As Texans have enjoyed the steady flourishing of native craft beers in the wake of the reformation of the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission’s regulations, increasing numbers of breweries have begun sending their offerings across the Red River. It may surprise some that Oklahoma—a place where, as Conan O’Brien once noted, even the state has a mullet—has produced some of the most adventurous beers of the past year. Nonetheless, it appears that the Sooner State is also entering a brewing boom.
The operation most familiar to San Antonio beer freaks is Tulsa-based Prairie Artisan Ales. While some of their flavor profiles are familiar—the oaky molasses and sheer black thickness of the Prairie Noir Imperial Stout goes all in on the bourbon-barrel-aging rage—brothers/brewmasters Colin and Chase Healey mostly make beer like the Flaming Lips make records: born of unorthodox ingredients, bestowed inscrutable names and decorated with colorfully surreal pictures. The JFJO Jazz Millions Farmhouse IPA marries a piney hop bite to a saison’s yeasty funk. It is a welcome departure from conventional IBU (International Bittering Units, or a beer’s actual bitterness) endurance contests and, with some tweaking of the ratios, could become the first anti-imperial IPA. Prairie’s most extreme offering, Bomb!, is an imperial stout aged with cacao, vanilla beans, ancho chiles and coffee, resulting in a 13 percent ABV monster that does a kaleidoscopic number on one’s taste buds and finishes with the slightly electrifying numbness I’d only ever experience with Szechuan peppercorns. Even when their experiments overreach, as they do with the dry-hopped sour ale Funky Gold Mosaic (it tastes and smells like someone dropped alkaline batteries in the fermenter), they do so in an admirably singular way.
Down I-44 in Oklahoma City, COOP Ale Works reins in the wildness a bit but still leaves Oklahoma’s notorious low-alcohol lagers in the dust. COOP’s F5 IPA is a solid West Coast-style IPA, with citrusy, grapefruit-tinged hops and a bold and substantial body that finishes with resin-y stickiness. Their DNR Dark Ale features a toe-tagged stiff on the label, and with good reason. It goes down deceptively easy, sharing some vanilla notes with Prairie’s Bomb! and adding fruit-derived complexity, but 22.5 ounces of this 10 percent ABV Belgian is enough to reduce the hardiest Okie to knee-walking status.
Mmmhops Pale Ale comes with what is probably the strangest backstory of any alcohol I have ever encountered. As the reader may surmise, Mmmhops is an offering from Tulsa’s Hanson Brothers Beer Company—they of “MMMBop” fame—which appears to have been brewed as a tie-in to The Hangover III (“MMMBop” is on the soundtrack) and continuing sales at Hanson gigs. The beer itself, while passable, is not nearly as unusual as its origin story.
Both Prairie and COOP are widely available at H-E-B, Spec’s and Twin Liquors locations. Mmmhops Pale Ale can be purchased at wineandcheeseplace.com (or, if the reader is so inclined, can be followed at its anthropomorphic Twitter handle, @Mmmhopsbeer).
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