How Dale Katechis Made Oskar Blues Beer a Can-Do Beer
Katechis founded Oskar Blues in 1997 in Lyons, Colo., and lent his name to its top-selling Dale's Pale Ale. After five years in the business, he started looking for a way to get a bigger return out of his brewing outfit and draw visitors to the small town of 1,400 in the Rocky Mountains where they could get a plate of jambalaya, a shrimp po' boy and a beer at his brewpub. His answer at the time was fairly novel: Put the beer in cans.
Katechis kicked off his packaging operation in 2002 with a one-at-a-time can filler and seamer bought during a trip to Canada, where he noticed that roughly 50% of the country's beer was sold in cans and included seasonal varieties in aluminum. Getting the beer in those cans wasn't difficult, but getting folks to drink out of those same cans was much tougher. From the moment Gottfried Kruger Brewing in Newark, N.J., introduced the beer can in 1935 to the day Oskar Blues pitched its first cans of craft beer in Colorado and at brewers conventions in 2002, Katechis says the common belief was that beer cans held nothing but pale yellow swill with a taste only further degraded by the metallic flavor. Katechis logged a lot of miles and cracked open a lot of beers trying to prove otherwise.
"It's what we wanted to do, and nobody would take us seriously enough unless we had time to just one-on-one engage them, educate them and let them know that if they honestly believe that beer was designed and made to taste bad in a can, taste our beer and tell us what you think," Katechis told us back in 2011. "What they're learning is that it wasn't cans giving cans the bad name -- it's the beer people were putting in cans giving it a bad name. The cans were getting a bad rap."
It turns out those cans make a pretty solid foundation for a craft beer business. The number of craft brewers canning their beers expanded from fewer than 50 as recently as 2008 to 262 this year, according to CraftCans.com. One of those canning breweries, Oskar Blues' Colorado neighbor New Belgium, had some of Katechis' staff in to take a look at their canning operation a couple of years back and gives Katechis a great deal of credit for their success in canning beers such as their Shift pale ale.