The Company With Which You Drink
I recently was invited to tour the (405) Brewing Co. facilities, a small building tucked away in Norman’s north industrial neighborhood. Owners and brewmeisters Trae Carson and Jonathan Stapleton gave me a tour of their humble brewery, where they brew, bottle, label and ship beer to liquor stores and restaurants throughout Norman, Oklahoma City and Tulsa. It’s a self-contained system run by two guys with a passion for beer experimentation. A system that is done entirely by hand.
I’m treated to a tasting of Trae PA, the duo’s second commercial batch of their version of an American Pale Ale. It has a strong citrus smell, with a nearly grapefruit tingle in the nose. I’m not typically a pale ale fan, but this beer has a sweetness that offsets the typical bitterness associated with a pale ale. It’s a fun take on a brewer’s standard that makes me reconsider trying more pale ales in the future.
Carson, the beer’s namesake, tells me how this is a “tropically funky beer,” due to two types of hops imported from New Zealand blended with two American hop varieties. He dials in on the beer’s “green, bitter finish and piney-ness.” The guy knows his ingredients and flavors–a true beer aficionado.
Stapleton gives me the backstory of the company while Carson uses a long eyedropper to pull some yellow squirts out of a barrel for our next tasting.
Not surprising, these two have been best friends since “before [we] were born.” Friends in college, their parents double dated and remained in Norman to raise families together. Fast forward to 2007, when Carson and Stapleton took a nine-day, four-man bachelor road trip. Living on hard boiled eggs for breakfast and sleeping in Best Westerns, the group toured brewpubs and breweries across the Midwest and picked up varieties of beers for Carson’s upcoming wedding reception along the way. As the best trips do, this one inspired the duo into action.
During the 2008 Super Bowl, Carson ordered some home-brewing equipment on eBay. They attended classes together at Learn to Brew in Moore, and a few weeks later, their first batch was born.
“When we tasted it, it was very hoppy, it was very strong in alcohol, and it was not what you would call great,” Stapleton said. “But after that first glass, I think you had enough alcohol that you thought, ‘oh, it tastes fine now. And after a couple years of practice, someone said, your beer is not crap.’”
Carson brings me the next sample, pulled directly from a large, fermenting barrel. It smells like a key lime snack cake. Tart, but sweet, and I prepare myself for a liquid punch in the teeth. Only instead of a sour puckerfest, this concoction has a mild lime flavor. Sweet but not sickingly. Refreshing, like something you might drink after a hot afternoon mowing the lawn.
He tells me it’s a “spirit barrel fermented lime tart,” simply named Lime Tart. This is no ordinary beer, and no ordinary beer barrel. The guys buy used bourbon barrels from a distillery in Moore, then pack certain brews into them in order to pull out traces of the whiskey lurking in the pores and staves.
“The staves are where you’re going to have more contact and more flavor,” Carson says. “Oak, typically, especially whiskey or bourbon oak barrels, is going to give you that sweetness, a little bit of a burn, some vanilla or caramel flavors.”
He pulls another long eyedropper draw from a different barrel and offers me a taste of a new barley wine waiting patiently for a 2017 issue. It has a caramel sweetness that will only improve with age, he says. Barreled in January, it will stay corked for a full year or so before they release, and name, it.
“The beer will tell us when it’s ready,” Carson says.
There’s more samplings, including an older brown brew that smacks more of Canadian whiskey to me than beer, something Carson says he would have dumped. It’s not my favorite, but the novelty of trying things backstage is its own reward.
We share a bottle of Cool for the Summer beer (yes, named after the Demi Lovato song), and talk about the future of (405) Brewing, which includes a taproom, set to open in October, thanks to the passing of State Bill 424. This particular brew has a fruity scent of citrus peel and reminds me of a hefeweizen. It is brewed with fermented white wine yeast instead of traditional beer yeast. Throw in limes and spearmint, and you get the true definition of a refreshing beer: it actually tingles a bit on the back of the tongue.
Talking and laughing with these two best friends while tasting beers and sharing pizza, I get the feeling that the real purpose of (405) Brewing is not just to make strange, unexpected brews. It’s to make beers to enjoy with friends. This beer is all about the company with which you drink.
The friendship brewed into each batch of (405) is palpable. I highly recommend grabbing some friends and attending a pouring at a brewpub near you. For a full list of flavors and locations, visit 405brewing.com.