Oskar Blues wishes everyone a happy “canniversary.”
Ten years ago, on Nov. 17, 2002, the Lyons, Colo., craft brewpub became the first of its kind to install its own canning apparatus. It was a simple device: a two-head manual filler. (“We usually ended up doing a can a minute,” recalls owner Dale Katechis.)
But his Dale’s Pale Ale, at that time probably the most aggressively hopped beer to be packaged in aluminum, sold so sensationally that today Katechis operates a fully automated canning line capable of spitting out 300 cans a minute. He reckons that he’s on a pace to roll out 95,000 barrels in 2012 — compared with 760 barrels back in 2002.
Oskar Blues continues to innovate. On Jan. 1, the brewery will conduct a national rollout of Dale's Pale Ale in a new 19.2-ounce can, or one imperial pint. The tall, sleek package looks like two ordinary12-ouncers stacked on top of each other, and will be sold by the individual can, refrigerated, in liquor and grocery stores.
“We think it's a good size for single servings,” says brewery spokesperson Chad Melis.
Oskar Blues’s success has inspired other breweries, including two Maryland operations that are planning their first foray into canning.
Heavy Seas Beer , a k a Clipper City Brewing, in Halethorpe will release its Loose Cannon (an India pale ale) in six-packs of 12-ounce cans in March 2013. The brewery will follow up that release with two seasonals. Davy Jones’ Lager, a cream ale-style beer (a lager fermented at warmer, alelike temperatures), will debut during the summer, and Prosit!, an imperial Oktoberfest-style lager, will hit shelves next fall.
“Gypsy brewer” Brian Strumke of Stillwater Artisanal Ales, who borrows other breweries’ tanks to make his eclectic range of beers, will work with Westbrook Brewing , a microbrewery in Mt. Pleasant, S.C., to can Premium.
The name is “tongue-in-cheek,” says Strumke. “Premium” was a termed employed by large national brewers to sell more beer: The word implied consumers were getting something better by purchasing its brand, but the only premium involved was the extra money they paid for the beer’s journey from Milwaukee or St. Louis.
Strumke terms his beer a “post-Prohibition ale.” The formula includes corn as well as hop varieties such as Cluster and Northern Brewer that have been widely used for bittering but rarely utilized for their aroma as in this beer. (“Cool, minty, herbaceous” is how Strumke describes it.)
Premium is fermented with a saison yeast and a strain of Brettanomyces, a wild yeast that imparts flavors often colorfully described as “woodsy,” “wet saddle” and “horse blanket.” While many craft breweries have experimented with Brett, Strumke is almost certain that this is the first Brett beer in a can.
Strumke, however, takes a light touch in his beers, not letting any element become too aggressive. Premium has “the body and look of something like PBR, and it’s insanely drinkable,” he says.
Premium is available in 22-ounce bottles and kegs. Strumke hopes that four-packs of 12-ounce cans will be on the market by the end of this year, or “as soon as possible.”
Kitsock’s Beer column runs monthly in Food.