Ale at Altitude: Oskar Blues put the craft in the can | VailDaily.com

Ale at Altitude: Oskar Blues put the craft in the can

Oskar Blues Head Brewmaster Brian Shaeffer visits the Vail Cascade on Friday and Saturday for the hotel's meet-the-brewmaster series.

Craft beer in a can started to gain traction right when I became involved in the industry. Before that there were plenty of skeptics that were convinced that "good" beer had to come from a bottle. Most of the breweries that were canning at that point were doing it because they thought it was funny, they wanted to drink their beer outdoors or it was a cheaper option than glass for newer breweries.

My first year at Oskar Blues, we had a campaign called "Bring Your OB" to try to get people to bring our canned beer to holiday parties in the winter. At the time, there was still a stigma associated with the can, and although we sold plenty of beer in the summer, we had a hard time selling beer in winter.

Now it seems all of the industry leading breweries are canning beer. There are companies putting wine, cold-brewed coffee and other high-brow beverages into cans. People seemed to have finally realized that the can is just better than the harder-to-recycle, less-flavor-stable glass bottle.

The craft revolution

As a brewery, we have benefited from the change in consumer taste because we are no longer seen as "that crazy brewery that only puts their beer in cans." Instead people are taking note of what is inside the can.

As the craft industry continues to grow and evolve, brewers are constantly looking for ways to separate themselves from the pack. Oskar Blues has been doing so by focusing on quality inside the can and working with our suppliers to procure new hop and malted barley varieties.

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One way that we are approaching quality is by trying to address freshness by proximity. With the opening of our North Carolina production brewery we are able to provide the East Coast with beer that doesn't travel as far and therefore gets to the consumer faster. We make a lot of big hoppy beers that are meant to be enjoyed as soon as possible. So having a brewery in Colorado and North Carolina makes that experience possible for more people across the nation.

We also are focusing on how we produce our beer so that it has better flavor stability on the shelf. We have an extensive quality assurance program that enables us to make educated process changes in brewing, cellaring and packaging. These changes ultimately lead to better flavor and longer shelf life.

The Latest and Greatest

We are leading the way in trialing malting barley varieties that are more geared to all grain craft beer. For the past 50 or so years, barley was selected based on how it would perform for Coors or Budweiser that use adjuncts like rice and corn in their brewing process. Adjuncts are great for keeping color down and alcohol up without contributing to flavor. As craft brewers we use mostly malted barley, maybe some wheat or rye, because we think flavor is a great thing. Since we don't have to compensate for an enzyme starved adjunct, the type of malt we need is much more in line with a European brewery's needs. Getting the right malt is essential to making great beer.

We are also working with our hop suppliers to procure experimental varieties before they come to market. These hops currently have sexy names like Exp. 06062, but after they become commercially viable will receive a better name like Enigma, Azacca, Equinox … Oskar? Finding new, unique hop aromas and flavors whether they are grown in Washington, Australia, France or South America is central to our recently released Pinner IPA, our ever-evolving Gubna Imperial IPA and a soon to be released beer.

Pretty serious stuff. While you're thinking that over, go buy a 12 pack of Dale's.

Brian Shaeffer grew up in the Vail Valley and graduated from Battle Mountain High School in 2002. He is now the production manager for the Oskar Blues Brewery in Longmont and has been brewing beer professionally since 2007.

If you go…

Who: Brian Shaeffer, Oskar Blues Head Brewmaster

What and when: Meet the Brewmaster and enjoy free samples on Friday from 4-7 p.m. in Fireside Bar; Small plates and craft beer pairing on Saturday starting at 6 p.m. in Atwater on Gore Creek

Where: Vail Cascade Resort, Vail

Cost: Friday is free; Saturday event is $35 per person

More info: http://www.vailcascade.com/atwater or 970-479-7014