Oskar Blues has little secret brewing in the back room. Well, make that a big secret: a big barrel-aged one. Over the past three months, the Longmont-based beer maker has been filling and stacking hundreds of bourbon barrels with a couple of its concoctions.
Although Oskar Blues has had a barrel-aging program for about six years, it was very small, and the brewery never had a major release. That is going to change.
“We are definitely ramping up,” says Dennis McShea, who runs the barrel-aging program. “We have had a tenfold increase in barrels in the past three months.”
Oskar Blues now owns more than 730 barrels; most are filled with Ten FIDY, the brewery's highly-rated seasonal imperial stout. The beer will be aged for about eight months and then packaged in 19.2-ounce cans for sale this fall. “We have found that eight months is the sweet spot,” McShea says. “That gives you several seasons of the beer soaking in and out of the barrels. Any sooner and it seems a little rushed.”
But Oskar Blues is also aging other beers in other kinds of barrels. For instance, it just released a small amount of Gubna, a 10-percent ABV imperial rye IPA, that was aged in tequila barrels and then packaged in cans. Several other projects are planned for the future as well, including one that might involve Coconut Porter.
“We have a lot of different ideas,” McShea says. “We want to be creative and this gives us the flexibility to do some fun stuff.”
Part of the reason why Oskar Blues has been able to add the barrel-aging program is because it leased 60,000 square feet of space behind its already large production facility and Tasty Weasel taproom in mid-2014, says company spokesman Chad Melis. They had intended to use it for a bowling alley and taproom, but later decided against the plan.
Instead, the space is being used for a small events room, for the brewery's soda and coffee subsidiaries and for all of those oak barrels.
When Oskar Blues held a small, taproom-only release of barrel-aged Ten FIDY earlier this winter – one that was only hyped in a single Facebook post — people lined up at dawn in the cold to get the beer, Melis says. “We definitely felt the excitement and the interest there… So, having the extra room made it a no-brainer.”