Canned Beer Goodness
We get great emails around here and this week I had one of the most interesting exchanges with Marty Jones, Lead Singer of the Oskar Blues Brewery in Lyons, Colorado. Marty sent me some information about their two beers in cans and how they were bringing their ales to the New York marketplace. I was able to be clever...actually clever for once...and wrote back that I had bought a six of cans of their 8% Scots style ale, Old Chub, a couple of weeks ago when at Oswego, NY at the excellent C's Farm Market. So I thought I'd pose some questions to Marty and see what he said:
Good questions, here are some answers for you. Sorry it took me so long!Marty also forwarded a couple of news articles about what they are up to as well as a press release.
Q: Why cans?
We heard about the canning gear via an unsolicited FAX from Cask, the Canadian maker of our micro gear. Apparently every other microbrewer in the US ignored it. We thought the idea of our big, hoppy pale ale in a can was a riot, and a way for our fans to more easily take our beer into the outdoors.We laughed for several weeks, then made the move to buy the two-can filler in the FAX. Here are a couple quotes from Dale to answer this one:"The main reason we put our beer in cans was because the idea made us laugh," Katechis says. "Why cans? Cans keep beer especially fresh," Katechis says. "They fully protect beer from light, and they hold the lowest amounts of dissolved oxygen. Cans are also easier to recycle and less fuel-consuming to ship, and they make it easier for beer fiends to enjoy great beer outdoors. Plus," Katechis adds, "we're in this to have fun and put some extra joy on the planet. We love the way people's heads spin around after they try one of our monster canned beers. 'That came out of a can?' We hear it all the time."Q: What is the difference in production costs?
It's a little more expensive in time to hand can beer like we do, as opposed to having an automatic botting line. But we're not complaining. We are huge fans of the aluminum can. We no longer bottle our beer.
Q: Are you worried about not making it in the Prince Edward Island market? (inside Canadian joke - canned beverages are banned.)
We want to be succesful in the Prince Edward Island market. We're hoping we can do well enough there to warrant a trip out to harvest mussels and have mussels steamed in Dale's with the Prince.
Q: Do you face any regulatory barriers because of the canning?
No regulatory barriers with cans. The can actually gets us in a few places bottles can't go. Though the minimum batch order of cans (250,000) makes it tough to do seasonal beers. To get around that, this winter we did a pair of seasonal beers in plain cans that we hand labeled, just 400 cases of each one. Very artisanal! The cans are a mental barrier to many consumers, who equate cans with flavorless, factory beer. They also have the deep-seated misconception that cans impart metal flavors to beer. That is not true: the modern-day aluminum can is lined with a water-based polymer so the can and the beer never touch. Once people taste our big, rich beers, they are usually shocked they came from a can. They can't believe it. It's like hearing Big Maybelle's voice come out of Ashlee Simpson's mouth.
Q: What do you like most about Old Chub?
I dig Old Chub's skim-milk mouthfeel and texture, and the rich caramelly/chocolatey goodness in the flavor. I also love the little hint of smoke on the finale (to add a lovely farewell kiss and temper the gentle sweetness of the beer) and the beer's deceptive nature. Old Chub is immensely quaffable for a beer of its flavor and 8% ABV strength. I also love the fact that it's in a can. So do our fans.
Q: What other Scots ales do you like?
I've always been a fan of McEwans, very nice beer, a classic.
Q: Why did you decide to make a Scots ale your second brew?
When we looked at doing a second canned beer, we wanted a brew that pushed the envelope like Dale's Pale Ale - Dale's is 6.5% ABV and has 65 IBUs. Granted, we were hearing from stores and bars that we should make a lighter, more accessible beer than Dale's. But that idea didn't move us. And our mission is to shatter the perceptions of canned beer, and we do that by squeezing big beers into them. That idea makes us laugh. We had been making a Scotch ale called Hi Ya!, we tweaked the recipe, renamed it Old Chub (becuase we thought the name was fun to say) and here we are. The beer is really Scotch strong ale, but the BATF required the Scottish-style handle.
Q: Is the water naturally soft or is that something you have to do with water treatment?
We have lovely mountain water, we put a gentle filtering on the water, that's it.
Q: How long has you been selling retail and what are your hopes for the NY state market? We started hand-canning Dale's in November of 2002 and sold it only in our local area. We're now in 11 states with Dale's and Old Chub. We hope to do very well in New York, just arrived there, we're getting a very good response so far. NYC is the biggest and best city in the US, we like being in the big leagues despite our scrappy little size. (There are seven of us in the brewery.) We know there are large numbers of craft beer fans there, we want to move them, spin their heads around with our glorious canned goods.
Okay, Holler if you need more info.
I am really pleased to say with all this direct marketing (meaning if it is viral, I was the one the original sick guy sneezed on) that I really love Old Chub. I have poured the last one and have it before me now. It pours a deep mahogany with maybe a garnet note and sits under a really rich rocky mocha head. The 8% is simply indecernable amongst the grainy pumperknuckle and dry cocoa malt. It is a thick blanket of an ale, good as pie. The yeast is creamy and the water is soft making it very moreish even with the strength. There is very little hop, through it is there as a drying effect on the finish, yet the beer is not cloying. I am guessing that in the dryness of the cocoa there is a touch of black malt but it floats below if it is there. Every single BAer likes it with an average score of over 4/5. That is pretty darn good for something in a can.
I didn't grab a six of Dale's Pale when I was south of the border but I will next time. Too bad their pub is 2,713 km or 1,686 miles from here.