Interviews

Why a Craft-Beer Pioneer Joined the Cannabis Industry

Oskar Blues founder Dale Katechis is bringing his craft beer expertise to cannabis.
Oskar Blues founder Dale Katechis is bringing his craft beer expertise to cannabis. Courtesy of Veritas
We've seen no shortage of alcohol companies sticking their boozy little fingers into legal cannabis while one of the few brands we'd actually welcome into the pot trade, Oskar Blues, patiently sat on the sidelines. That finally changed earlier this month, however, when owner and founder Dale Katechis, of Dale's Pale Ale fame, announced that he was taking an active role as an investing partner with Colorado cannabis grower Veritas.

Part of a pioneering brewery team that helped make craft-beer cans cool, Katechis has never let Oskar Blues shy away from his love of the plant. He named the brewery's session IPA Pinner in honor of the small, thin joints he smoked during his formative years, and the production team put the phrase "Sip, Sip, Give" on the Pinner cans. Around the same time, Oskar Blues released an IPA in a blue can with "Blue Dream," the name of a popular weed strain, printed on the side.

But unless you're opening a Cheba Hut, those puns can only bring so much satisfaction to a true potrepreneur. To see what he and Veritas have in store for their budding partnership, we caught up with Katechis and Veritas co-owner Mike Leibowitz.

Westword: How did you guys consummate the deal? Beer or joints?

Dale Katechis: There are some things we can't talk about [laughs].

How do you see your role shaping up with Veritas now that you're on the team?

Katechis: I think I'm gonna carry Mike's bags around, do whatever he tells me to do, and hopefully he throws me an eighth of free weed every once in a while. I call that a win.

Mike and I met through a childhood friend, and it became pretty obvious to both of us early on that we saw business in the same way. Getting along on a professional business front has been extremely easy, and the stars aligned as we continued to grow the business. Maybe my biggest value might be helping them not step in the same potholes I stepped in while building Oskar Blues. If I can help with one misstep because I've made it a thousand times, then who knows? Maybe I get a couple of free eighths a month.

You've been printing pot puns on your cans and dabbling in cannabis-centric promotions for some time, but this is your first foray into the cannabis industry. Why'd you wait this long?

Katechis: It was really just looking for the right opportunity. I'd been looking at other opportunities for quite some time and was considering an investment in the space, but I never found the right fit or company that fit with my ethos. This seemed way too natural, so that's why I started to dig in here more.

Mike, what does having Dale around do for Veritas?

Mike Leibowitz: Dale is, as usual, being very humble about how excited we are to have him. On the sidelines, he might say he had some learning to do in the beginning, but we really have a tremendous amount to learn from him and the example he's set with Oskar Blues. Veritas has a desire to expand as a brand in other markets, being true to form and continuing the path we've set in Colorado. We're incredibly excited and humbled to have someone like Dale on board to help guide our ship and make sure we're not just representing the brand in other markets, but also the quality of people we bring with us.

When Dale came around, it was time for one of our partners to sell his interest [in the company]; Dale was a dream partner for us. We met him early on in the process and didn't really talk to too many people after that. His desire and what he goes after is right up our alley, and what we envision doing in this business. I think it's rare to do something like that. The last thing we wanted as a company was to have a bunch of suits come in, look at profits and spreadsheets and take the fun away from cannabis. With Dale, we're going to have more fun; we already have since he came on board. It's sparked a fire for all 125 of us who work at Veritas. We're a private business, and we're going to remain that way.

What markets are you looking at expanding into?

Leibowitz:
Nothing is final yet, but we are looking at California.

What are some similarities you've noticed between craft beer and cannabis?

Katechis: They're almost identical. I kind of liken what's happening in cannabis right now to what was happening in the craft-beer movement when we started Oskar Blues. It's kind of scary how many similarities there are, [starting with] the quality and importance of caring for the plant that Mike and Veritas hold around it. To Mike's point, profits and the bottom line take care of themselves. We always operated that way at Oskar Blues. If we focus on what we want to do and what we feel is important for the business — which is always taking the high road and taking care of the community — then the bottom line takes care of itself. Hopefully I can help share some of those anecdotal messages as we continue to grow Veritas.

In craft beer, we had four ingredients, and we had to figure out how to make them better and more stable than everyone else. We did it in a very irreverent way, which is how Mike and Jon operate Veritas. It truly is one of the bigger reasons I came here. I felt like my learning curve might be steep but faster here.

Consumers are also looking for more now, too. The education piece in cannabis reminds me of us trying to teach people that cans were actually a good thing for craft beer. At the time, people laughed at us for trying to introduce something so off-the-charts, and that motivated us. Mike and [head of marketing] Jon [Spadafora] aren't afraid to take huge leaps of risk, and I've always been a big fan of doing that.

As someone who's been sitting on the sidelines of the cannabis industry, Dale, where are some new areas to dive in first? How can you and Veritas bring some change?

Katechis: We have a lot of ideas and thoughts on where the next moves are, but the focus for Veritas is growing luxury flower, and growing that line and staying in that line — but there are certainly opportunities out there that we'll investigate, whether it's drinks or what have you.

Can we look forward to any Oskar Blues and Veritas crossover events and branding?

Katechis: Everything is on the table.

Leibowitz: Yes, for sure. People who like to drink beer often like to smoke weed. The one problem is that our state regulators don't like that as much, so we'll wait and see what we're allowed to do.

What strains or methods of consumption do you prefer, Dale?

Katechis: I'm a joint smoker. I love joints. I think Sueño is probably my go-to strain. Recently, though, Strawberry Milk has become a favorite, as well. I went to the All-Star game, batting practice and the Home Run Derby the night before, and Strawberry Milk certainly made it a much more enjoyable time.
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Thomas Mitchell has written about all things cannabis for Westword since 2014, covering sports, real estate and general news along the way for publications such as the Arizona Republic, Inman and Fox Sports. He's currently the cannabis editor for westword.com.
Contact: Thomas Mitchell