Barrels and Mash Field Trip: Prairie Wolf Spirits

Picture this: it’s early Saturday afternoon, it’s a three day weekend, Kate and I have nothing to do until later in the evening, and Justin has to kill some time while his wife has a girls-only baby shower. What a perfect day to make a trip up to Guthrie to hang out with the guys behind Prairie Wolf Spirits! We’ve been meaning to make this trip since we started this website thing last year, but people are busy and schedules can be hard, but we finally did it.

Prairie Wolf has become quite the thing around these parts. Bottles of Prairie Wolf Vodka with brilliant blue and orange labels can be seen at pretty much every bar that is worth visiting. Prairie Dark Liqueur is finding itself in more and more delicious coffee-themed cocktails around the metro. Then there’s Loyal Gin, which is getting serious national attention by winning medals in competitions and getting nods on websites like Playboy and Wine Enthusiast.

All that buzz is coming from a small one-room distillery nestled in the middle of Guthrie, Oklahoma. An unassuming building in the heart of downtown is home to a Carl copper pot still, a tiny mad-scientist’s pilot system, bottle storage, and a magical corner filled with barrels that we’ll get to in a little bit. Prairie Wolf was founded in 2013 by the Merritt family as a way to fill the gap in distilleries in the central part of the country. The distillery was named for a painting by John James Audubon, a lithograph of which hangs in Hunter Merritt’s home, where a Coyote is described as a “Prairie Wolf”. Brothers Hunter and Blake comprise the two-man team running the show here, and spending a couple of hours with them on a blazing hot July afternoon was a great way to start a long holiday weekend.

When we arrived the still was hard at work making one of Prairie Wolf’s flagship products, Loyal Gin. Loyal is made by distilling a base spirit comprised of Prairie Wolf Vodka and running it through a series of botanicals. The gin includes classic botanicals like Cardamom, Coriander, and Juniper berries, but what helps this spirit stand apart is the Gunpowder Green Tea sourced from the nice folks over at Urban Teahouse in Oklahoma City. Loyal is receiving quite a bit of attention in the national market, and while not generally gin drinkers ourselves, we can confidently say that it’s one of the few that all three of us seek out. Its balance and the uniqueness due to that green tea really serve to squash the typical gin bitterness and overly-floral profile that normally reminds me of that time in 2007 when Colorado beat OU and I got completely blitzed on Gin and Tonics and started a small fire in my driveway. That was a terrible day. This gin is much better than that day was. Anyways, Hunter and Blake will be taking that award winning gin to the next level soon finishing it in some of the barrels they have sitting around. That’ll be damn good.

So, let’s talk more about those barrels and the best things that can possibly come out of them, whiskey! Just over two years ago Prairie Wolf purchased some new make (clear, un-aged whiskey) and placed it in some level 5 char barrels. For those of you who aren’t super whiskey nerds, level 5 is big time. Most distilleries rock a level 3 char, and a couple of them brag if they use level 4 (also known as “alligator char” due to the appearance of the wood), but we are talking level 5 here which will surely impart some great smokey and deep oak notes to the spirit. Of those super-charred barrels, half contain a whiskey with a Rye mash bill of 80% rye, 10% corn, and 10% barley, and the other half a Bourbon mash bill of 60% corn, 20% wheat, 10% rye, and 10% barley. The final release, which should hit the shelves sometime in the September – October time frame, will be a blend of these two whiskeys, paying homage to a favorite of the Merritt brothers, High West Bourye (also a Bourbon-Rye blend). Since liquor laws are terrible and take the fun out of everything, we weren’t able to try any of said whiskey, but Hunter gave us a sneak peek of how the stuff looks and based on the appearance alone it seems to be coming along quite nicely. If I had to guess I would expect some great fruit and pepper notes from that rye, soft sweet notes from the wheated Bourbon, and a decent dose of smokey vanilla and cloves from those barrels. We’ll be watching for this stuff to hit stores and we’ll be sure to write up a full review as soon as that happens. Also, once those barrels are bottled they will be re-filled with some 3 year old Irish whiskey which will endure some extra aging in Guthrie and eventually become the first Oklahoma-released Irish Whiskey.

Typically we would end on that note, a delicious Bourbon-Rye blend and Irish Whiskey coming out our home state. But no! There is one more thing to discuss, and it got all three of us incredibly excited.  Prairie Wolf has been talking to a couple of local brewers (some of our favorite people) and will be launching a series of distilled beers! That’s right, distilled beers, often called bier schnapps from right here in central OK. Kate and I have a few of bottles of “whiskey” made from beer in our collection right now (two from Charbay and one from Feisty), and they are a ton of fun to break out during a tasting, especially for beer fans.  So the thought of local beer distilled by a local distillery really got us all fired up. The first release will be a distilled brew from our friends over at Roughtail Brewing, and that pilot system I mentioned up top was used to distill their entire line of beers with Hoptometrist Double IPA producing the spirit that reigned supreme. We don’t know what this series will be called yet, but we do know that the first batch of distilled Hoptometrist should be out sometime early next year and will hopefully be followed by batches of other local brews. The first batch will be un-aged, but Hunter hinted at the possibility of barrel aging in the future, and honestly we can’t wait to see what these guys come up with. Like the other Prairie Wolf releases, we’ll stay on top of this one and will be sure to take it for a spin as soon as it comes out.

Thank you to Hunter and Blake for hosting our little visit, letting us take some pictures (check out the gallery below), and allowing us to bug them while they were hard at work pumping out some of the Loyal Gin that is putting them on the national spirit map. We are looking forward to drinking everything thing these guys come up with, and if you want to visit the distillery yourself, check out their Facebook page for announcements of upcoming tours and workshops.

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