Prairie Ales

It was 4am as I walked up to the airlines departure desk. Just as expected, it was just me and a few other weary travelers standing there. With great calm and without looking up from the monitor, the women stated, “You've missed this flight but we’ll get you on the next one. It leaves in three hours.”

I had it all planned, an extra early departure, rental car, planned route, a hotel in Tulsa, OK. That was until I heard those dreadful words. Que the ominous soundtrack.

Click the map image to get the Google Map directions

Click the map image to get the Google Map directions

I'm gonna Kansas City…  I had a trip planned to the Midwest and for days before I could be heard singing that out loud with Wilbert Harrison or The Beatles. The Beatles did actually perform there in 1964. This is the place of Boulevard Brewing and I was going to be there. I had decided to expand my trip to include a wider route through Arkansas and Oklahoma before ending up in Manhattan Kansas.

I learned that morning that at the Baltimore-Washington International airport (BWI), your baggage has to be checked in at least 45 minutes before the scheduled departure. And I always bring a carry-on so I can bring my bottled treasures back home. I’d missed it only by minutes, but those were precious minutes — that turned into hours.

Wait, perhaps I can still make America Solera in Tulsa before their 9pm closing. If things work perfectly. Yes, it was still possible.

Oh the things your mind can make you believe when you want it to. I certainly had time to update my plan with the shifted schedule. The flight to Chicago went off without a problem. I made it to the gate of my connecting flight… to learn it has been delayed. A mechanical issue with the plane. It was just 20 minutes, no problem. Oh, what, further delay. What, they have to bring in another plane? More ominous music plays. I need to change this soundtrack.

 

I did have (past tense now) it all planned like clockwork. Early flight—4am—rental car, Boulevard, Arkansas, then off to Tulsa OK and American Solera before 9. Oklahoma City was the next morning, Wichita and up to Manhattan KS as my resting place that evening. Then my connection flight in Chicago was delayed for three hours by a malfunctioning plane. Okay, so what did fait have in store for me from the unexpected delay? But first, Boulevard.

Kansas City MO

Boulevard Brewing

For me, Boulevard Brewing has been a legendary brewery to ever since I first tasted their Tank 7 American Saison Ale. I expected this would be my favorite brewery stop during my trip, but there was an unexpected rival.

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Boulevard Beer Hall

Tours & Recreation… and beer. Sounds like a great combination.

I finally got off the plane, did the rental car dance, and I was off to find Boulevard Brewing.

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Boulevard Beer Hall

This vintage design greets you as you ready to enter the Boulevard taproom.

There it was, the Boulevard Beer Hall and the icon smokestack. As I walked up the steps and through the front door, I was greeted by the very enthusiastic receptionist. She gave me a quick rundown of the place. I mentioned that I was from Maryland—that sometimes creates a connection and conversation—and that I would be traveling to Manhattan KS. She told me that while she worked at Boulevard, her boyfriend had worked at Tallgrass Brewery in Manhattan, the largest brewery in Kansas, but alas they were closing. She then directed me to checkout the experimental taps bar at the top of the stairs and to the right.

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Experimental Taps

This is the bar to visit if you want to taste beers you maybe familiar with and just a bit more. View the Whiskey Barrel-Aged Imperial Stout with Raspberries 10.5% ABV.

The beer menu at the experimental taps bar looked great, a place I could spend some time and do some real beer tasting, ah, research. I ordered the barrel-aged stout with raspberries and mentioned that I was from Baltimore. That got the barkeeps attention since the Baltimore Ravens were playing the Kansas City Chiefs that day, in Kansas City, while we were speaking… and that they were tied in overtime. He had poured my stout for free and threatened to remove its “free” status if the Ravens had won. A bit later he informed me that the Chiefs were victorious. While I wasn't excited that my Ravens had lost, it did gain me a stout on-the-house. Perhaps a sympathetic nod, but an appreciated one.

