Since 2002, Oskar Blues has been offering microbrews canned on the premises with a small-scale beer canning machine. Microbrew in tin? Seems like an oxymoron, but by all accounts, Dale’s Pale Ale (named after brewery founder Dale Katechis) and Old Chub Scottish Style Ale have been impressing beer critics across the country. Old Chub is ranked the No. 1 Scotch ale at

Now, the brews are available in Western Washington. Over the past two weeks, stores (Haagen’s, Top Foods, Whole Foods, QFC, Fred Meyer, Central Market, Ballard Market, Bottleworks) have introduced Oskar Blues beers and, while it’s too soon to gauge the public’s response, the shipment that was supposed to last 60 days is already sold out.

Not bad for a bunch of outdoors-loving, beer-drinking guys who got tired of packing in and packing out glass bottles.

“In the past, there have been some craft breweries that have had their beers canned,” explains Marty Jones, who is a former beer writer and current in-house publicist for Oskar Blues. “But, typically, what they’ve canned are from the more accessible end of the beer.

We took our biggest beer and put it in the can.

Indeed, Dale’s Pale Ale is a “slurry bomb of hops” that’s balanced with malt, according to Jones. Old Chub has a “hint of smoke on the finish, a milky mouthfeel, and chewy levels of caramel and chocolate.”

Kevin Sullivan, who is the assistant manager at Bottleworks in Wallingford, agrees that the pale ale, especially for something that comes from a can, would satisfy a hop head.

Bottleworks sells six packs of Oskar Blues for $7.99 and the “singing 12-packs,” which include a free CD from the Supersuckers, for $14.99.

“It’s a reasonable price for pretty flavorful beer,” says Sullivan, who is all for canned craft brews. He believes that cans in general are better for preventing light contamination and oxidation.

(Oskar Blues has) changed what the possibility of a good beer in a can can be,” he says.

Credit goes to Oskar Blues for being the first microbrewery to can its premium beers by hand, instead of using a contract cannery. Jones emphasizes that Oskar Blues was the first to receive the new-generation canning machine from Cask Brewing Systems, a Calgary, Alberta, company specializing in craft brewing supplies.

Oskar Blues started with a manual system that processed only two cans at a time. In September, the guys brought in a $45,000 automated system that cans five beers at a time in standard aluminum cans lined with a water-based polymer. Last year, the brewery canned 3,000 barrels. It hopes to double its output this year.

To us, it’s a Cadillac,” Jones says of the machine. “To Coors, it’s a joke.

Since Oskar Blues began canning beer, at least two dozen other microbreweries have jumped on the wagon.

There are other people seeing the beauty of the can,” Jones says. “It’s a snub to snobbiness.

It might be a hard fight to persuade some Northwest beer snobs who drink canned beers only when they’re “slumming.” In a completely unscientific taste test at the P-I last week, I summoned a handful of self-professed beer connoisseurs who sampled Dale’s Pale Ale and Old Chub. The consensus among the fellows was that they would drink the beer if it were around, but they wouldn’t necessarily seek it out.

Of course, none of them were hop heads.

The other battle I foresee is the perception that anything in a can is inferior, especially when the price is commensurate with bottled craft beers. But I think if anyone can shoot a hole in that notion, it’s the Oskar Blues team.

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Published Tuesday, January 18, 2005
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