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Elixir enthusiasts enjoy adult beverages


Greg Elwell March 12th, 2009

You wouldn't know Chris Crockett was a beer lover by looking at him. Well, maybe it depends on where you're looking. Although his home is devoid of beer posters, mirrors sporting beer logos a...

OPENER-Chris-Crockett-beer-
EXOTIC BREW
Was he lured in with an exotic brew by friends or promised a sip of high-end whiskey? Sadly, no.

"The first thing I bought on my own was Mike's Hard Lemonade," Yates said.

It wasn't long until he moved up, however. He had moved back to his hometown of Duncan and was working in a liquor store " an odd profession for a guy who doesn't drink " when he started looking at beer.

"It wasn't the beer store in the town," he said. "They had a very limited selection. But, working when I did, there wasn't a whole lot to do in the evenings, so I started getting interested in beer."

Why not wine or liquor? Because he's a socialist at heart, Yates said.

"I think one of the reasons I maintain a serious interest in beer, versus wine, is that wine has almost always been the drink of the aristocrats in my mind," he said. "The people who had wealth and the means to attain and support a habit drink wine. Beer was the cheap thing."

When he moved to Norman and started work at Joe's Place Fine Wine & Spirits, he had built up a taste for less conventional brews. He wasn't drinking to get drunk. He was drinking to enjoy the flavors. Yates went through Pig's Eye and Moosehead and Rogue's Dead Guy Ale. And at Joe's Place, he became the beer guy.

"It probably took me a year to get through every beer we had, taking home a six-pack of mixed singles at night and sharing them with friends," he said. "At the store, I'd just be chatting with people, sharing opinions, and then you look up and it's been 30 minutes and when they come back to the store, they want to talk some more."

His problem, as a beer lover, is convincing people to branch out. Most people, he said, expect a beer to be refreshing, light and crisp. But when you really explore, there are so many tastes and variations that can be satisfying in a different way.

Now working as an assistant manager at The Cellar Wine & Spirits, Yates said he tries to get people to branch out by finding similar tastes with a twist.

"You gotta locate something they're going to like, or you'll scare them off," he said. "The last thing you want to do is to suggest something and get them pumped up and then they go home and hate it."

Last year, during a trip to Las Vegas, Yates found his heaven, the Freakin' Frog. It's a bar dedicated to beer, and they stocked brews the well-informed Yates had no idea existed.

That doesn't mean he won't drink a Budweiser or a Bud Light if he's offered one.

"It's not the worst beer out there," he said. "But I won't drink Corona."

BEER BUDDY
Chris Crockett takes a lighter stance on beer. His mind is as open as a wide-mouth can.

"There's beer I don't like," he said, "but I'm of the mind-set that, if I don't like a particular style of beer that I probably haven't had a quality representation of that style."

When Crockett started drinking beer, he took whatever he could get his hands on, like many young drinkers. He didn't love the taste, but after a few cans or bottles, he couldn't much taste them anyway.

Nowadays, he's an ingredient lover. Some of his friends can't take anything but a lager, but they're just untrained, he said.

"Most of them don't realize how many styles of beer there are and how different they can taste from one style to the next," he said. "To them, beer tastes like beer " but beer is like any food. It tastes like the ingredients that are put into it. Cheap, subpar ingredients make cheap, subpar beer."

It's no wonder, then, that Crockett has cut out the middleman in an effort to ensure quality and started brewing his own beer.

"Other than my tattoo and my beer glass collection, the only decoration I have that really sets me apart is the beer fermenting in my closet," he said.

It's not easy to spot Dr. Chris Carey's vine-ripened obsession, either. That's because it's hidden in his "man-cave." Or, at least, that's what his wife calls his wine cellar.

It has a fireplace, a TV and a separate heating and cooling unit. But mostly, it has wine " about 600 bottles, at the moment. But it can hold about 400 more, Carey said.

Collecting wine isn't the easiest thing to do in Oklahoma, thanks to the state's restrictive shipping laws and distributorship monopolies. Carey buys what he can locally and travels for the rest.

"I go to California and buy from Napa and Sonoma," he said. "I like wineries that make less than 1,000 bottles a year."

He's also made pilgrimages to New Zealand and Argentina and recently visited his daughter in Italy, bringing back a few bottles with each visit. 

The key to collecting is to buy what you like to drink, he said. Otherwise, what's the point?

THINKING OUTSIDE THE BOTTLE
The sheer pleasure of experimentation is what drives Tulsa resident Gabriel Szaszko's love of cocktails, which he documents on his Web site, www.cocktailnerd.com.

While his first drink was Budweiser, it came at a formative time " when he was 5 " and it left a lasting impression when his dad let him try it.

"He and his friend had a good laugh at my persistence and, I could tell, were wondering whether they dared go through with it with my mom in the car," he said. "Despite my mother's protests, he passed the bottle back and I took a drink."

Nowadays, Szaszko doesn't bother with beer when liquor is available " especially when he gets to play mad scientist and put together a cocktail from one of his aging recipe books.

How serious is his hobby? You'd have to see the bar in his house to understand.

"I have three distinct areas in my liquor storage: the everyday use area, the

 
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