every state doing it. And we thought, Tulsa can do that. I think we are ready," Lamport said. "We had a lot of focus going on with craft beer and with brewers in the state really blowing up."
The event will allow craft beer fans and novices alike to learn how to experience different brews, gradually developing a sophisticated palate and beer vocabulary just like Lamport and Royal did.
"When I opened my store five years ago, I did not really know about any single product at all," Lamport said. "I knew what Crown was, I knew what Jack was, I knew what Smirnoff was, that was it," Lamport said.
But while caring for his ailing father, Lamport worked from open to close at the store and became a certified beer judge because he wanted to be knowledgeable about all of his products.
"When you are in a place 12 hours a day, six days a week like I was, you just end up learning. I really put my heart and soul into my business," Lamport said. "And I learned to really like craft beer and the people associated with it."
Before owning the R Bar, Royal worked at McNellie's, the downtown pub where his long-held appreciation of craft beers "spiraled out of control."
Among the bar and restaurant set, Royal has developed a bit of a reputation, a good one, for being a stickler about cleaning his own tap lines.
"I change my beer menu daily, and I do change my own lines. There are people who do it for you, but I want the beer to taste the way the brewer intended. It does take a lot of my time," Royal said. "I also don't like having a line down — ever. I have 20 lines for a reason. I want to use them."
Yet, Royal and Lamport emphasized that TCBW is about more than their respective businesses and they were happy to see more events and more venues join in for the second year.
"The more people who are involved the better. It makes the event better, more people come to town for it," Royal said. "Many ticket sales have been from out of state. It is pretty exciting to see these people purchasing tickets to craft beer week in Tulsa, Okla., and they are buying plane tickets and buying hotel rooms to come here."
TCBW has also inspired more fans of craft beer locally, who are learning the virtues of variety and complexity over volume when it comes to drinking beer.
"I see more people excited about craft beer in this past year. I saw people who I have never seen before come to craft beer week, and I have seen them over and over again. You hold these festivals and now they are starting to come out of the woodwork," Royal said. "It is exciting to see new people get excited about it."
American Craft Beer Week is May 12-18, but organizers of craft beer week events in many cities opt to have their own events during different times, Royal and Lamport said.
It allows the brewers from some of the sought-after-breweries to travel to different cities, such as Tulsa, and promote growing events.
"We have breweries coming from outside the state, too," Lamport explained, adding that some are considered among the top 50 in the country.
In addition to Founders Brewing Co. — a Michigan brewery that recently brokered a deal to sell here through Quality Beverage Co. of Tulsa — representatives from breweries such as Green Flash Brewing Co. in San Diego and Great Divide Brewing Co. in Colorado will be here.
The craft beer cultures in these states are far ahead of Oklahoma's, largely due to restrictive brewing laws.
"Oklahoma is behind the times. We are not even on the same page as other states regarding liquor laws and craft beer," Royal said.
"And we are trying to change that. It is going to take events like this. It's going to take a lot of people caring for the state to say, 'We are going to do something about it.' "
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