Few other breweries in recent times have engendered a sense of loyalty, depending upon your opinion of craft beer in cans, than Oskar Blues Brewery. With wide distribution across the country (except for the recent contraction), it’s beers are known by all not just for the novelty of being the first craft brewery to deliver in cans, but also by the quality of the product in those cans.
As mentioned in my Camping and Canned Beer post last year, we’ve been drinking Dale’s since it became widely available in the Denver market. Each trip that we passed by it in Lyons, Oskar Blues beckoned us, but each instance we didn’t have the time to answer the call. Since then they’ve expanded to Longmont, gained a rabid following, and become craft beer legend.
In the summer of 2010 we were able to stop in on the way for a quick getaway from the city. Ever since our honeymoon there in 1993, we’ve had a special connection with Estes Park and decided to go up for a Friday one-nighter. There are a few ways up there from Denver, the Lyons route being just one of them, the siren call of Oskar Blues determined our navigation for this trip.
Coming in just before the lunch hour, the parking was starting to get sparse in the shopping complex where Highway 36 makes a jog through Lyons. Entering you’re given the option of going upstairs to restaurant seating or downstairs to the bar; we naturally went down. With black walls and decor looking pillaged from a bender in New Orleans, we felt at home immediately due to our frequent trips to the Big Easy.
The Brew Trek Bar to Tables Ratio of Patrons was encouraging as we exchanged greetings with both the bartender and others enjoying an easygoing Friday. The wife found yet another emigre from where she grew up. The number of people we’ve run into from the New Jersey/Pennsylvania border along the Delaware, particularly Bucks County, astounds me. And she found another soul in our bartender for the day. So the conversations flowed freely that morning into the early afternoon.
The fact that the founder, Dale Katechis is from the South quickly becomes evident when you look at the menu, loaded with southern-style and Cajun/Creole yumminess. It was also evident in their hot sauces made from various OB beers, each with varying degrees of hotness. We particularly liked the Old Chub sauce, having a pleasing touch of cayenne.
The seasonal taps available that day also give a nod to the South. The Velvet Elvis Oatmeal Stout and the Priscilla Wheat were smooth and perfect for a summer’s day. But for me the best of the day was the Dale’s on tap. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again (and probably again), nearly every beer tastes better on tap. The Dale’s was no different; much more complex flavors came out with the draught. The hops that are at times over-assertive in cans, balanced out pleasantly from the tap without sacrificing the full-bodied taste. If you’re a Dale’s fan who’s only had it in the can, you need to seek it out on tap, which I know is easier said than done. Oskar Blues itself doesn’t make that quest easy, serving it only from cans at every beer festival I’ve seen them at, including GABF. I completely understand OB’s need to highlight their distinction in the craft beer world with their cans, but from our experience that day, I truly wish they would rethink bringing kegs to some of the events.
With one exception, we were overwhelmed by how much better all of their beers were on tap with every sip we had from the the flight. The smoky, spicy complexities of Old Chub came out much better, and truth be told, I’m not a fan of it in the can. The Gordon Imperial IPA also benefited greatly from being on tap, the hops filling the palate less acridly. Even the Leroy (One Nut) Brown offered up hidden textures. The one exception was the Gubna which, like Old Chub, I have never acquired a taste for. Perhaps it’s the rye malt used in the recipe that turns me off on Gubna, there are very few ryes that I can stomach.
Mama’s Little Yella Pils rounded out the appreciation of the day’s favorites. A much more full-bodied beer on tap, it retains the crispness that we’ve come to enjoy in the cans.
Reluctantly we started saying our goodbyes, needing to begin the final leg to Estes Park, and just as people began trickling in for some early Friday revelry. The consensus that this was among our favorite Colorado breweries was firmly made. Overall it was the perfect start to a relaxing weekend.
The next day the wife finally experienced the spectacular drive over Trail Ridge Road and the incredible views of the Never Summer Range. The route home also made it convenient for us to stop in at Grand Lake Brewing (look for a future post) for a couple of brews before heading back to Denver. A little beer, a little nature, some tasty food, and the opportunity to shed work week concerns recharged us until whenever we could work another excursion into our schedule.
I’m lucky in that I can get Dale’s on tap anytime I want at Falling Rock, since it is conveniently located near where I work; having a pint now reminds me of our visit to Lyons instead of just camping. And while I’ll still enjoy the Oskar Blues line up in the can, I’ll always be craving the complexity of them on tap. Like a beer oasis, Oskar Blues will now be a favorite detour for us on our trips to Estes Park.