Sometimes you’ve gotta take a roundabout route to get back to where you started. Sometimes things are popular because they’re just good ideas to begin with.
Oskar Blues started the shift to canning craft beer. They happen to make really good beer, too, & that’s by no means beside the point. Of course they want to be known for their beer, but everyone knows them because they made cans legitimate as a package for that good beer. The fame that they earned is because
they make good beer, and
they put it in a can. The quality of the beer is necessarily an equal part of that equation, but people didn’t always realize it.
Canned craft beer was an oxymoron until these guys started doing it. Oskar Blues started as a grill in 1997, then started brewing on-site in 1999, & when a canning system manufacturer approached them a few years later, they said “Sure, what the hell?” & history was made. That was 2004. How bizarre was it to consider canned craft beer eleven years ago? I didn’t buy it myself at first. The can seemed like a gimmick, & the name ‘Dale’s Pale Ale’ was too corny (& remains endearingly so). But the beer – I tried it, & the beer was good! So I thought we might see this one decent beer made by a company I’d never heard of, in a can. It would remain a novelty, & that’s it. I remember hearing the guys on Craft Beer Radio say that the cans didn’t even register on their visual field at first – they’d scan the shelves & their eyes would automatically pass over them, a sort of subconscious aversion to the format. That’s how little respect cans garnered for the good beer vets – at first…
Then Oskar Blues stuck around. They rolled out Gordon (now called G’Knight), a solid, strong red, & Old Chub, a strong, malty Scotch-style. We saw the first ever canned imperial stout in Ten Fidy, with a body that fit the name. These were not light beers for slamming & crushing the can on your forehead. These were serious beers with some depth & personality. A few double IPAs followed: Gubna & Deviant Dale’s. And why not throw a pilsner in there, too?
So the much-maligned can, vessel of the industrial swill so despised by the New Brew Order, found some redemption. The myths about the metal “tainting” the beer were dispelled. More & more breweries - & drinkers – found cans to have some significant benefits: lightweight, recyclable, transportable, protective. More & more breweries adopted cans as a means of packaging (props also to 21st
Amendment as another big, early proponent). The world’s highest-rated beer is packaged in aluminum, & actually instructs
the drinker to imbibe straight from the can! Boston Beer Company once said they’d never can their beer, but even Jim’s miraculously seen the light.
And had the beer been crappy, it would’ve stayed a gimmick. But Dale & the crew make some damn fine brew, & it showed those paying attention that, yes, this can be done! I want to stress that the beer saved
it from being a gimmick, & now it’s just accepted, part of the norm. Maybe Oskar Blues didn’t realize what they was doing at the time – the way they tell the story, that first system was purchased as kind of a lark. One could draw parallels to pop art & connecting the high & low, too, but that’s a whole other tangent…
Of course it’s all about the beer. Which, by the way, we’ll be featuring at our upcoming pairing dinner this Thursday, when we match the beers of Oskar Blues (served out of giant aluminum cans called “kegs”) with some inventive cuisine. On hand will be their new Pinner Throwback IPA (“Throwback” as in, “I’m going to throw a few back”), low alcohol with a sweetly dank hop profile; the afore-mentioned Old Chub Scotch-style ale, malty, caramelly, with a hint of smoke; Gubna, their imperial IPA made with a mountain of Cascade hops; Ten Fidy, the OG (get it?) of viscous, canned imperial stouts; & a newcomer in their Belgian-style IPA, Icey PA. Can’t wait to see how Chef Brian’s menu accompanies this line-up!
So whether they like it or not (& I don’ think they mind), Oskar Blues will forever be known for a formal, technical contribution to the movement. Rest assured, though, it never would have survived without some good liquid to fill it.