Beer Man

Oskar Blues will debut Old Chub Nitro this week, the first U.S.-made nitro beer in a can

Oskar Blues, which pioneered putting craft beers in cans in the United States, is taking an old favorite from the U.K. and making it better. Call it an AmeriCAN revolution.

This week the Longmont beer-maker will become the first stateside brewery to can a beer that has been carbonated with nitrogen rather than carbon dioxide. Old Chub Nitro will debut at the Craft Brewers Conference in Denver before being sold in four-packs of sixteen-ounce throughout the brewery's distribution network.

See also: Bud, Guinness, Sam Adams protest Left Hand Brewing's attempt to trademark "Nitro"

Oskar Blues's Longmont neighbor, Left Hand Brewing, was the first -- and still the only -- U.S. brewery to bottle a nitro beer, although the two companies are using different processes.

Oskar Blues is using cans that were manufactured overseas by Ball Corporation with widgets attached to the inside that release the gas into the beer when the pop is topped. Several U.K. brews that are sold in the U.S., like Guinness, Old Speckled Hen, Murphy's and Boddington's, have been using widgets in cans and bottles for some time.

"This is something we've been working on for a while, about two and a half years," says Oskar Blues spokesman Chad Melis, adding that the brewery has also experimented with nitro versions of Dale's Pale Ale, Deviant IPA and G'Knight Imperial Red IPA.

Nitrogen gives beers a creamy mouthfeel and a smoother pour -- and works particularly well with malty beers. Oskar Blues has been distributing kegs of its Old Chub for nitro draft pours and recently ramped that up. The beer, a Scottish-style ale, "has so much complexity and malt backbone that it works really well," Melis says.

Oskar Blues had been planning to reveal the beer during the five-day Craft Brewers Conference, which takes place this week in Denver; the brewery has used the conference to make big announcements about other beers and packages in the past. But the story leaked early after Oskar Blues applied for a trademark on the beer's name.

Around the same time, Left Hand's decision to apply for a trademark for the words "Nitro" and "Milk Stout Nitro" was protested by three large breweries. Customers have also objected to the notion, expressing themselves on Left Hand's Facebook page.

If Left Hand gets the trademark for the word "Nitro," it has pledged not to sue Oskar Blues, even though the brewery is using the word on its can, and the owners of the two companies met to discuss the issue in March.

"Our conversation was that we wanted to put Old Chub Nitro in a can," Melis says. "They are not looking to put beer in a can, so they were supportive. It was pretty simple. We have a good relationship."

Oskar Blues has also applied for a trademark for G'Knightro, a nitro version of its G'Knight double IPA, but that beer isn't yet in production.

More than 8,000 brewers, brewery suppliers, business owners and other craft-beer industry professionals will attend the CBC -- and the World Beer Cup competition -- which is being held in Denver for the first time. Although the seminars and presentations associated with the trade show aren't open to the public, dozens of associated beer-drinking events all over town will be.

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Jonathan Shikes is a Denver native who writes about business and beer for Westword.
Contact: Jonathan Shikes