Beer Review 0525: Prairie Artisan Ales Prairie Noir Imperial Oatmeal Stout

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A brewery based in Oklahoma? Do tell.

Prairie Artisan Ales have been brewing officially for just over a year, but the two brothers that run the company each bring unique experience to the fold. Chase Healy, the head brewer, brewed with Redbud Brewing Company, another Oklahoma based brewery that experimented with wild yeasts and Belgian-style ales. He turned down a brewmaster offer in Texas to hook up with his brother Colin, who is Prairie’s art director. Colin likes to use local imagery on his labels; you see an alarming scene where a pack of wolves are attacking hens on the label of this Imperial Stout.

While the majority of Prairie’s beers are Farmhouse Ales, we’ve gotten hold of something very different. Prairie Noir is an Imperial Oatmeal Stout aged in oak bourbon barrels. Prairie uses a large amount of oats to give the beer a silky mouthfeel. The ABV (alcohol by volume) is 9%. You can expect to see more barrel aged beers coming soon from the brewery, as they have successfully raised the funds needed to open a 100% oak aged facility.

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The pour issued forth a beautiful beer. The head was average size, exceptionally creamy and light tan in color; it lasted atop a dark black beer that was opaque — only a small lighter brown edge found a home at the bottom of the glass. Prairie Noir looked almost like it came from a nitro tap. The beer is so dark that I couldn’t exactly tell about the clarity of the body, but there didn’t appear to be any particles or sediment floating in the beer, although there was a collection of yeast at the bottom of the bottle. Lacing is excellent, leaving behind thin but solid sheets of spider web foam.

Creamy. That’s the initial feeling I got on the nose — this brew is very well blended, with all the scents playing off each other like a perfect symphony. Notes from the barrel hit first, with some charred oak and bourbon, but it’s not strong bourbon, more like vanilla-washed bourbon that has taken a dunk in dark chocolate. Seriously. There’s background players of coffee, caramel, toasted marshmallow, and burnt sugar, along with hints of dark fruits. And it gets even better as it warms, taking on suggestions of cookie dough. Wow!

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On the palate, Prairie Noir is a whirlwind of flavors — dark chocolate collides with coffee, marshmallow fluff, vanilla, and bourbon. I have no idea how long this beer spent in the barrel, but it drinks like it has been in there for years. Really fine stuff; these flavors are deliciously complex, and warming only brings them out even more. Complimented by an extra creamy mouthfeel, the finish fleshes out with delicate appearances of toasted almond, charred oak, burnt brown sugar, and a fresh shot of bourbon. As it warms, the concluding flavors reminded me of Oreo cookies dipped in milk. Holy. Wow. This beer is full-bodied, with a thick, silky mouthfeel.

Two points to note here: not only is this a well-crafted beer, but the barrel aging is to die for. These guys have some serious skills when it comes to using barrels, and I’m glad they got the funding they were after. I’m not sure how fresh this beer is due to no dating on the bottle, but the way the flavors meld together makes it seems like it was expertly aged for several years. If you’re not a lover of bourbon barrel aged beers but dig a fine Imperial Stout, you owe it to yourself to give this brew a shot. It’ll make a believer out of a non-believer! SEND ME MORE!

Prairie Artisan Ales Prairie Noir Imperial Oatmeal Stout, 99 points. Price: This beer was a gift to me, received through a beer club membership I got at Christmas 2012.

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