For the Love of Booze

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Jeff Merritt’s Prairie Wolf whiskey hit store shelves in October. Photo by Brent Fuchs.
Jeff Merritt’s Prairie Wolf whiskey hit store shelves in October. Photo by Brent Fuchs.

It’s not enough to simply imbibe fine liquor, wine or beer these days. The national trend is to appreciate your hooch with the palate of a connoisseur – and if it is crafted nearby and the purveyors are easy to chat up, then all the better.

“We loved what was happening in Oklahoma with all of the new restaurants [and] breweries,” says Jeff Merritt of Prairie Wolf Spirits in Guthrie. “We had seen craft distilling catching on in different parts of the country and wanted to bring that same energy to Oklahoma and be a part of the renaissance.”

For Jeff Thurmon, mastering home-brewed beer came first. Now he’s going nationwide with Moore-based Twister Distillery and his newest product, Success Vodka.

“My father brewed beer in our home and I grew up with a desire to make better beer than dear old dad,” Thurmon says. “I managed to do so, but overdid it as my friends were drinking me out of house and home.”

Thurmon eventually made a business from his distilling skills. He allied with Texas distillery owner Tito Beveridge on a four-year journey of discovery in mastering the spirits-making process. This hard-won expertise put him in the right place at the right time when Alvin Philipose, a chiropractor in Oklahoma City, sought a distiller for his pet project, the first legal distillery in Oklahoma. Thurmon and Philipose’s Success brand has won a gold medal at The Fifty Best competition in New York and holds a five-star rating among tasters at VodkaBuzz.com.

Prairie Wolf Ranch is named for famed artist John James Audubon’s 19th-century paintings of coyotes, which he called “prairie wolves.” It’s home to the Merritt family’s distillery. From this headquarters, in a quick three years, Prairie Wolf Spirits have spread to more than 1,000 Oklahoma locations and beyond. The line began with Prairie Wolf Vodka and expanded to include Loyal Gin, named for the town of Loyal, Oklahoma, and rated second highest on Tastings.com. A big fan favorite is DARK All-Natural Coffee Liqueur, which, unlike the better-known Kahlua, is the only all-natural coffee liqueur around. Plus, M Whiskey hit the shelves in October.

Quirky and some would say antiquated, Oklahoma liquor laws are a challenge, both Merritt and Thurmon say.

“This industry is new to the state, so it has been a little difficult getting answers on exactly what we can and cannot do,” Merritt says. “We would love to do tastings like breweries and wineries can, but for some unknown reason the state won’t allow it. Our business is growing quickly, though, and we see the laws loosening up in the future.”

Thurmon says branding is a continuing concern as many different brands battle for shelf-space. With the ever-growing interest in regionally produced liquor, word of mouth is increasing and every time someone requests a beloved beverage at a liquor store, bar or restaurant, the orders from distributors increase. This grassroots growth has also resulted in Success Vodka soon being available at casinos around the state. Twister Distillery’s offerings, including a new bourbon in the coming months, will also continue to expand.

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