Sterling Wright

Sterling Wright stacks beer at Mary's Liquor Store in Tahlequah.

TAHLEQUAH, Okla. — Lagers, stouts, pale ales, India Pale Ales, porter, sours - the world of craft beer is diverse in flavor and character.

Some beer lovers like dark, chocolate stouts; some enjoy light blonde ales; and others fancy hoppy IPAs. And some beer gourmands appreciate all of the flavors. With spring underway and the first day of summer around the corner, liquor stores are expecting customers to start picking up lighter, fruity beers.

"A lot of your favorite companies like New Belgium and Flying Dog are going to be releasing summer beers for the season," said Sterling Wright, beer manager at Mary's Liquor Store. "So be on the lookout for those."

Many summer beers are concoctions including fruit. A shandy is typically beer mixed with a clear, lemon-flavored beverage, while radlers are a mixture of beer and citrus juice or soda. Wright said his favorite is the Mango American Kolsch by Clown Shoes.

"A kolsch is very similar to a pale ale, predominately made with pale malt," said Wright. "I believe it uses more white wheat or Belgian wheat in the beer, which is what turns it into a kolsch. [Clown Shoe's Mango Kolsch] being an American kolsch, it's probably going to be more American wheat-heavy."

Kolschs are typically light and relatively sweet pale ales, but not as sweet as a shandy or radler. Wright said beer drinkers are starting to become more open to new flavors. IPAs were long revered as beverages with extreme bitterness and hopiness, but brewers are discovering that uniquely flavored, citrusy IPAs are attracting more people.

"We also just got Elk Valley in, which is an Oklahoma City brewery," said Wright. "The Magic Juice [an Elk Valley Brewing product], since I've brought that in, has been flying off the shelf. It's a double IPA with citrus flavors. You can't go wrong with it."

To further expand the evolution of the IPAs, hazy IPAs - or New England IPAs - have become all the rage as of late. Brewers add lactose to the beer to create a cloudy, or hazy, effect in the beer. Essentially, a hazy IPA has all the flavors and hop aroma that comes with an IPA, but without the bitter ending.

Thomas McKinney, owner of Rum Runners in Tahlequah, said his favorite hazy IPA is the Everything Rhymes with Orange (ERWO) by Roughtail Brewing.

"Everything Rhymes With Orange is my standard go-to," he said. "I don't think I buy any other beer as religiously as I do that one."

Another way to describe hazy IPAs, or New England IPAs, is unfiltered. And as the craft beer industry continues to experiment with new variations, IPAs are tightening the grip and stranglehold the style has on the beer market.

McKinney said Dabble, by Sixpoint Brewery, has mosaic, Idaho 7, and Cashmere hops, which are his favorite.

"The easiest description for me is that its not bitter," said McKinney. "The IBUs are probably like 20, so super-low. It's still an IPA, but it's like drinking juicy fruit."

Another trending style of brew involves sours, which range in flavor and taste. Some describe the taste as having a tartness, and not so much a sour, candy-like flavor. Too many sours can leave people with an acidic aftertaste, but for the most part are enjoyed for their sweet and refreshing qualities. If people happen to come across a gose, it might be advantageous to know that it lies within the sour family.

One recently released sour by Prairie Artisan Ales, Rainbow Sherbet, hit the shelves at Rum Runners and has now been devoured, although fans might be able to find it in other locations.

While not always popular in the summertime, as they're mostly thought of as strong, creamy, dark brews, stouts are a common style appreciated by many.

But they don't always have the pungent, murky flavor associated with them.

The Daily Press asked its readers which type of craft beer they prefer on its Facebook Saturday Forum, and Jason Santana wrote that stouts are his favorite.

"The best I've ever had is from here in Oklahoma," wrote Santana. "Praise Bomb from Prairie Artisan Ales. It has ruined all other stouts for me; nothing else even comes close. Best out of the tap, but out of the bottle and in room temperature glass, it's great, too."

The IBUs associated with a beer are also important. IBU stands for International Bitterness Units. Depending on the style, beer can be made with hundreds of IBUS or very little. However, at some point, the number of IBUs in brew becomes a non-factor.

"After 105 IBUs, your palate cannot pick any more up," said McKinney. "That's the highest bitter unit that your tongue can take, but I've had beers that are 125 IBUs."

While the craft beer scene is slowly expanding throughout northeastern Oklahoma, some people still prefer the American standards, like Coors and Budweiser, or no beer at all. This is evidenced by the fact that out of 45 respondents to a Daily Press online poll, asking readers how often they drink beer, 25 responded never, and 12 responded very rarely.


Crawford writes for Tahlequah Daily Press, a CNHI News Service publication.

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