Not only is the beer scene in Oklahoma growing in terms of breweries, but the last decade has seen a significant expansion in terms of craft beer awareness and events.
I’m not about to stop reviewing the best beers in Oklahoma (and explaining the history of the various styles), but I want to help you all find and enjoy some of these events, which is why today’s I Drank Oklahoma is all about my favorite beer-stravaganza:
I still remember (surprisingly) the first ZOObrew I ever went to back in 2010, and how it has grown is remarkable. Back then my fiancée and I were looking for where we might have our wedding reception and someone suggested the Oklahoma City Zoo. After meeting with the events coordinator at the zoo, we were not entirely convinced, but the coordinator suggested we check out the upcoming ZOObrew to get an idea what a party at the zoo might look like.
The small beer festival was held in the Canopy Food Court and it was not even remotely full, with very few beer vendors pouring a decent selection of beers for the time. One thing I do vividly remember is that there was a funk band called the Groove Merchants. Despite the fact that they were playing to an audience of about a dozen, the lone middle-aged guy in jorts on the dance floor was definitely buying. Needless to say we ended up having our reception at the zoo and have been attending ZOObrew ever since.
ZOObrew, like all Oklahoma City beer fests, has grown in size and scope over the years. It had to move from the food court to the Devon Picnic Grounds, overlooking the zoo’s lake, and this year it will sprawl all the way to Sanctuary Asia.
As the fest has grown, so has the selection of beers, food, and music. One thing I love is the large area dedicated to homebrew clubs whose members have donated kegs upon kegs of beer to pour for the thirsty masses. This is a "must-try" area because there is no telling which one of these homebrewers will open up your next favorite brewery.
Over the years I have attended beer fests all over OKC and attended the Great American Beer Festival (GABF) in Denver multiple times, but the event that I refuse to miss is ZOObrew.
I remember one ZOObrew when I found $40 on the ground. Not really sure how I could even find the person who lost the money, I ended up buying $40 dollars worth of raffle tickets for a huge Sierra Nevada mirror sign. Considering I bought more than half the raffle tickets, I was not terribly surprised when I won. But I was surprised by the size of the sign and I had to get the Zoo to hold it for me overnight so I could get a friend with a truck to help me pick up my prize. Who know? You might be fortunate enough to come home with some great beer paraphernalia this year.
This year's ZOObrew will be 7-10 p.m. Friday, September 27. Tickets are on sale now at Zoofriends.org for $60, and if you don't already have your tickets I would advise you to buy them immediately. There is also a PreBrew ticket where patrons get access to a few rarer beers, a little bit of extra swag, and an elephant exhibition, but those are already sold out. I am serious when I say buy your tickets now.
ZOOfriends director of community engagement Matt Burkholder said there are 55 confirmed breweries this year and more than 300 beers to sample. It's also the first year the zoo will be so open for the event.
"Half of the zoo will be open for exploring–including the Devon Picnic Grounds, Cat Forest, Great EscAPE, and Sanctuary Asia," he said. "Animal habitats will be open and available until sundown," which is a perk for Prebrew ticket holders.
Breweries will be separated into four different areas that represent a conservation project the OKC Zoo is currently working on.
- Indian Rhino Foundation at Sanctuary Asia
- Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund at Great EscAPE
- Okies for Monarchs at Picnic Grounds
- Foundation for the Conservation of Endangered Species of Guatemala at Big Rivers Café
They're expecting a big crowd—about 2,300 people—and a scant 450 tickets remain.
If you're hungry, well, good. There will be five food trucks on the picnic grounds, including BlueJ’s Rollin Grill, Dos Gringos Cabana, Let’s Do Greek, Mighty Corn Dog, and Papa Odies Fauxcarb Kitchen. Concession stands at Big Rivers Café and Lotus Pavilion will be open, as well.
As a long-time beer festival attendee, I’ve come up with a few tips for maximizing your ZOObrew experience.
- Do not go to this event without having your designated driver situation figured out in advance. Uber and Lyft will be out in force, but if you have a friend who will serve as DD there is a Designated Driver ZOObrew ticket that comes with a food voucher—which you should buy for your saint of a friend.
- Dress up. And I am not talking about formals. This is a beer fest and you are meant to have a good time, so let it all hang out. One of my favorite things at GABF are all the people dressed up as Waldo. Break out some lederhosen or a dirndl, make a cowboy hat out of beer case boxes, or just express your creativity. My all-time favorite GABF outfits were the six guys who had red, white, and blue track suits with "USA Drinking Team" embroidered across the back.
- Pretzel necklaces are a must. Yes, there will be food at the event, but having a large string of pretzels around your neck will help you maintain a modicum of sobriety as you work your way through all the great beer you get to sample. You don't have to stop at pretzels, either. I use a hole puncher and string a few "fun-size" bags of Doritos on there as well. As with the outfits, get creative!
- Speaking of sobriety, respect the one-ounce pour. Beer fests are a marathon, not a sprint. Don’t lobby for a full pour in your taster glass; by the end of the night you will have had plenty. Nobody wants to be the guy who gets hammered in the first hour of a beer fest and has to be sent home in a taxi while the rest of the group enjoys the good times.
- Bring a pen or pencil and a notepad. The best thing about a beer fest is the amazing variety of new beers you will try. The worst thing about a beer fest is not remembering any of them later because you were at a beer fest.
Another great reason to have a pen is to keep track of how many samples you have had. Knowing your limits and making sure you keep it to a respectable amount of samples each hour is a great way to ensure you have a good time at the ZOObrew.