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Welcome to Amazing Tap Handles - The Tap Handle Museum. Here you will find photos of the Museum's collection of beer taps, along with brewery info. Have a look around the Museum, and use the contact form in sidebar to leave me feedback about the site, talk about taps, or if you have a rare tap handle you'd like to sell to the Museum. I'd love to hear from you! Please, no inquires about buying taps - they're not for sale.

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Saturday, December 13, 2014

Tap Handle #449: Choc Beer Company (Krebs Brewing) - Basement Batch

Tap size:  11.75"
Rarity:  Scarce
Mounting:  large 3/8" ferrule

When you first look at this tap, you might think it's just a pair of handcuffs and not understand how it connects to the brewery. All of the Choc's core beers are called "Story" beers. Founder Joe Prichard's grandfather, Pete Prichard, is the subject of the "Story" beers, with each beer (and tap handle design) representing a significant event in Pete's life. Basement Batch represents the period of Pete's life from Prohibition through the 1960s, when Pete brewed choc beer illegally in his basement and was eventually incarcerated for doing so. The handcuffs on the tap handle are associated with that incarceration, giving the tap a symbolic meaning that goes far beyond the average tap. So although the tap isn't as elaborate as others, its "Story" is a perfect fit in my museum. The oversized black ferrule is quite unique too. The Basement Batch tap is very rare - I've only seen one other.

Click through to read more about Choc Beer Company, Pete Prichard (who paved the way for the brewery), their Basement Batch beer, and to see more photos of this storied tap...

Choc Beer Company was founded in Krebs, Oklahoma in 1995 by Joe Prichard. Prichard's grandfather, Pietro Piegari, traveled with his family from San Gregorio Magno, Italy, to the coal mining community of Krebs, Oklahoma, in 1903. Three years later the boy officially changed his name to Pete Prichard when he signed on to work in the mines at eleven years old. Pete was 21 when a cave-in almost took his life, crushing one of his legs so badly that he was unable to return to work.
He began taking odd jobs to make money and pass the time, but he also developed an interest in brewing beer. In 1919, he began perfecting his own version of a recipe brewed by the local Choctaw Native American tribe, which he called choc beer and offered to the local miners. Soon, miners began flocking to Pete’s place on their lunch breaks to grab a beer, and it wasn’t long after that Pete began serving them lunch as well. In 1925, “Pete’s Place” began as an official restaurant inside of Pete’s home, serving traditional, home-style Italian food. However, Prohibition forced Pete to go underground, brewing his beer secretly in his basement. Eventually, though, the long arm of the law snared him, and Pete ended up serving two federal prison terms.

Despite what many assume, "choc beer" is an abbreviated term for Choctaw or Choctaw Indian beer, not chocolate-flavored beer. Choc beer, whether it was legal or illegal, was a favorite among many southeastern Oklahomans for decades, especially the late-nineteenth to early-twentieth-century immigrant coal miners. The concoction could be brewed in a basement, a garage, a barn, or a kitchen. When Oklahoma gained statehood in 1907, it entered the Union as a prohibition state and remained "dry" until 1933, when voters approved a referendum legalizing 3.2 percent beer. There were a few small-town restaurants in southeastern Oklahoma that secretly sold choc beer to known and trusted customers, and Pete's Place was one of them. The origin of choc beer is not known, but in 1894 a report to the U.S. Congress claimed that Choctaw beer was a "compound of barley, hops, tobacco, fishberries, and a small amount of alcohol." Choc beer is "home brew" flavored to suit the taste of the maker, and unlike commercial beer, it is probable that each brewing varies from others. At the beginning of the 21st century it was still illegal to brew it without a license, but its production remained a popular pastime for some Oklahomans. One 1971 southeastern Oklahoma recipe listed these ingredients: barley, hops, sugar, and yeast, with rice, oats, mash, apples, peaches, or raisins optional.

Pete’s son Bill took over running Pete’s Place in 1964. Clientele included U.S. senators, governors, congressmen, legislators, sports and movie stars, and celebrities from every field, many of whom sampled the still-illegal home-brewed beer and wine. In 1980, state authorities stepped in and shut down the brewing operations because brewpubs were still illegal in Oklahoma at the time. In 1984, Bill’s son Joe took over the restaurant, and he was finally able to legally brew beer when brewpubs became legal in the state in 1995.

In 2012, the New Ulm Brewing & Beverage Company filed the suit against Krebs Brewing Company. New Ulm contracts with August Schell Brewing Co. to make 1919 Draft Root Beer, as it has for more than 25 years. Choc Beer makes an American Pale Wheat Ale called 1919, which New Ulm objected to.

In 2013 Choc Beer began an equipment expansion by purchasing a used brewing system from Sweetwater Brewing that tripled production capability. The move became a necessity partly due to the success of Tulsa's Prairie Artisan Ales, which contracts to make its beer on Choc's equipment. The purchase required a reconfiguration of the Choc brewery, which adjoined the restaurant. The brewing system was set up in the storage warehouse area, with bottling and packaging shifted to the old brewhouse footprint. The four-vessel, 50-barrel system allowed Choc to produce roughly 6,200 gallons of beer at a time. New fermenters were brought online in 2014 to handle the production increase.

Choc Beer Company has grown to offer 6 “Story” beers, named after important episodes in Pete’s life, 3 specialty beers, and 6 signature brews. The Brewers Association (BA) recently added 2 beer styles to their Beer Style Guidelines: grätzer, a smoked wheat beer and Adambier, a strong, dark, hoppy, sour ale extensively aged in wood barrels. Choc Beer decided to attempt brewing traditional Polish grätzer, also known as grodziz or grodziskie, which calls for oak-smoked wheat, an ingredient that until recently hadn’t been on the market, a yeast strain that was not available in the U.S. and hops that are no longer grown commercially. The challenge of finding the ingredients was a major roadblock, but Choc Beer was able to track down an original grätzer yeast strain from Warsaw. The biggest struggle for the grätzer was finding smoked wheat malt; but Choc Beer was able to work with Weyermann Specialty Malts to purchase the oak-smoked wheat malt. Also, original grätzer beers typically used Nowotomyski hops, a cultivar that was developed in the mid-1800s, but  is now hard to find. Choc Beer used the Lubliner hop as a substitute, based on its common ancestry and extended lineage.

Basement Batch is is a traditional American-style Pale Ale. Much like their infamous award-winning choc beer, it's handcrafted with only the finest ingredients. Starting with a base of American-grown 2-row malted barley they add liberal amounts of caramel and Victory malts to give Basement Batch a rich, almost nutty, malt backbone to complement the unique citrus character Cascade hops, which are the gold standard for this style. Like all of the choc beers, Basment Batch is "bottle conditioned," which means that it's fermented a second time while in the bottle. This long-established method of carbonating beer will leave a thin layer of yeast on the bottom of the bottle.

Ratebeer weighted average:  2.96 out of 5
Beer Advocate:  82 out of 100 (good)

Choc Beer Company
120 SW Eighth St.
Krebs, Oklahoma, USA 74554

Source Material
Choc Beer website

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