Backstage at Oskar Blues: GABF 2017 Part III

The Weasel Tasting Room, Longmont, CO

Oskar Blues is in all 50 states. They make boss ass moves that fly under the radar often in this ever-changing world we love. First brewery to put craft beer in cans? Check! Distribute 32oz cans to the 2000+ retailers and breweries who bought their crowler machines? Check! Build a brewery in Austin that makes 12,000bbls a year just for the state of Texas?..Yep!

The annual party bus from Denver to Longmont is the event that leaves everyone well satiated feeling both privileged and elite. The excitement level reached a fever pitch this time around as we were introduced to the full Oskar Blues Holdings Portfolio which now includes Perrin Brewing Co. (Comstock , Mi) The Utah Brewers Cooperative (Wasatch + Squatters) as well as Cigar City (Tampa, FL)

2 years ago Oskar Blues founder Dale Katechis decided to partner with Fireman Capital as part of his expansion project. Fireman owns a controlling interest in all of the Oskar Blues Holdings Portfolio. This move allows them all to share resources. Although each brewery operates in their own sphere, they can lean on each whenever help is needed with marketing, production or finance.

With production facilities in Longmont, CO, Austin, TX and Brevard, NC, Oskar Blues had the ability to immediately solve capacity issues of the other portfolio breweries. At Cigar City, just two years ago 98% of their beer was sold in Florida, now it’s just under 70%.

the 2nd largest independent brewer in Colorado behind New Belgium.

The Cigar City Spruce St. brewery in Tampa was at capacity. They make 65,000 bbls annually and are completely maxed out. A Home Depot and City of Tampa wastewater treatment plant surround that brewery and neither of those will sell their land. The team contract brewed at Brew Hub in Lakeland, FL temporarily but needed a long-term solution.

The mission, if they chose to accept it was to scout properties and spend about $40M in bank loans over 3 years for a new facility. The other option was to partner up with Oskar Blues who already has 3 breweries and room to expand at all of them. The day the Cigar City deal was announced Oskar Blues knocked down a wall at their Brevard, North Carolina location to add tank space for Cigar City.

For Michigan’s Perrin Brewing the deal means they now sell their heavy hitting lineup in Colorado and California. As the market braces for even more consolidation, they see this as an alternative to working with a brewery that runs like ABI or MillerCoors. Taking this route everyone gets to keep his or her identity; not becoming part of a corporate conglomerate was the goal.

Rate Beer named Perrin’s No Rules Imperial Vietnamese Porter 2015’s Best New Beer in the World out of 65,000 entries. Basically take an Almond Joy bar and lay it down in bourbon barrels for nine months, huge cinnamon and booze dominate the profile. No Rules is aged 9 months in Woodford Reserve barrels. Cesar’s Gimp is a Merlot barrel aged Imperial Red Ale.

After meeting the new teammates we walked through a foursome of Oskar Blues staple brews.

over 300 breweries in Colorado

Death By Coconut aging in 30yr old rum barrels

Cigar City Hunahpu + Death By Coconut Donuts (holy fuck)

..and tacos

8 hops that make up Pinner, Cascade, Centennial, Mosaic, Citra, to name a few.

stopped prod to fill 100,000 cans for hurricane and earthquake victims

Cigar City Hunahpu only available at the Tampa brewery on Hunahpu Day

Oskar Blues Pinner
Created during the hop shortage of in 2014 . Too often beers have a citrus zest profile, what they wanted to achieve was a beer with the flavor of tropical fruits.

They found a multitude of hops to blend together creating Pinner. Falconer’s Flight,  Zythos, Cascade,  Centennial, Mosaic, Citra, are 6 of the 8 hops that make up this beer. They aren’t married to the flavor of those hops just in case something happens to the hop that is desired. The focus with Pinner is on a citrus flavor that has a little guava tartness to it regardless of what hops are used.

