With our headquarters in Washington DC and the bulk of our correspondents found near America’s top producing craft beer regions on the coasts, it only makes sense for us to start a new series giving all the states their due, featuring breweries large and small, plus the histories behind them.
For the sake of clarity and with an eye toward avoiding any bias, we’re doing this thing alphabetically. We’ve apparently swilled our way to the 36th state on our list, The Sooner State, Oklahoma. The nickname comes from the opening of the state’s “Indian Territory,” in 1889, to settlers. Those planning to settle were to await a signal before claiming their land, but many rushed in early, going sooner, hence the name.
Oklahoma ranks 28th in total population (just under 4 million), is ranked 35th in population density and houses 14 craft breweries as of2015 (an increase of 4 since 2011) who are represented by the Oklahoma Craft Brewers Guild. The state ranks 46th in total breweries (including D.C.) and 50th in breweries per capita as of 2015, according to the Brewers Association.
For a state so steeped in Native American history, it only makes sense that the first beers brewed were concocted by the first tribe removed from another location and resettled, the Choctaw. In September of 1830, the Choctaw Nation signed the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek, the first removal treaty signed following passage of the Indian Removal Act, moving them from 11 million acres in central Mississippi to roughly 7 million acres in the Southeastern corner of Oklahoma.
The homebrewed concoction, now known as Choc Beer, was defined in an 1894 report to Congress as a “compound of barley, hops, tobacco, fishberries, and a small amount of alcohol.” The is the only instance of brewing within the state in the early years, primarily because when the state was admitted to the union in 1907, it adopted the prohibition of alcohol in its constitution.
While the state was the 18th to officially sign the 18th Amendment in 1919, it also happened to be the same year an Italian immigrant Pietro Piegari began brewing Choc Beer, satiating local coal miners in the process. His establishment became so successful that he opened a restaurant, Pete’s Place, in 1925. While he continued to cook his special brew throughout Prohibition, he also served two jail terms as a result.
In 1933, residents voted to approve a referendum to legalize 3.2% beer, then in 1934, a young Czech brewer named John Kroutil started Progress Brewing, becoming the first legally brewed beer (3.2%) in Oklahoma. The in 1859, the state completed the repeal of Prohibition and created an Alcohol Control Board, allowing for the distillation and sale of hard alcohol. That same year, Progress Brewing was sold and rebranded as Lone Star Beer, until 1974.
Today Choc Beer is the founding cornerstone of Kreb’s Brewing Company, a title synonymous with Choc Beer and Pete’s Place, but they also own and brew most of the offerings by Prairie Artisan Ales, acquired in June of 2016. Choc remains the only brewery in the state to have medalled at GABF, with a total of 2.
4 More Oklahoma Breweries We Like and You Should Check Out
American Solera (Tulsa) – Open not even a year, this side-project of Prairie Ales brewer Chase Healey has already been awarded Best New Brewery for 2016 by ratebeer. Focusing exclusively on oak aged styles and predominantly spontaneous fermented ales, Chase is less concerned about total production, but more about giving each style time to mature till ideal. They’ve already created over 30 styles including their delicious Foeder Cerise and Brett C, a saison brewed with Citra, Cascade, sea salt and brettanomyces.
COOP Ale Works (Oklahoma City) – Opening their doors in March of2009, the name is derived not only from their cooperative efforts in the community, but also as an homage to those who create and repair wooden barrels, coopers. Best known for their Alpha Hive Double IPA featuring orange blossom honey and their F5 IPA, they’ve created over 30 styles from Berliner Weisse to Quadrupel.
Marshall Brewing (Tulsa) – Fast becoming a popular local brewer after opening in 2008, Marshall’s founder and brewmaster Eric Marshall honed his skills in Germany and takes pride in the brewery’s strong beers. While their Atlas IPA is well-regarded, they’re also known for their top-rated Big Jamoke Porter and El CuCuy India-Style Black Ale. A stalwart of the Tulsa scene, Marshall is not to be missed.
Prairie Artisan Ales (Tulsa, Oklahoma City, McAlister) – Founded in 2012 by Colin and the aforementioned Chase Healey, Prairie is the best known Oklahoma brewery outside the confines of the state. Known for their big, barrel aged stouts (and numerous seasonal variants), and their funky, crisp farmhouse ales, Prairie was named one of ratebeer’s Top 100 Brewers in the world for 2016. While they were purchased by Krebs/Choc last summer, they’ve contract brewed with them for years and fans can expect no changes to their amazing offerings.