From Prague to Tulsa to our capital city, meet the master brewers who reign over Oklahoma's hops and barley.
BY NANCY WOODARD
PHOTOGRAPHS BY DAVID CRENSHAW
OKLAHOMA'S FAVORITE SON once quipped that his fellow Oklahomans would vote dry as long as they could stagger to the polls. Will Rogers' jokes always had an air of truth to them, and this one was no exception. Oklahomans' attitudes about alcohol have always been contradictory--sometimes outlandishly so. At the turn of the century, breweries and saloons dotted Oklahoma Territory, but liquor was illegal in Indian Territory. Oklahoma entered the union as a dry state in 1907 (the only one ever to do so), yet for decades moonshine was one of southeastern Oklahoma's biggest exports. In 1910 such contradictions drove the Vinita Weekly Chieftain to write, "Prohibition in Oklahoma is the rankest farce that ever cursed a state... When there are thousands of bootleggers traveling up and down the country... When the streets of every town smell of whiskey... Prohibition in Oklahoma? Ye Gods, what a farce."
Oklahoma was always a tad more tolerant about beer. It became legal in 1933 to buy 3.2 beer in Oklahoma--but only because legislators deemed it a nonintoxicating beverage. (It took another twenty-six years for prohibition to end in the Sooner State. Even today one Alcoholic Beverage Laws Enforcement staffer observed, "It's easier to tell you which counties have liquor by the drink than which don't.")
In 1992, beer was limited to mass-produced brands like Coors and the occasional import; elsewhere, however, brewmasters began making one-of-a-kind brews, and the brewpubs built on those brews have become a signature of the Nineties. (Some 533 brewpubs now exist nationwide.) Three and a half years ago, Oklahoma entered the fray. At last count, eight brewpubs, two small bottled beer companies, and two microbreweries were either open or planning to open, and the state had logged some firsts: we're home to one of the largest brewpubs in the U.S. and one of the first publicly held. Now we introduce you to the brewmasters who hope to prove to us that quality--not quantity--is what ultimately counts in a 3.2 beer.
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