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A Blast from the Prairie

Why beer from Oklahoma is worth caring about

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When fans of good craft beer think about great places for the beverage of their choice, a few international hotspots come to mind. Germany. Belgium. The great city of Bend.

Tulsa, Okla., would not be atop anyone's list, except for people exceptionally attuned to local beer scenes across the U.S. That's thanks in part to the state's authentically heartland-of-America beer laws, which only allow places including supermarkets and gas stations to sell "low-point" beer, no more than 3.2 percent alcohol by weight (about 4 percent ABV). Anything else, including wines and stronger beers, must be sold at a licensed liquor store, and only at room temperature. (Oklahoma consumes the most low-point beer of any US state—it's 85 percent of the market share, accordingto the "Tulsa World.")

However, as states such as Texas have shown, not even the most conservative state legislator can resist the siren call of alcohol tax revenue. In 2016, the state passed laws that allowed breweries to sell beer directly to consumers at their taprooms, and the 3.2 percent restriction on retail sale will be gradually phased out in 2018. And much of this revitalization is thanks to Tulsa-based Prairie Artisan Ales, founded by Chase and Colin Healey in 2012 with $20,000 of Kickstarter money.

PRAIRIE ARTISAN ALES
  • Prairie Artisan Ales

Thanks to a long-term relationship with craft distributor Shelton Brothers, Prairie—which has downtown taproom locations in Tulsa and Oklahoma City—has become widely known beyond the borders of its home state. Selections including Hop, Ace, and 'Merica have been turning heads in Portland for a while, thanks to the delicate hop/yeast balances and the Belgian character that pervades throughout. (Colin Healey's line-oriented label art, evocative and often parodying the Midwest life, also turns heads at beer-store shelves.)

Now Prairie beer is beginning to be seen in Central Oregon tapwalls more often, and with the weather how it is, there's no better time to bask fully in one of their flagships.

Prairie Bomb!, clocking in at around 13 percent, is an imperial stout aged on coffee, cacao nibs, vanilla beans and ancho chili peppers.

It's made it into RateBeer's list of the world's top 100 beers for three years running, and despite that monumental ABV, it doesn't taste particularly boozy at all. The peppers provide just enough heat to mask it, complementing the coffee/chocolate one-two punch in a delightfully warming way.

Those who get addicted to Bomb! during its current run on Bend taps will also want to keep an eye out for the many variants Prairie releases through the years. Birthday Bomb! adds caramel sauce to the mix for a dessert-y finish, Christmas Bomb! throws in a blend of wintry spices for more of a latte style finish, and Pe-Kan (sadly, OK-only) uses toasted pecans, rivalled only by hazelnuts in the realm of great dark-ale ingredients.


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