A closer look at Oskar Blues

Courtesy / Eddie Clark, Photo-Cycle.com

The aluminum can is the perfect vessel for storing, transporting, and dispensing beer. Light doesn’t skunk the beer and oxygen doesn’t turn it stale. And it’s cheaper for brewers to use, to boot.

Why, then, did it take so long for craft brewers to figure this out?

Maybe it’s the stigma associated with the bland lagers that cans have historically contained. That kind of beer is pretty boring, produced more for its intoxicating powers than its ability to intrigue.

Cans were never the package of choice for flavorful beer. Craft and imports were traditionally found in bottles. Bud, Miller, and Coors – and the cheaper brands brewed by their parent companies – were the only beers clad in aluminum.

Then along came Oskar Blues, a small craft brewery located in Longmont, Colorado. Owner Dale Katechis – who graduated from Auburn University – decided to take a risk back in November 2002 and package Dale’s Pale Ale in aluminum cans. Nobody else in craft beer was doing it back in those days. It was a novel approach that challenged old stigmas about canned beer. And it turned little Oskar Blues into one of craft brewing’s biggest success stories – and one of its iconic brands.

According to statistics compiled by the Brewers Association, Oskar Blues is now the country’s 24th largest craft brewery with 149,000 barrels produced in 2014. To keep up with demand, a 35,000-square-foot facility was recently opened in Brevard, North Carolina. The additional brewing capacity gives Oskar Blues the ability to distribute its products to more markets across the country.

And as you may have already noticed, Northwest Arkansas is one of Oskar Blues’ newest markets.

Oskar Blues in NWA

Courtesy / Bobbie Turner Photography

The brand officially launched here the week of Aug. 24. Several events were hosted by local distribution partner Arkansas Craft Distributors. Things kicked off that Monday with a party at the Botanical Garden of the Ozarks. In attendance were Oskar Blues representatives Tate Nelson and Meghann Jump.

“The increase in volume has given us the opportunity to go into more states,” Jump told me that night. “Our priorities are freshness and quality of product, but supply is important, too. We don’t want you to fall in love with Dale’s [Pale Ale] and not be able to find it.”

According to Jump, Northwest Arkansas is a natural fit for Oskar Blues based on the similarities between the two regions. The brewery’s founder is an avid mountain biker, and outdoor activities – including mountain biking – are also big right here in the Ozarks.

“We make beer for you to drink all day, every day – no matter what you’re doing,” she said. “The ability to take it down the river with your friends, for example, is why we’re in cans.”

Oskar Blues’ four core beers – Dale’s Pale Ale, Mamma’s Little Yella Pils, Old Chub Scotch Ale, and Pinner Throwback IPA – are now available in Northwest Arkansas. Nelson said several more will be released in the months ahead.

“We have a new IPA rolling out soon,” he said. “Arkansas should also get Ten Fidy [Imperial Stout] and Gubna [Imperial IPA] – two of our seasonal releases.”

Cans are no longer a novelty in the craft beer industry. If a brewery is not yet canning its product, you can bet it’s thinking about it. Here in Northwest Arkansas Core, Fossil Cove, and Ozark are utilizing aluminum to get their beer into consumers’ hands. And rumors abound that other locals will soon be canning as well.

One thing is certain about this hot new trend in craft brewing. All of us who appreciate having flavorful beer in an airtight, lightproof, easy-to-carry canister owe a huge debt of gratitude to Oskar Blues.

Here are some thoughts on each of Oskar Blues’ year-round beers.

The lineup

Dale’s Pale Ale – This was once considered one of the best pale ales in the country. It’s still very good, but there are so many more pales to compete with these days it’s hard for Dale’s to stand out. It’s slightly more malt-forward than it is hoppy, and lacks the juicy citrus character that we’ve grown to love in American pales. At 6.5% ABV it’s also fairly big for the style. Don’t treat it like a session ale or you might wake up with a tiger in your bathroom.

Mama’s Little Yella Pils – Call this one your tailgating champion. Last year I knocked several of these back in the Arrowhead parking lot before a Chiefs game. It was crisp, clean, and quite refreshing. The hops are grassy and the body is slightly sweet. Yella Pils is a wonderful “gateway” beer for light lager drinkers, and is a perfect pairing for football games or backyard barbeques. You will be able to drink several of these when it’s hot outside.

Old Chub Scotch Ale – This is without a doubt Oskar Blues’ best year-round beer. The style is underrepresented, with only a handful available in our market. It’s full-bodied and slightly sweet. There’s minimal hop character, which is standard for scotch ales. The 8% ABV is hidden underneath a velvety blanket of roasted barley malt and caramel. There is the slightest hint of cola in the flavor profile, which is really interesting once you find it. Old Chub is so good it will make the biggest hophead embrace the malt – if only for a short while.

Pinner Throwback IPA – OK, there are some major cannabis references going on with this beer. That aside, it’s a great tasting session IPA that weighs in a 4.9% ABV. It’s light in body and explodes with a pineapple character that sets it apart from other IPAs in the market. It’s worth checking out just to see what’s on the can.

Brian Sorensen (@EBSorensen) is an admitted beer geek, occasional home brewer, and member of the Fayetteville Lovers of Pure Suds.