Local brew nets big awards
Published: July 07, 2009 10:06 am
By James Beaty
as published in the McAlester News
KREBS — Something’s fermenting at the Choc Beer Co. — lots of ideas about how to best market the unique brew in the wake of its winning some of the biggest awards in the industry.
The life story of an Italian immigrant to Krebs, as depicted in a series of illustrations on packaging for Choc Beer, is drawing international attention after garnering the top two awards at 2008 World Beer Championships Packaging Competition.
The Chicago-based contest, billed as the oldest international beer competition in the United States, is open to commercially-produced beers world-wide.
Named the Story Line Series, the six different types of packaging on the Choc Beer line relate the life story of Pietro Piegari.
Young Pietro emigrated to the U.S. from Italy, where he eventually moved to Krebs and became known as Pete Prichard — the founder of the renowned Italian restaurant, Pete’s Place.
Now, judges at the World Beer Championships have given Choc Beer’s Story Line Series the top awards for Best Label Series and Best Case Series.
The Choc Beer Co. is an independent brewery, which is affiliated with and on the grounds of Pete’s Place Italian restaurant in Krebs.
In addition to becoming a famed restaurant, Pete’s Place also became known for its Choc beer — a beer brewed by Pietro/Prichard and sold at the restaurant after he learned the process from Choctaw Indians in the area.
In 1995, his grandson, Joe Prichard, decided to revive the tradition of Choc Beer by starting a brewery adjacent to the restaurant.
Joe Prichard, the owner of Pete’s Place and the Choc Beer Co., said the Oklahoma City-based Funnel Design Group came up with the idea for the series and designed the packaging. He gave the branding firm much of the credit for the award-winning series.
The Story Line Series is not the only thing new for the Choctaw Beer Co.
A new line, called Spahnie 363, has been created in honor of baseball legend Warren Spahn, the winningest left-hander in professional baseball.
Spahn had a ranch near Hartshorne, which is still owned by his son, Greg Spahn, who worked with the Choctaw Beer Co. on the project. The number 363 refers to Spahn’s wins from the pitcher’s mound.
The Choc Beer Co. has grown a lot since its beginnings.
“We’ve got a capacity of 9,000 barrels,” Prichard said. He gives brew master Michael Lalli plenty of credit for the brewery’s growth.
“The story is my family,” Prichard said. “The beer in the bottle is Michael’s.”
Lalli puts a lot into his profession.
“We’ve got 12 fermenters,” Lalli said. Six of the fermenters hold one batch of fermenting beer, another three hold two batches, and yet another three hold four batches, he said.
That way, there’s something fermenting at the Choctaw Beer Co. 24-7.
“We’re able to brew multiple bottles,” said Lalli, who works with B.J. Howell and other employees in creating the unique brews.
In addition to the individual illustrations, the Story Line Series has another unusual twist.
When the six bottles in the Story Line series are placed side-by-side in order of the illustrated story line, part of the illustrations on one label are picked up on the next.
For example, a horse’s torso is shown outside a coal mine on the right side of the Mining Mishap label, then the horse’s head is included as part of the illustration depicting a wheat field on the left side of the Waving Wheat label.
The six beers, the types of brew, and the story lines they depict are:
• Pietro Piegari, an American amber ale with a label on the bottle that shows a young Piegari arriving in America. Pictured in the background on one side are illustrations of immigrants and a steamship, and the other side has an illustration of the Pittsburg County Courthouse.
• Miner Mishap, a black lager beer with an illustrated label showing two miners helping a fellow worker from a coal-mining entrance following a mishap in a coal mine.
• Waving Wheat, a Belgian-style wheat ale, depicts Piegari, now known as Pete Prichard, standing in a wheat field, hoisting a glass of brew, while a Choctaw Indian looks on. Waving Wheat recently won a Silver Medal at another competition, the North American Beer Awards in Idaho.
• 1919, an American wheat ale, shows a coal miner sitting and having a drink, with spaghetti and meatballs on the table.
• Basement Batch, an American pale ale, which depicts Piegari/Prichard pouring a sample from a bottle of beer brewed in his basement, while keeping a watchful eye of the stairway. Joe Prichard said that illustration depicts home-brewing activities during Prohibition.
• Last Laugh, an American white ale, with a label which shows a figurative illustration of Peigari/Prichard having a glass of Choc beer with his son, Bill Prichard, and his grandson, Joe Prichard.
Although that never happened in real life, Joe Prichard figured it captured the spirit of carrying on the family tradition.
As for the future, Lalli plans to continue in his endeavors to create unique-tasting beers.
“I’m learning every day,” he said.
Prichard plans to continue with his original concept, no matter how much the business grows.
“Although we’re growing by leaps and bounds, it’s still a very small, homespun concept of making a high-quality product,” he said. “It’s developed over time.”
Both Joe Prichard and Lalli are pleased with the way the brewery is working out for the restaurant.
“When we started the restaurant, we didn’t know if we could make money at it,” Joe Prichard said.
“We knew it would get the Pete’s Place name around the state.”
Smiling, with a package of the Last Laugh set on a counter nearby, he said “I think we were right.”