By Angel Ellis, Reporter
OKMULGEE, Oklahoma —Oklahomans have enjoyed a competitive and robust craft beer brew scene for sometime but they may not realize that one of the emerging brew masters is leading his brand with a purpose that goes beyond selling refreshing beverages to those who love local brew.
Jacob Keyes (Ioway) is the owner and founder of Oklahoma’s only Indigenous owned brewery, the Skydance Brewing Company. Between Keyes and his fiancé and Director of Operations Bobbi Gabler (Mvskoke), the pair have managed to not only create and distribute their brew but they have done it while embodying the principles of Indigenous resiliency.
Keyes story is woven with and represented in Native American elements and he says that he uses craft beer as a way to tell the modern story of Indigenous people.
“Our culture and history is a mystery to a lot of people and is often interpreted the wrong way,” Keyes said. “We are using craft beer to tell our story, we want to show the world that we are a people of today and not just the images they see in history books.”
“That is really what our business is about.”
He first became interested in brewing by spending time with his father who was a home brewer.
“Making craft beer is something that I have always been into,” Keyes said. “My dad would make beer at the house and I would mess with it when he wasn’t paying attention.”
“I’d end up messing up the batch and so he figured he should show me what was really happening so I would know what not to do.”
Keyes says that he was hooked. He even teaches his son, who calls the process magic. It was that special bond with his father that lead to Keyes deciding to go all in on brewing and give up his job working for tribal casinos.
Those who are from an Indigenous back ground may have see distinct elements to the branding that they recognize. But Keyes said for the nonindigenous folks, each brew is an opportunity for a conversation to take place.
One such conversation starter is the Fancy Dance New England Style IPA.
“We all know what a fancy dance is,” Keyes said. “But when non-Natives see fancy dance on a can or on a menu you would be surprised how many people don’t know the connection.”
“So when they come into the tap room, it’s an opportunity for us to tell that story.”
Each of the beers has printed stories on the side of the cans as well. Those wanting to know what a Lighthorse, Mosquito Hawk or a “Rez” Dog is can read and learn the significance.
Even more of a poignant conversation starter is the beer named “Sovereign Nation.”
Never before has that conversation been more important to the Indigenous communities of Oklahoma.
“We have a beer called Sovereign Nation, and why is sovereignty so important to us,” Keyes said. “These are all opportunities for us to talk to people and share our stories.”
“We’ve all lived together in this state and a lot of people still have no idea about what these significant elements of our culture really are, so having people ask a question or mistakenly pronouncing something becomes an opportunity to have that conversation.”
Keyes said he feels that at times in our history because of the climate it was wise to keep things quiet. But he feels there is a need to educate.
“If we are tired of how our culture is misrepresented, whether it is through mascots or something then we need to tell the story the way it is,” Keys said. “To me one of the best ways to reach people is through entrepreneurship, through business.”
Keyes said that he has yet to create a beer that hasn’t lead to a conversation about his culture, language or indigenous foods. He enjoys the research and old recipes that comes with the process. One of the elements of his beers that touch on the indigenous foods is through use of berries.
“I’m always looking for ways of incorporating those old foods into the flavors we make,” Keyes said.
Another reason that Keyes has pursued his passion for craft beers is to show young people its possible to overcome the barriers as an Indigenous person.
“If you don’t see people like you owning a business or doing things, it puts this thing in your head that makes you think you cant really do it,” Keyes said. “For me I grew up in a mobile home in Little Axe Oklahoma and that idea of being a CEO was never going to be me and I think a lot of youth feel that way.”
“There was this system keeping us from being successful, but that doesn’t mean we can’t overcome that.”
He feels that if people can see his brand, hear his story then he can make a difference in people’s mindset.
“If they can see a Native American owned company when they look on the shelves, maybe they will think that if he can do it then I can do it,” Keyes said. “Being in the casino business and being around these CEO’s and their mindset of leadership gave me an eye opening experience.”
“You want to have a dream for something and pursue it, you can do it.”
He said he felt that owning his own business has given him a new perspective on sovereignty.
“Do this has allowed me to be sovereign in my own life,” Keyes said. “Covid has been tough on everyone.”
“Entrepreneurship gives you a freedom.”
He feels that really impacting the quality of life of Native Americans would be to make entrepreneurship an attainable goal.
Keyes has been doing just that. He studied up and started brewing beer out of a co-op facility called the Brewers Union. The Brewers Union, located at 520 North Meridian Avenue, OKC is a workspace for aspiring commercial brewers. It’s a place where brewers can establish a market and grow to stand on their own.
Standing on their own is the next big step for Skydance Brewing. Keyes has announced that he will be building a taproom in automobile alley OKC. Skydance’s taproom is currently under construction and hopes to be welcoming beer lovers to their new location around Feb.-March of 2021.