Thursday, August 15, 2013

AN INTERVIEW WITH CHASE HEALEY OF PRAIRIE ARTISAN ALES

First, it was the bottles. They were lovely, and they promised all manner of liquid nirvana once consumed. Wait a minute - Oklahoma? These barrel-aged saisons and wild ales are from Oklahoma?. Then, it was the reviews. PRAIRIE ARTISAN ALES, only a mere months after launching their first few bottles, were the talk of the RateBeer and Beer Advocate rating boards and online jabber-fests. Simply put, they were blowing everyone away. Finally, it was the beer. That sealed it. I have loved every drop & dollop of Prairie beer to pass my lips so far, giving top-drawer reviews to Prairie Hop, Bomb!, Prairie Ale and Prairie Standard. Those are just the ones I've had so far. I know there are other whoppers out there, lurking and calling for a rapid opening of my wallet.

I figured it was time to grab Prairie's head brewer Chase Healey for an interview before Bon Appetit and Food & Wine got to him first. Thanks to Chase for agreeing to a session with Beer Samizdat, and for subjecting himself to our rigorous written Q&A method.

BEER SAMIZDAT: You and your brother Colin have been brewing since your teens as I understand it, and it seems like you're already Oklahoma brewing royalty. What drew the both of you into making your own beer?

Chase: Royalty is pretty generous, but we'll take it. We have always been around better beer. A good friend's dad was in the local homebrew club so we were inspired early by all the cool equipment. I started getting serious about beer in college which launched into a career. Colin has always focused on his art, it just kinda worked out. 

BEER SAMIZDAT: What made you start barrel-aging your early beers, rather than follow the typical brewery path of making an IPA and a blonde ale and a porter?

Chase: I've been in this industry for about 5 years now, so I've been down that path before. For me, I didn't feel a need to brew beers that others in the area were already making great examples of. We like making beers that are fun to brew and exciting to try. Doing this, we don't encroach on classic styles and staples in other markets.

BEER SAMIZDAT:  Prairie has deservedly garnered a ton of kudos and a large number of fans in a very short period of time. I'm assuming YOU knew your beer was good, but did you expect that so many other people would agree so quickly?

Chase: I knew I could make beers people would like to drink, I think most brewers can do this. To be honest, I think it took my brother's input to take things over the top. I had worked on another brand prior to Prairie that was liked, but didn't connect with people like Prairie has.

BEER SAMIZDAT:  You can imagine that it was something of a surprise for a craft beer from a new brewer in Oklahoma to show up on shelves where I live, in San Francisco. How did your arrangement with Shelton Brothers come about? Did they just taste the beer and say - "wow"?

Chase: A beer I brewed 2 years ago called Cuvee Three piqued their interest. The idea was that when the time was right, we would move on things. It's a true honor that they decided to carry our beer. I've respected the beers they sell for a long time.

BEER SAMIZDAT: What is it about the saison that's so special to you guys and to Prairie? Were you nervous brewing different variations on this style – that people might not respond to multiple version of what is a pretty virgin style in the United States?

Chase: I think brewing farmhouse style beers identify with where we come from pretty well. Its hot, so the beers should be dry and refreshing, and lets face it, we are surrounded by farms. Farmhouse beers are a new idea to people overall, but for us, its more of a style of brewing over a style of beer. So its pretty exciting how many different beers we can brew. If it doesn't work, we will fail.

BEER SAMIZDAT:  What's behind your announced move away from 750ml bottles into smaller sizes? I imagine that there are both revenue and marketability considerations when this is done (Almanac Beer here in San Francisco are doing this as well; Russian River did it a few years ago), but are there other reasons as well?

Chase: More than anything, corking and caging beers is hard and labor intensive. A smaller package allows us to fill 33% more bottles and lower the price on the shelf. We will cork and cage bottles in our small brewery, but we wanted to use the 500ml bottle to allow more people to try our beers. 500ml is cool because its large enough to share, but small enough to drink on your own.

BEER SAMIZDAT: You guys have brewed as "gypsies" for a couple of years, and are now settling into your own space. How is the move into your new facility in Tulsa going, and what prompted you to end your gypsy ways?

Chase: To be clear, we have been selling beer for 10 months now. The plan has always been to have our own brewery, we just didn't want to sell our souls to do it. We own 100% of our company and I wouldn't have it any other way. The gypsy method is a tough deal. Most breweries don't have the time or space to mess with it, we are lucky to have great friends in the industry.

BEER SAMIZDAT: Finally, what do you guys drink beyond your own stuff? Do you have, say, five favorite masterpiece beers that you'd recommend for Beer Samizdat readers to explore and try?

Chase:
1. Live Oak Pils
2. Crooked Stave Vieille Saison
3. Sante Adarius Rustic Ales Anais
4. Jolly Pumpkin La Roja
5. Saint Somewhere Lectio Divina

2 comments:

Barleywhiner said...

Really wish we could get this stuff in KC. We're practically next door. We aren't getting anything from Shelton Bros. because of some legal battle.

Jay Hinman said...

Ouch. That hurts. Well, maybe over the border in Kansas? It's truly amazing beer.