by Enrico Villamaino
Anyone who didn’t sleep through U.S. history class knows Prohibition was a nationwide constitutional ban on the production, importation, transportation and sale of alcoholic beverages. For most of the United States, this ban lasted from the adoption of the 18th Amendment in 1920 to its repeal with the passage of the 21st Amendment in 1933.
While this ban lasted 13 years for most Americans, for others it lasted longer – much longer.
“Prohibition was finally repealed in the state of Oklahoma in 2017!” according to Bruce Sanchez, owner and operator of Twisted Spike Brewing Company, located in Oklahoma City. A native of Edmond, OK, Sanchez is an electrical engineer by trade, having studied that field at the University of Oklahoma. Despite working as an engineer, and picking up an MBA from Oklahoma City University along the way, Sanchez always made time for his passion.
“I started brewing beer out of my garage in 1991,” he explained. “It was something I really loved doing, and I always hoped to expand what I was doing, try my hand at more and more beers, and eventually start up my very own brewery.”
As for his rather unusual statement about Oklahoma finally repealing prohibition in 2017?
“After Prohibition was passed at the federal level, Oklahoma went even further and enacted some very strict and far reaching restrictions of its own,” Sanchez explained. “This included such measures as bans against taprooms and a prohibition of sampling any beer on the premises… These bans, amongst others, made it extremely difficult to operate a brewery in Oklahoma. In fact, until 2015, there were only eight breweries in the entire state.”
Asked why such restrictions, which have hampered the ability of the beer-loving denizens of the Sooner State to open their own breweries, have been in force for so long after the repeal of Prohibition, Sanchez replied, “The problem is that these measures weren’t just laws, but constitutional amendments… A law passed by one legislature can be repealed by another. But once a constitutional amendment is passed and it becomes an official article of the constitution, it is, by design, a very hard thing to undo.”
He added that because of the difficult process of undoing a constitutional amendment with the passage of another constitutional amendment, Oklahoma’s prospective brewers had struggled for 84 years before these articles were finally repealed by a statewide referendum in 2017.
When the lengthy process to repeal these articles began, Sanchez saw his chance. “I figured if I was ever going to open my brewery, now was the time…after I got my wife Donna’s approval, of course.” Officially opening for business in 2016, Twisted Spike Brewing became the first brewery in the state whose original floor plans included a taproom (the largest in Oklahoma City) and just the 15th brewery in the state. Now that Oklahoma has become a more welcoming place to open and operate a brewery, that number nearly doubled in the past three years.
In a little over two years, Twisted Spike, housed in a 7,500-square foot facility that was originally designed to be a warehouse, has grown at an exponential rate. “We now have eleven employees,” Sanchez said, “one assistant brewer, one CPA and nine bartenders. We now offer twenty-four different beers on tap, and thirteen of our beers are in full distribution.”
Asked what selections are most popular, he responded, “Our number one is our Dirty Blonde.” There was, he recalled, some issue with its name. “We were trying to call it Twisted Spike’s Dirty Blonde Sanchez. Unfortunately, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, commonly known as the TTB, and which has to approve all alcohol names and labels, objected to a name containing the words ‘dirty’ and ‘Sanchez.’” He shrugged, “Go figure. We just ended up calling it Twisted Spike’s Dirty Blonde.” Various other brews have proven popular: “Our Holy Beer is a Belgian Quadrupel” (Sanchez is a fan of all beers Belgian) “and it’s actually blessed by a buddy of mine. Father Lance Warren comes in from the monastery to bless every batch. It really is holy beer!”
In recognition of the fact that Oklahoma City is the training headquarters of the U.S. Olympic rowing team, he has recently introduced a new brew, named “Crew,” in their honor.
Always eager to try out something new, Sanchez hosts “One Off Wednesdays,” where he’ll throw something into the brew pot, hopes it comes out alright and people like it. He recently tried this in recognition of Chinese New Year, using fruits indigenous to China to add a unique flavor.
Sanchez is less than a year away from retiring as an electrical engineer for the Federal Aviation Administration. “It’ll be nice to only have to do one forty hour a week job rather than two,” he said. When asked if running a brewery is really only a 40 hour per week job, he laughed, “No. It isn’t.”
For more information on Twisted Spike Brewing, visit www.twistedspike.com .