It might seem strange that Oskar Blues, which is known mostly for its big, hoppy beers, has never offered a mainstream IPA as part of its canned lineup – and that's not changing. Because although the Longmont-based brewery will roll out a brand-new beer, called simply Oskar Blues IPA, nationwide this month, the contents are far from mainstream. “It doesn't really fit in,” acknowledges Oskar Blues spokesman Chad Melis. “It's definitely a departure. In a way, we are pushing back against our own thing.”
With an ABV of 6.43 percent (43 is brewery founder Dale Katchis's favorite number), Oskar Blues IPA is actually a smidge lower in alcohol than Dale's Pale Ale – a beer that smells and tastes more like a traditional IPA. But it's the hops profile that really sets the beer apart from Oskar Blues's other beers — like Dale's, Pinner Throwback IPA and Gubna — as well as most of the other IPAs on the market.
“The biggest thing about this beer is where the hops come from, and that is Australia,” says Tim Matthews, head of brewing operations for Oskar Blues.
It uses four varieties: Ella, which has spicy, floral notes, along with stone fruit flavors; Topaz, which has some of the piney, dank notes that American hops have; Vic Secret, an unusual hop that imparts earthy aromas, along with passion fruit and tropical notes; and Enigma, which offers raspberry and melon flavors and aromas.
Oskar Blues began seriously researching Australian hops last year because many hops varieties grown in the United States are becoming more expensive and more difficult to get as the craft-brewing industry expands and more consumers embrace craft beer.
Working with contacts in Australia, Matthews was able to sample several different varieties and eventually was guaranteed delivery of some of them on a regular basis. The brewery is one of only four in this country to get a large allocation of Enigma hops – which come from Tazmania – and is the only one to have used those hops commercially.
Matthews admits that drinkers are going to be surprised when they first taste Oskar Blues IPA because it's not what they're going to expect from the brewery. But he also believes that its complexities will come out the more people try the beer. “That's what is going to differentiate it,” he adds. “If we make just one flavor, it gets pretty boring.”
As for the packaging, it also looks a little different, too. The can is blue on blue – which Melis says was inspired by the colors of the Stellar's Jay, a local bird, and by the Blue Ridge Mountains in North Carolina, where Oskar Blues built its second brewery. There is also a graphic of Long's Peak and Mount Meeker, which loom over Longmont, and the words “To each their own til we go home” and “Blue Dream” printed on the sides.
The first part is a lyric from a song by Sturgill Simpson, a country-music artist whom Oskar Blues employees have been listening to a lot.
Blue Dream is the name Katechis's favorite marijuana strain, Melis says: after all, it wouldn't be an Oskar Blues beer without a pot reference.
The most important thing, though, is what's inside the can. And although Melis says Oskar Blues knows that the IPA category is the most crowded one in craft beer, he also believes that the Australian hops flavors are going to make the IPA unique.
“We wanted to make something that wasn't excessive, something drinkable. We are known for doing hops well, and this is just a different example of that,” he says. “That's also why we didn't give it a name. We wanted to put our own name on it.”