John Klein: Hop Jam brews up craft beer entrepreneurs with Hanson

By | May 21, 2017

Tulsa World

There is nothing that has been overlooked by Cabin Boys Brewery. Nothing.

“We even felled the tree near the Catoosa cabin to build the furniture for our brewery,” said Austin McIlroy, one-half of the Cabin Boys.

“I went back to school to get the business knowledge while Austin was getting the brewing knowledge,” said Ryan Arnold, the other half of the Cabin Boys.

Then, there is Lisa McIlroy, wife of Austin, who said, “I was excited because everything about this project excited the guys.”

The Cabin Boys Brewery is in the midst of its coming-out party, two major craft beer festivals in Oklahoma over the past week.

Cabin Boys had five different beers for tasting at Sunday’s Hop Jam, Tulsa’s downtown music and beer festival.

Hop Jam is Oklahoma’s largest craft beer and music festival and featured more than 65 brewers with more than 200 beers.

Hanson, an iconic Tulsa pop rock band for the past 25 years, headlined Hop Jam on Sunday night.

Hanson soared to fame 20 years ago with its smash hit “MMMbop”.

Hanson — brothers Isaac, Taylor and Zac — were inducted into the Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame prior to their Hop Jam performance.

It is the start of a 25th anniversary tour for Hanson that is scheduled through late fall. Hanson was founded in 1992 when the brothers were 11, 9 and 6.

They initially built a loyal local fan base playing at Mayfest.

Hop Jam’s Hanson performance was less than two blocks from the Mayfest stage that is generally credited as the birthplace of the band’s local popularity.

Hanson founded Hop Jam four years ago as an opportunity to showcase local brewers.

Since then, craft beers have mushroomed in popularity in Oklahoma as laws have been changed to accommodate the industry.

The Cabin Boys are just the latest major craft beer project unveiled in the state. They have started renovation on a 9,000-square-foot building on the corner of Utica Avenue and Seventh Street in Tulsa. Plans call for a bar area with windows that overlook the brewing and bottling operation.

It all grew out of some experimental home brew in Jenks about five years ago.

“I told Austin he needed a hobby other than Netflix,” said Lisa. “So, he went and got a home brew kit and started making beer. Literally, that’s the way it started.

“Honestly, it was pretty good. That was sort of eye-opening for both Austin and Ryan.”

Still, they were all living lives that did not include a brewery. Lisa, an artist, was teaching. Austin was in finance.

Hanging out at a family cabin near Catoosa, McIlroy and Arnold, friends since high school, started talking about a wild idea.

Could they actually make a business out of brewing beer?

“It was kind of out there but we kept talking about until we realized that maybe this could be a serious deal,” said Arnold.

One problem. They did not have the expertise needed. Arnold was just back from two tours of duty with the U.S. Marines in Afghanistan. The McIlroys were scheduled for an upcoming job assignment in Japan to teach English.
“We just figured if we were going to do it we had to be serious about it,” said McIlroy. “I had to go get the basic brewing knowledge we needed. Ryan had to go get the business knowledge.”

So, Arnold went off to the University of Oklahoma to get a degree in entrepreneurship. McIlroy earned a master brewer designation at the World Brewing Academy in Chicago and Munich.

Lisa McIlroy was working on marketing, artistic and other projects.

A year ago, it was time.

“It was time to sit down and make sure we had covered every last little detail and then go get the financing we need,” said Arnold. “We needed to do our due diligence and make sure we had thought out and covered every last detail of or plan.”

Done. Construction is underway and word is spreading among craft beer fans in Oklahoma who have tasted their beers.

Arnold still works at a church and McIlroy is a brewer at Elgin Park. Lisa McIlroy works at Pinot’s Palette, a wine and painting party business.

They hope to open the brewery and bar in the fall.

“We still need jobs,” said McIlroy. “But, we’re spending a lot of time down here at our building. The plans are done.

“Now, it is just a matter of turning everything we’ve learned into reality.”

And, that includes the furniture.