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The Main Bar

At the Boulevard Beer Hall you can choose from 30 beers. Oh, yes!

The Boulevard taproom is large with two floors, bright, spacious and modern while being in a vintage building. The main bar has a large selection of Boulevard beers on tap, but most of the patrons were over at the experimental bar.

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Iconic Vintage Logo

This vintage logo represents the Boulevard Smokestack Series is proudly displayed in a room just off the main tasting room.

I had an ambitious schedule to attempt and only could afford only a few moments at Boulevard. A quick visit to the merch shop for a souvenir shirt and a couple of beery treasures to bring home, and I was on the road to my next state — Arkansas.

Kansas City Breweries

If life is too short, my day certainly was. While Boulevard is the largest of the Kansas City breweries, as expected for a town of this size, it is not the only one. A 2016 Riverfront Times article declared there to be 7 Must-Visit Kansas City Breweries, including Boulevard, plus Stockyards Brewing, Cinder Block Brewery, The Big Rip Brewing, Crane Brewing, Martin City Brewing, and Kansas City Bier Co.

I keep this thought from Hemingway in my mind when I'm at a place where I really want to linger and enjoy the moment. But, I know I need to move on, there is a next place. I knew I couldn't take in all that Kansas City had to offer in beer culture in a single day no less a couple hours. In my mind, I needed to not feel the impulse to “empty the well”.

I had learned already never to empty the well of my writing, but always to stop when there was still something there in the deep part of the well, and let it refill at night from the springs that fed it.
— Ernest Hemingway

 

Fayetteville AR

Apple Blossom Brewing

So, a bit of honesty and exposure is required. To visit all 50 US states is a “bucket list” item for me. Before this trip, I was sitting at 43, with Kansas, Arkansas and Oklahoma still targets to be conquered. Therefore, my venture into Arkansas.

Knowing that I was well behind schedule and not going to make Tulsa by 9 pm, I decided to stop in to Fayetteville AR for a beer and bite. I found Apple Blossom Brewing from the BreweryMap app, it had good ratings and was not far off my path. I selected a whiskey barrel-aged coffee stout for my reward. The 10% ABV I knew it would be a slow-sipper and my only beer for the evening but it did have redeeming caffeine. After a seared Ahi tuna salad — a light meal perfect for the remaining ride ahead.  The brewery and taproom is in a little business area.  I’ve had a sports bar feel about it with plenty of flat screen televisions around. There was little discussion and no revelries, I paid the tab. State #44 was in the bag and I was on the road again for Tulsa OK and state #45.

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Apple Blossom Brewing

In Fayetteville, Arkansas. A nice stop for a weary wonderer looking for a good beer and meal.

Tulsa OK

American Solera

Originally, my goal for the end of the day when I left Maryland that morning was Tulsa and American Solera by nine. But alas the delay in Chicago put my plans for that day out of reach. I wasn’t able to make the tap room but the next morning I did stop by for a visit in hope that some kind staff — a brewery or sympathetic soul — might be in early. But, no, the doors were locked and the lights were out and I was left with only my reflection in the window.  Miracles do happen, you just have to believe and give them a chance. I remember the time when I stumbled into the old American Brewery in Baltimore and was given a personal tour.

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American Solera SOBO

My sad reflection having arrived several hours before opening and many hour after closing the night before.

Tulsa Coffee & Breakfast

Chimera is the kind of place where some folks come for coffee and to linger, while others come to read the newspaper in their pajamas by the morning light of the front window or the girlfriends catch up over a latte before running off to work. Some reviews had this place pegged as pricey and having to endure long waits but I found neither to be true that morning. Yes, this is a trendy spot but the coffee was good, the breakfast burritos were excellent and I had zero wait. Call me either lucky or naïve. Chimera is worth checking out if you find yourself in Tulsa.

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Chimera on Main St

A spunky little place for either coffee or a beer with your breakfast eggs.

