Oskar Blues’ Canned Beer Has Hop

"Beer he drank — seven goblets. His spirit was loosened. He became hilarious. His heart was glad and his face shown."

— Epic of Gilgamesh, 3000 B.C.

Beer: Gubna Imperial IPAMade by: Oskar Blues Brewery; Longmont, Colo.

Oskar Blues Brewery originated in 1997 as a restaurant in Lyon, a tiny town resting at the base of Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado. The proprietors started brewing their own beer in 1999.

Mountain biking, kayaking and the town's music scene make it a tremendous summer destination, according to Chad Melis, Oskar Blues' marketing director.

"But it didn't really help in the wintertime," he said.

So in November 2002 Oskar Blues started distributing regionally as a way to spread the word and sustain the business in the slower winter months. And they did so in a can.

"It's a superior vessel for keeping beer fresh," Melis said.

Canning beer, however, proved surprisingly difficult as canning systems were designed for much larger breweries and cans were priced the same way, Melis said. An unsolicited e-mail from a packaging company proved pivotal to designing a system for craft-brewing capacity and nearby Ball Corp. — a can producer — recognized the relevance and potential impact of craft brewers, Melis said.

Cans do a better job of keeping flavor-degrading sunlight away from beer and offer a better seal against oxygen, Melis said. Cans are lighter, meaning you can ship more at a lower cost than bottles, and they are easier to recycle, he said.

Plus, it doesn't hurt that cans are easier to tote in your backpack as you mountain bike or kayak through the Colorado wilderness, according to Melis.

Oskar Blues claims the title of first craft beer in a can, and Melis will tell you it's a burgeoning movement. About five craft brewers canned their beer in 2005, but Melis estimates about 70 have since been converted.

Oskar Blues separated its production facility from the brewpub about 18 months ago, moving the facility to nearby Longmont, and the company has experienced phenomenal growth since it first turned out 700 barrels nearly eight years ago.

The brewer distributes its four core brands in 27 states, brewing nearly 30,000 barrels in 2009. Oskar Blues recently added two more fermenters and projects producing more than 40,000 barrels this year, Melis said.

The company has no plans for additional beers or markets right now, instead "hunkering down" in its existing markets and establishing a foothold, he said.

Web site: oskarblues.comType of beer: IPA

British pale ales brewed for the Indian Empire were reportedly made with a higher strength and more hops to protect them on the long journey.

Rating: 4½ pints out of 5Beer review: Debuting March 1, Gubna Imperial IPA is a March-to-October seasonal sold in four-packs. Ten Fidy, a 10.5 percent ABV imperial stout, is Oskar Blues' November-through-February seasonal.

Open the can and stick your snout near the top, and you'll catch a pretty crisp hoppy, almost pinelike, aroma. Gubna is a deeper golden color, and the aroma in the glass is quite crisp, sharp and just a bit floral.

Melis described Gubna as a "little hop grenade in a can." Frankly, I don't know if I can disagree with that assessment even if it does come from a marketing guy.

The flavor is hoppy and crisp and floral with maybe even just a slight citrusy quality gliding beneath all the other flavors. The bitterness is present in full-bodied aftertaste that lingers in the back of the throat for just long enough to let you know that you're drinking a beer. Not a watered-down, yellow beerlike beverage that reads "BEER" across the label and bears little resemblance to its namesake.

No, this is a beer.

The bitterness is somewhat tempered as the bitter "edge" is muted just a hair. I doubt, however, anyone who traditionally shies away from IPAs could get through a can without making that, "What did I just bite into?" face.

All right, I'm a convert. Admittedly, I think Milwaukee's Beast, Natty Light and Budweezer when envisioning beer in a can. Maybe it's just a byproduct of my apparent beer snob elitism.

But Oskar Blues crafts a wonderfully flavorful IPA, which, by the way, weighs in at a heady and respectable 10 percent ABV.

It's not too bitter; it's hoppy and piney; it's citrusy and flavorful. It's a damn fine beer out of an aluminum can.

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