When Dale Katechis canned his very first Oskar Blues beer back in 2002, he thought a lot about the liquid that went inside that aluminum package. Originally a home-brew recipe, Dale's Pale Ale contained hops, hops, and more hops. But Katechis also gave a lot of thought to what went on the outside of that can.
“We wanted an all-American feel to it — simple, bold,” he says. But the shades of red, white and blue on the first cans of Dale’s Pale Ale didn’t quite come out right, and the design depicting the St. Vrain River, with Longs Peak and Mount Meeker in the background, made it kind of busy.
“To be honest, that first can ended up looking like a Hansen’s soda can,” Katechis says with a laugh, although more than a few people told him that the package's soda-like appearance allowed them to walk down the street while they drank one, since no one realized it was a beer.
Two years later, Oskar Blues changed the look, keeping the mountains and the “Rocky Mountain Pale Ale” catchphrase, but ditching the river and some of the other design elements. In its place were vibrant reds and blues and a distinctive oval shape reminiscent of a jug of STP motor oil — basically the Dale's Pale Ale can that exists today.
But Oskar Blues is planning a significant overhaul to both its beer lineup and its branding in the next few weeks, and while the majority of the details are still under wraps, the change will mean a new look for every can, from the flagships to the seasonal offerings — and to its most iconic beer.
Dale’s Pale Ale — that “voluminously hopped mutha” — was the first craft beer to be canned, something that turned the heads of the beer-drinking community in 2002. Today, Dale's is distributed in all fifty states and is one of the best-selling IPAs nationwide, while canned craft beers have become more of the norm than the exception.
Oskar Blues has changed as a business over that time as well. No longer the upstart from the small town of Lyons, it now operates production breweries and pubs in North Carolina and Texas as the eighth-largest craft brewer nationwide. As part of the privately backed Canarchy consortium, Oskar Blues also oversees six other beer companies in California, Texas, Florida, Utah and Michigan.
That wide reach, however, means that Longs Peak and Mount Meeker, along with the “Rocky Mountain Pale Ale” slogan, no longer fit into the overall company picture, says Oskar Blues marketing manager Aaron Baker. “The mountains on the can don’t look like the mountains we have in North Carolina,” he points out (not to mention Texas, which isn’t exactly known for its 14,000-foot peaks).
“We want to stay true to our roots, but we are making beer in three different states now and selling it around the world. We want to make sure that people understand that if they're buying a Dale’s in Austin or Asheville or New York City that it is not shipping from Colorado, that is is being made closer to where they are,” he adds.
Katechis agrees, though he says it took him a long time to come around. “We had to make some tough calls. For me, Rocky Mountain Pale Ale — that’s what this beer was, and what it still is,” he says. “But once you start brewing nationally and distributing globally, the message can become conflicting and confusing.”
So, Rocky Mountain Pale Ale will become “American Pale Ale” on the new cans, while the brewery’s other offerings will lose the little slogans that wrap around the lip of each can.
One change Katechis does like, though, is how the name Oskar Blues will be more prominent. “Almost every year, we have discussed how you really couldn’t see ‘Oskar Blues’ on the can,” he says about the old white lettering. “It created a branding issue for us because most people only knew us for Dale’s.”
The refreshed logo will feature the brewery’s name in bright blue. “They did a great job of paying homage to the authenticity and boldness of the can and its roots, but also of bringing it into 2020,” Katechis says.
Another thing that won’t change is the brewery's commitment to calling Dale's a pale ale, despite the fact that it has always been more like an IPA, both in flavor and ABV. “The liquid in the can was pretty radical for its time, so part of the story of Dale’s is that it is a pale ale, but the hoppiest pale ale you’ve ever had,” Baker says.
Also remaining: the circular screen graphic that is a nod to cannabis culture. Oskar Blues has always tied its messaging, beer names and marketing into that with a variety of inside — and not-so-inside — jokes.
“We always loved having fun with our packaging. We wanted to be quirky and fun and real, and we were trying to make the customers think a little more,” Katechis says. “That helped create the culture of our company. We always wanted to be the company that, if you wore a Dale’s hat, you knew something that someone else didn’t.
“Part of the challenge now is to still have fun, but to do it more on the down-low, because people are so much more educated. But there are still some hidden things on the can that make it fun.”
Oskar Blues plans to roll out its new packaging and new beer styles in the coming weeks.
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.