Oskar Blues founder Dale Katechis is no stranger to innovation, having kicked off the craft-beer-in-a-can revolution in 2002. Now he's launching a similar concept, only with coffee. This week Hotbox Roasters started selling its first batch of fair-trade coffee beans, packaged in the brewery's "crowlers" — the resealable growler cans that Oskar Blues already uses for its takeout beers. Says brewery spokesman Chad Melis, "Dale has always encouraged a strong entrepreneurial culture. It keeps people hands-on and engaged."
The concept behind Hotbox came from the office coffee. "It stems from Dale experimenting with roasting coffee. He doesn't really stay still," coffee guru John Ralston explains. From there, Katechis purchased a small Italian coffee roaster to make coffee for Oskar Blues employees. The idea grew to the point where he brought in Ralston, a friend and former chef in Crested Butte, to oversee the launch of Hotbox.
The new company is starting out with three varieties of whole roasted coffee sold in the crowlers, which each hold twelve ounces of beans. The beans are single-sourced from micro-lot farms around the world and go a step beyond standard fair-trade coffee. Ralston works with two brothers who buy direct from farmers and who are also coffee-tasting judges. Not only do they give a better price to the farmers, he says, but they evaluate the coffee and help the farmers improve the quality of their beans.
The first offering of Hotbox includes Kenya Dig It (a darker roast with chocolate notes), Bolivia Newton John (a lighter bean with fruity tangerine flavors) and Frank Sumatra (a medium roast with earthy and citrus notes).
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Hotbox can be purchased on the company's website in individual twelve-ounce packages or in weekly, bi-weekly and monthly subscriptions. The coffee is also available at all of the Oskar Blues restaurants, either as whole beans or brewed by the cup. The beans are also on sale at select Boulder and Longmont markets, including Alfalfa's and Lucky's Markets.
"Oskar Blues is very can-centric," Ralston adds. "The crowler is a great talking point, and it's light- and oxygen-proof and infinitely recyclable." The cans have been fitted with gassing valves (similar to the one-way valves on standard coffee bags) to prevent gas buildup in the can without letting in air.
The brewery is currently using Hotbox coffee beans in several beers, including a coffee IPA, a coffee-infused version of Old Chub and Death by Coffee, a take on its already-popular Death by Coconut.