Marshall Brewing Company
Socrates held the position that he could not teach a man anything that he did not already know. To oversimplify one of Western civilization’s greatest minds, this meant he believed that all knowledge was innate, and the act of learning was little more than remembering what one already knew.
Eric Marshall, founder of Marshall Brewing Company in Tulsa, Okla., isn’t one of the world’s greatest philosophers, nor does he claim to be. He is, however, helping Oklahomans discover knowledge that mankind has had for thousands of years. Mainly, that beer is good, and good beer is better.
No brewery enters the market without obstacles in front of it. A weak IPA or a watered-down Stout could spell doom for a start-up in San Diego or Portland. But when he started Marshall Brewing Company in 2008, Marshall had a different kind of challenge ahead of him. As he grew up in the Tulsa area, the 30-year-old brewmaster had seen small brewpubs and microbreweries spring up in the 1990s. Then he watched as those same places shuttered their doors and closed their dusty ledgers, as the locals clung to their favorite national brands. Oklahoma was a beating heart for the American adjunct lager and its producers, and seducing drinkers with hoppy ales and rich lagers was no easy task.
“I don’t think people were necessarily ready for it,” Marshall explains of the boom and bust of the 1990s. It took time for America’s heartland to accept what small brewers were offering, but Oklahoma eventually warmed to the idea that a local outfit could produce a product as good—if not better—than the big boys could in St. Louis or Milwaukee. As craft beer from the coasts emerged in liquor stores and beer bars began popping up in Tulsa, Marshall saw a change in Oklahoma and recognized that his home state had finally caught up.
“Oklahoma has always kind of been behind the pack,” Marshall says. “I like to say things start at the coast and work toward the middle. Oklahoma tends to be sort of behind, so now the fact that we’re able to be here and do things that others don’t do, there’s a void in the market that we’re able to step up and fill.”
And MBC continues to educate the thirsty masses of Oklahoma. Marshall rarely passes on an opportunity to speak to his fellow Oklahomans at events and festivals, and the brewery enjoys taking part in “beer universities” hosted at some of the area pubs that aim to educate patrons on the flavors and wide variety in the world of beer.
A brewer needs a strong background and proper credentials if he is going to try to remind his customers of the fundamental truth that beer is good; in other words, he has to know how to make good beer. Marshall’s brewing career started in a familiar place—his kitchen—but it was in Germany where it truly took root. During his junior year at the University of Tulsa, where he studied German and international business, Marshall went abroad to Germany and fell in love with the beer culture.
“It really just kind of stuck out at me and I really enjoyed it,” Marshall says. “I just fell in love with the culture behind it. I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life at that point. I came back for my senior year and my dad had actually turned my old bedroom into a home pub, and we convinced my dad if he invested a little money in a nice homebrew system, he could serve his own beer at a pub, so he thought that was a great idea.”
Marshall describes what happened over the ensuing months as if it were a sickness, as he became obsessed with brewing beer for the home pub. He was thirsty for more, but couldn’t find the brewing education he needed in Oklahoma. As he professed his desire to brew professionally to some family friends, they put him in touch with Munich-based brewmaster Stefan Grauvogl, who, in turn, helped Marshall turn his dream into reality.
“He basically set me up with some different people [in Germany] and I kind of jumped around,” Marshall says. “A few weeks here, a month there, just getting experience in a bunch of different settings. But also experiencing the different regions and cultures of Germany. Unlike here, there’s different areas that have different tastes and specialties. In Bamberg, there’s the Rauchbiers, while down in Bavaria, they’ve got the Helles and Hefeweizens.”
Marshall honed his craft in Old World breweries while America was undergoing a craft beer revolution of sorts. He received his diploma in brewing technology from the World Brewing Academy, then apprenticed in Germany before returning home to work as a brewer for Victory Brewing in Downington, Pa. Shortly after, Marshall decided it was time for him to return home, and to bring good beer back to Tulsa.
Ale has been the poster child of the craft beer movement, but Marshall didn’t shy away from introducing a craft-brewed lager to Tulsa. Marshall’s Old Pavilion Pilsner was inspired by his experiences in Germany, and remains a symbol of the brewery’s dedication to producing quality beer in Oklahoma. Old Pavilion Pilsner is not a macro clone in a craft beer costume, but a handcrafted lager that stands out as a testament to just how good Old World styles can be.
“We’re definitely in the Bible Belt of the US, being in Oklahoma, and to be able to bring that celebrated culture and the freshness and the quality associated with the places I studied in Germany—I make a German-style Pilsner, and I tell people we make this beer because I love this beer,” Marshall says. “I love good fresh Pilsners, and it’s definitely got a place near and dear to my heart. That’s one of the main reasons why we brew it. Beyond that, it’s the celebration. Obviously, when designing a beer, it’s an art that draws from your experiences and what you’ve learned.”
As Marshall puts what he has learned on display, his customers are starting to develop their own tastes, growing under his tutelage. The easy-drinking Sundown Wheat was introduced as MBC’s main beer, but has been surpassed in sales by the brewery’s Atlas IPA—an English-style IPA that was born during the hop shortage in 2007.
“We had to take a different approach, so we took a more traditional English approach to it where there’s more balance on the IPA side of things, and not over the top with hops,” Marshall says, adding that they crafted “something that is approachable and easy to drink.”
As Marshall Brewing grows and the local drinkers grow as well, the brewery hopes to experiment a little more and push the palates of its fans—as it did with El CuCuy (essentially the name for a Latin American boogeyman), a Black IPA debuted last Halloween and the first of Marshall’s Loco Gringo series of limited-release beers. It’s summer now, but school is still in session at Marshall Brewing Company, and it will be as long as Oklahomans stay thirsty.
Look for more on The Sooner State’s rich beer culture in issue #55 of BeerAdvocate magazine.
-17-bbl steam-jacketed mash tun and kettle by now-defunct Liquid Assets, previously used by a brewery in Japan
-Five 17-bbl tanks for fermentation
-One 51-bbl fermentation tank
-Six 17-bbl bright tanks
-Three 34-bbl conditioning tanks
What’s On Tap
Sundown Wheat: A Belgian-inspired American Wheat Ale spiced with orange peel and coriander – 4.7% ABV
Atlas IPA: An English-style IPA brewed with an eye toward balance – 6.5% ABV, 58 IBUs
McNellie’s Pub Ale: An English Best Bitter named after local bar McNellie’s Public House – 5% ABV
Old Pavilion Pilsner: A crisp, clean North German-style Pilsner with a sharp bitter finish – 5% ABV
Revival Red: A hoppy American Red Ale, this is MBC’s spring seasonal – 6% ABV
Arrowhead Pale Ale: An American Pale Ale with a very distinct citrus aroma, MBC’s summer seasonal – 5.2%ABV
Oktoberfest: A traditional German-style Oktoberfest, available during the fall – 6% ABV
Big Jamoke Porter: MBC’s winter seasonal, a robust Porter that boasts coffee and chocolate flavors with a hint of hops in the back – 6.8% ABV
What He Said
“People seem to be getting into the hoppier things and getting a bit more adventuresome with different beers and variety and things like that. It’s fun to be a part of. We’ve gotten into the educational side of things.” —Eric Marshall, owner and brewmaster at Marshall Brewing Company, on the evolution of Oklahoma’s beer scene ■