Pinner uses highly kilned, highly modified malts give it a slightly toastier more aggressive backbone. Adding the dry hop during fermentation pushes citrus flavor out, this process is called yeast bio-transformation. Centennial is used as the bittering hop, both the harshness and sugar profile are lowered in this Throwback IPA.

Comstock Park, Michigan

500,000 pounds of hops annually

Oskar Blues Yugli
A Yodo brewing in Japan inspired this Yuzu beer. Fugli is dry hopped with mosaic and infused with various essential fruit oils including yuzi and ugli fruit.

 

Oskar Blues Mama’s Little Yella Pils
Debuted in 2009 it’s a pilsner that leans toward the Bohemian style inspired by a Rolling Stones song. They wanted a pilsner that was a little dryer than a Bavarian pils. The hop profile initially was all Czech grown Saaz. The quality of those hops started to evolve in 2011. It was around that time they began evaluating the Aramis hop grown in eastern France. When compared in trails against Czech, German and Hallertau grown Saaz and Tettnang hops it exceeded expectations.

It was found that Aramis when blended with German and Czech Saaz created the ideal profile of peppery, spicy, lemon and herbal. The aroma is has hints sage. There’s a bitter hop forward pineyness and bitter mouthfeel much like what is found in the pilsners served in Berlin and northern Germany. Those regions enjoy a bitter pilsner in contrast to the silky, softer Czech style pilsner.

The Iconic, The Well Known, Oskar Blues Dales Pale Ale
The first canned craft beer ever back in 2002, unchanged since its inception. Flavors include citrus, pine, berry, caramel candy. Bitter and aggressive yet incredibly balanced. An ester called Ethyl octanoate is targeted in Dales.

gin BA Gubna IPA and Hotbox Coffee Porter both legit AF

Oskar Blues IPA
Debuted just over 2 years ago. Contains less of the caramel notes found in Dales. For this crew the only place to get an abundance of hops was through Australian hop brokers. The first batch contained Galaxy, Topaz and Enigma hops exclusively.   They didn’t want to be loyal to any hop. Eventually took out Topaz replaced it with Motueka, Sticky pineapple, banana, citrus, papaya, white pepper and white wine flavors dominate this beer. It is also dry hopped during fermentation to push the fruit character forward.

Hop Migration Patterns.
The entire Oskar Blues portfolio of breweries collectively uses 500,000 lbs of hops annually so listening to an impromptu hop symposium was delightful to say the least.

Oskar Blues has created a hop relationship with a grower in Colorado for the first time ever with David Warren of High Wire Hops. His German three –tier system allows for incredible control over processing and drying of his hops.

German Hops love sunlight and heat (but not too much). It takes a long time for hops to mature in Colorado because the nights are so cold; there isn’t nearly as much sunlight here as up north. Oils can turn to onion and garlic overnight due to lack of sun. Yakima Valley, Washington is an ideal hop-growing region because of disease resistance there. The only way to get water up there is through irrigation.

 

This is why hops started in Maine, went to NY then migrated over to Michigan and Wisconsin then all the way over to California and Oregon and then the coastline of Washington State then finally to Elk Mountain. In the last 10 years farming practices and development of new varietals have led to hops growing in non-traditional regions. Oskar Blues uses 500lbs per year of Colorado hops. Cascade and Chinook are showcased in The Weasel, Colorado Wet Hop Ale.

 

—Nkosi

 

Other Notes
-Oskar Blues in the second largest independent brewer in Colorado behind New Belgium.

-Oskar Blues produces 100,000 bbl annually in Longmont, 100,000 in Brevard and 12,000 in Austin. The Austin output never leaves Texas.

-Be sure to check out Part I and Part II of our Great American Beer Festival 2017 coverage.

nkosio

Beverage Consultant, Host of the Chicago Brew Bus, Co-Host of the Chicago Beer Pass Podcast, Co-Founder and heartbeat of the Chicago Beer Geeks..@nkosio on twitter

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