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Coffee in the Morning Light

After a long day of travel, a good cup of coffee and a hearty meal will set you straight for the day ahead.

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Prairie Ales Brewpub in Tulsa

Prairie Artisan Ales has several iterations, one is in Tulsa OK.

I didn't realize it at the time, but Prairie Artisan Ales has several locations and their Prairie Brewpub is in Tulsa. While the sign on the door said they should be open, when I had pressed my nose to the glass, their doors were locked and again, I was looking at only my reflection.

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Woody Guthrie Center

This larger than reality mural of Woody Guthrie lets you know are near the music center named after him.

Tulsa has some venues I would definitely like to visit if I lived there or had an evening. The Woody Guthrie Music Center in Tulsa sported this wall high mural, drawing you in and demanding your attention and curiosity.

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Tulsa Mural #1

This side street mural in Tulsa grabs your attention. A walk along the streets is worthwhile.

While touring the city you're likely to stumble upon some bright murals in hideaway alleyways. I paused to allow the colors and talent to speak.

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Tulsa Mural #2

This painted building adds a bright flair to a morning walk or anytime.

Grand Vin for Local Bottles

I have an affinity for good bottle shops. Knowing that I couldn’t make to all the fine breweries in town, I was likely to find local beer at a good bottle shop, and I discovered there was one just a couple miles away — Grand Vin at Utica Square. After perusing the cooler for local bottles, the friendly staff person allowed me to search through the storage in the back room for local beery treasures. I did I find (only) a single bottle of American Solara. However, I picked up some other locals from Coop Ale Works and Marshall Brewing. Again, it was time to move on and make my way to Oklahoma City.

Oklahoma City OK

Prairie Artisan Ales

 I went a little bit out of my way to travel to Oklahoma City and Prairie Artisan Ales.  They have several locations to supply your beer drinking needs — Prairie Brewpub (Tulsa), Prairie 345 and OKC Taproom (Oklahoma City). Their OKC Taproom is in the small business park with plenty of parking. The taproom was very well lit with a lot of natural light beaming in from the ceiling. That day they offered an excellent selection of barrel-aged and seasonal beers plus many of their regulars.

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Prairie Artisan Ales

A glimpse of my fine ale and the beer menu.

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Prairie Christmas Prep

Several Christmas beers were ready for tasting such as the Christmas Bomb. The decor added to the mood just in case.

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OKC Prairie Artisan Interior

The Prairie Artisanal Ale taproom is bright with lots of natural light and murals to cause you to ponder over your pint.

I lingered there for a while sipping through as many of their tasters that I thought I could handle, including Christmas Bomb! (their imperial stout with added Christmas spices – cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg) and Farm To Table Saison.

I'd mentioned to the fellow who was pouring my beer that day that I was from Maryland. He grew excited to tell me his friend was planning a trip to Maryland and promised to bring back some DuClaw’s Sweet Baby Jesus chocolate peanut butter porter. Suddenly we were kindred spirits through a beer connection. This is a great beer for many, but alas not a favorite. Immediately the question that came to my mind was, “Is this the beer that is representing Maryland brewing across the country?”

I purchased a few of their beery loot (bottles), including Apple Brandy Barrel Noir and Birthday Bomb!, to bring home and add to the cellar. I didn't want to leave Prairie but I had a long drive still ahead.

Wichita KS

River City Brewing

I was heading through Wichita Kansas and selected River City Brewing from BreweryMap since they had beer and food, and I am glad I did. This brewery was celebrating their 25th year in business and it has had been a brewery all of those 25 years. They had an excellent selection of barrel-aged beers and saisons, and regular craft beer selections. It was dinner time so I tested both their beer and food menus.  I had the grits with shrimp and andouille sausage. It was very good, not too spicy, not too filling, perfect for my two-hour ride ahead. For a Sunday evening, the place was alive with patrons. It was a stimulating experience, a buzz from those who had come in for a pint or meal, art, history, downtown. After a short walk to explore some of the city, I was off for the rest of my travels for the day and my final destination for the evening.

