Longmont’s Oskar Blues playing catch-up to thirst for its beers

Last fall, Oskar Blues Brewery had no plans for capital improvements in 2010. Continued surges in demand for the Longmont-based craft brewer's canned beers, however, forced the top to pop.

Since the beginning of the year, Oskar Blues has added nine new 200-barrel fermenting tanks at its Pike Road facility. Seven of those tanks — including two installed last week — came on board in the past 60 days.

The additions will allow Oskar Blues to have its Gubna Imperial IPA available year-round and also could result in the brewery becoming the third-largest craft brewer in the eight-state Rocky Mountain region behind stalwart New Belgium Brewing Co. and the 21-year-old Odell Brewing Co., both of Fort Collins.

But on the same day his brewery grew to a monthly production capacity of about 5,000 barrels, Oskar Blues founder Dale Katechis was quick to counter that continued rapid and exponential growth is not his company's game.

"It's not our model, and we don't have the desire to be the largest brewery in the world or the largest craft brewery," he said.

Oskar Blues, instead, is scrambling as fast as it can to get its "supply-and-demand curve solved," Katechis said. The brewery is, in a way, out of beer — an order placed now by a distributor might not be filled until mid-October, he said.

Oskar Blues has had to pull out of eight of the 26 states to which it distributes.

"It really stinks," he said. "You really want to spend your time not having to manage being out of beer."

With the addition of the two tanks late last week, Oskar Blues should produce about 44,000 barrels of beer this year, and potentially 60,000 barrels next year, Katechis said. Oskar Blues produced 29,500 barrels in 2009; 17,000 barrels in 2008; and 12,500 barrels in 2007.

Oskar Blues' projected capacity would place the company at No. 3 behind New Belgium, projected to grow to 665,000 barrels in 2010 from 583,160 barrels in 2009; and Odell Brewing, which is projected to hit 50,000 barrels this year, up 10 percent from 2009.

Like Oskar Blues, Odell Brewing also added a handful of tanks this year, bringing its capacity to 75,000 barrels, said Wynne Odell, who co-founded the Fort Collins brewery with her husband.

Oskar Blues' newest restaurant — with dozens of taps to pour unique and hard-to-find craft beer from brewers across the United States — is designed to help further boost the industry, he said.

It's a concept Katechis hopes to expand, but plans for a Fort Collins iteration fell through. He's eyeing a possible location in Denver, but a third restaurant to accompany the Longmont and Lyons eateries is very "premature."

"I can't (open another restaurant) until I can get beer to all of my distributors," he said.

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