Do we have everything we could possibly want from Oskar Blues?” the waitress asks the table. She means it too.
These days, things are a little different inside Lyons’ oldest brewery, but the hospitality remains second to none. So does the atmosphere: wood tables and booths neatly cluttered with stickers, tchotchkes and breweriana. It’s as unpretentious as a diner, as welcoming as a church picnic. Hang out here on a Wednesday afternoon, and you’ll hear some great town gossip. Come back on Friday night, and there’s a good chance you’ll find music pouring out from the basement — at least that was the case before a certain virus went around taking names.
All were crucial components when Dale Katechis opened Oskar Blues Grill & Brew on Friday, April 25, 1997 — in a four-foot snowstorm, no less. How’s that for a Colorado welcome?
Originally from Alabama, Katechis landed in Boulder when he ran out of money on his way to set down roots in Montana. He found work bartending at the now-razed Old Chicago Pizza and Tap House on Pearl Street, then was picked to open the Longmont branch in ’96. But when a regional manager threw a calculator at his head, Katechis split and opened his Lyons restaurant with $50,000 in advanced checks and credit cards.
The first year was quiet, and the house beer, Oskar, was brewed at Left Hand. One of the then-regulars, Craig Englehorn (now of Spirit Hound Distillers), started badgering Katechis to brew his own beer. This was Colorado in the ’90s, after all: If you didn’t brew your own beer, you were nobody.
Katechis called Englehorn’s bluff, and Englehorn found a commercial brewing system for sale in California. They bought it, drove it back to Colorado, stuck it in the basement and gave Brian Lutz a call. Katechis had a homebrew recipe dating back to his days at Auburn University, and he and Englehorn had a shared affinity for North Coast Brewing’s Red Seal Ale. They just needed someone with commercial experience to bring the beer to life, and Lutz was the man for the job. In July 1999, Dale’s Pale Ale was born.
Like every other craft beer of the time, Dale’s was packaged in glass bottles, 22-ounce bombers to be specific. Katechis’ idea was to hand-sell them to liquor stores and drive business back to the restaurant. And for a couple of years, that’s what Dale’s did. But then, in 2002, Cask Brewing Systems in Canada approached Katechis with a proposition: How about canning your beer? Cans are lighter than glass to transport, easy to recycle, are better at protecting the beer from light, and can go places glass bottles can’t. It took some convincing, but Cask persisted, and Katechis relented. They made the switch and never looked back.
Dale’s took off. Katechis upgraded the brewing system from the 7-barrel system he and Englehorn brought back from California to a 20-barrel system acquired from Denver’s Great Divide Brewing Co. In 2005, Dale’s Pale Ale was named “Best Pale Ale” in the country by the New York Times, and three years later, Oskar Blues opened the Tasty Weasel in Longmont: 35,000 square feet for brewing, canning and offices. Years of triple-digit growth followed, and today Oskar Blues and Dale’s Pale Ale are ubiquitous in the beer scene.
The state-of-the-art Longmont facility is one you must visit and tour at least once. But back here in Lyons, the OG still feels like a neighborhood haunt. The beer has a little more bite up here, and the eavesdropping is certainly juicer. What more could you want?
Michael J. Casey is the author of Boulder County Beer, the story of how brewers like Katechis transformed a once dry county into ground zero for craft beer in the Centennial State. Buy it wherever better books are sold.
ON TAP: Oskar Blues Grill & Brew, 303 Main St., Lyons, 303-823-6685, oskarbluesfooderies.com/lyons