Prairie Wolf Spirits

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Prairie Wolf Spirits – A Howling Success

By: M.A. Smith

Oklahoma is ripe for new business, and a local company has proven it knows the secret ingredient for success.

Hunter Merritt, co-founder of Prairie Wolf Spirits – the only licensed distillery in the state – said his family had always wanted to own a business. And what better way to accomplish that dream than by making vodka?

“Alcohol is fun. The process and everything about it is exciting,” Merritt said.

Born and raised in Oklahoma, the Merritt family started by looking at properties in Oklahoma City, but with less-than-friendly responses, they quickly moved their endeavors to Guthrie.

“When you start talking about a distillery in the city, people get very reluctant to help out. Guthrie just asked us ‘What do you need,’” Merrit said. “Guthrie is pro-distillery and recruited us heavily. They were very open to us. Plus, the Victorian area is beautiful.”

With more than $2 million seed money in hand, the Merritt’s opened shop this summer and haven’t looked back. They named the business after their family ranch in Loyal.

“We’ve been doing business in Oklahoma since the Land Run of 1889,” Merritt said. “We still own the 160-acre plot the family attained during the Run.”

Each week, they set up a production line. The male members of the family – David, Hunter and Blake – mix the alcohol and start the distillation process, while their wives – Amanda, Peri and Cheryl – handle the packaging.

“We haven’t discussed hiring anyone yet. That’s still in the works. We are very much a family business,” Merritt said.

As the most popular alcoholic beverage in the nation, vodka was naturally the first choice for production. But the family had no desires to be just another maker of alcohol. They demanded a unique product that sets them aside from the rest.

“We knew there are, literally, thousands of these on the market. In Oklahoma, the fact that we are locally made sets us aside,” Merritt said.

The young entrepreneur also studied at the hands of the masters. They traveled to Whiskey Row, where they sought out Louisville, Ky., experts and visited some of the world’s finest sites to learn the best trade secrets.

It dawned on them that many of the products sold nationwide had artificial flavors and colors added to the mix. The Merritts decided that was the key to success.

While vodka can be made using rye, grapes, potatoes and other grains, Prairie Wolf decided to use corn as a gluten-free alternative, one of the few spirit makers to do so. “We don’t use any additives. The flavor is 100 percent,” he said.

This “secret ingredient” is what pushed the family’s product to more than 250 locations around Oklahoma. In fact, within six months of operation, Merritt said the company has made its way to nearly every liquor store in the state.

“People ask, ‘Where can we find your vodka,’” he said. “It’s not only in restaurants and specialty stores. We are everywhere. This growth has really kept us busy.”

But, the growth came as no surprise to Prairies Wolf.

“Oklahoma has really changed,” Merritt said. “Something happened within the last six years that has pushed growth around the state. It is a really good time to start a business.”

All businesses have bumps in the road starting out, and Merritt said Prairie Wolf was no different.
State licensing and getting the approval for an alcoholic beverage maker is challenging in Oklahoma, he said. Also, the investment cost was enormous.

“We were excited to see that the growth allowed us to start paying bills within the first few months. But we’re not making money yet,” Merritt said. “The hassle to get licenses was hard. It’s hard to get the state to move on anything.”

Nonetheless, the trials were worth it. Merritt said the company is ready for expansion.
Texas and Colorado is next on its list. “We are planning to open a location in Texas in January, followed by Colorado a few months later,” he said.

A new liqueur is also in the making. Merritt’s family talked with experts in Hawaii, and will release a new coffee liqueur in the near future.

“We are making the product using real Kona coffee beans,” he said. “All coffee liqueurs are made using a flavoring. This will set us apart from other products. I think it will be a big success.”

For more information about Prairie Wolf Spirits or to find a retailer, visit the company’s website at www.prairiewolfspirits.com

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