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River City Brewing

Bright lights and wall paintings demand your attention to this iconic Wichita brewery.

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Celebrating 25 Years

2018 was the year River City Brewery celebrated their quarter century mark, opening in 1993.

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RCB Beer Menu

The River City beer menu was deep, with a style for anyone to enjoy.

Manhattans KS

I finally made my way to Manhattan, KS. The sun had long sat as I watched the prairie grow dim and the lights of the passing towns grew brighter. I had been another long day, and it was very satisfying. I was now in a new state, Kansas #46.

Tallgrass Taproom

I was a bit confused about the status of Tallgrass Brewing. The receptionist at Boulevard a couple days before had told me they had closed and it they didn't show up on BreweryMap, but here I was, bellied up to the bar. So what’s a beer drinker going to do?

They had ten beers on tap with the selection of guest taps.  I did a flight of four the beers, three from Tallgrass and then I guest tap from Boulevard, their Nutcracker Ale. The tap room was bright and airy and for a Tuesday night quite busy. Manhattan is a college town, so there is usually a bit more energy around a town with an abnormal number of (or approaching) twenty-somethings.

A BrewBound post from August 2018 offers a little light on the status of Tallgrass, “The employees of the regional brewery will be furloughed. The Tallgrass Tap House will remain in operation.”

I did a March 2019 check on their website to discover it is no longer live and their last Twitter post was August 2018. Ouch! However, the Tap House is and provides a list of available Tallgrass beer on tap.

According to MHK Business News, which highlights businesses in Manhattan, Kan., Tallgrass suspended operations indefinitely this past Friday, August 24. Employees were to be “furloughed,” the company would be looking for new funding, but the Tallgrass Tap House would still remain in operation (it’s apparently a standalone entity).
— Craft Brewing Business, 2018 Aug 27
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Tallgrass Brewing

Tallgrass Brewing’s status may be in question, but the taste of the beer was not.

A few short years ago, craft beer drinkers were going to the liquor store to buy their beer. As craft beer became more prolific, people started frequenting their local taproom or brewery instead of buying regional or national craft brands from the liquor store. For a small, regional brewery like Tallgrass, that shift hit us really hard.
— Jeff Gill - in MHK Business News — 2018 Aug 23
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Tallgrass Tap House

The tap house kitchen is open!

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Downtown Manhattan

Downtown Manhattan is a beautiful little Midwestern town, with Christmas lights adorning the streets and the shops.

Little Apple Brewing

You have to eat sometime and they might as well be a brewery attached to it. Reviews for Little Apple Brewing were mixed. The comments agreed that the food was good, the beer okay and that the place was showing its age. And honestly I would have to agree on all three points. Food was very good. I enjoyed the goat chili sourced from a local farm and sweet potato fries. I chose their porter to go along with the dark chili and I think it paired well. As for the decor, yeah, it was a bit dark and dank, the ceiling tiles were a bit rustic and could use some replacement. This was a Wednesday night and the place was busy — the locals certainly liked it.

Final Thoughts

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I was glad to experience the Midwest and sample their beer, towns and good folk. Boulevard remains a favorite and Prairie Artisan Ales will remain in my mind for many years. As I finish the few beers I was able to bring back from this trip, I will sip, savor and reminisce of those bar stools, hoping there will be another opportunity to fill in the gaps of my beer drinking. I poured the single American Solera bottle that returned with me — I will surely grab another if the opportunity presents itself. Cheers to the brewers and the people of the prairie and their fine prairie ales.

Please Share

 

I started the Deep Beer Journal as a place to document the learning about the great beers of the world, to both share and learn about the passion for great beer and the path getting there — where ever it may lead. Please share your thoughts on this trip into prairie ales and experiences you may have had in this region, breweries or beers. Here’s to better drinking — Journey-Knowledge-Beer — Cheers!
~Jack Perdue