Oskar Blues Ordeal: The New Pre-GABF Must

Well, the annual GABF excitement has begun.  Breweries Twitter feeds are pumping the hype, the attending breweries list has been released, the Pro-Am beers named and submitted, oh, and the 2nd Annual Oskar Blues Ordeal has been announced.

That last one you may not have heard of, mainly due to the whole “2nd Annual” bit.  That’s ok.  Because that’s probably why you saw the title of this article and ventured here.  Well, the point is this, friend: the maker and purveyor of Dale’s Pale Ale would like to invite you on a trip into the very culture within the nation’s first brewery to put good beer in a can.  And–lucky you–it coincides with GABF.  And since you’ll no doubt be in Denver anyway…

[can 'o bliss. satisfy ya.]

Before I weave you a tale of shenanigans and brews, it’s important I put this near the top of this article: tickets are a) limited and b) $60.  It is absolutely worth it, especially if you’re keen on OB beer, succulent food, and that giddy feeling you get right before the opening kick-off at the Super Bowl.  Tickets and schedules here.

So, it’s 7:55am in Denver, and you’re already in downtown Denver.  There’s a certain non-alcohol related buzz around the city, perhaps even within your spirit, because it’s the opening day of The Great American Beer Fest.  You have a certain excitement about yourself not unlike the morning of your wedding day.  And if GABF is the ceremony, The Oskar Blues Ordeal is like the bachelor party.  And this party starts at 8am at The Falling Rock Tap House (the other GABF must).  Don’t be wary, there’s no beer yet.  You’re just here to be greeted by Chris “Gubna” Katechis (brother of The Dale) and load up on the bus.  Destination: Lyons, CO., a 45 mile trek north.  Sleep for an hour.

In Lyons, you’re welcomed into The Old Chubway, an everyday eatery/fast food joint that is Lyons Colorado.  Taken over by the OB crew when the Subway there closed down, this place can serve you up anything from ribs, sandwiches, mac ‘n cheese, or breakfast burritos.  And breakfast burritos are what you and your new friends are treated to, with a side of Old Chub infused Cayenne sauce.  And also a wee bit of your first beer at 9:30am.  Get used to that bit, it becomes a recurring theme.  Take some time to admire all the wacky and sometimes macabre flying fish crafted from Oskar Blues cans.

humble beginnings, indeed

You’re then shuffled next door to Oskar Blues Grill & Brew, where all the magic started before there were cans.  You’re given a little history into the early days of the CANpocalypse, the restaurant, the early recipes, and the Katechis family within a pretty good-sized brewery for a small brewpub in a foothills-farmtown.  Peep at the laughably outdated canning equipment while you’re treated to any of the cans in the cooler, courtesy of whichever brewer happens to be there that day.

you get to drink beer in this

10:30am–ok, time for silly fun time.  Load up onto “Da Blues Bus”, the appearance of which is a mesmerizing field trip for the eyes.  Your initial thought is “I want to drink my beer in that bus!” And you will, friend.  All the while, smirking and chuckling at the crude and sophomoric sharpie-doodles that adorn the interior.  Descriptions are neither work appropriate nor family friendly.  But it’s all on purpose; this is THE Oskar Blues bus!  It’s supposed to be fun and slightly insane…then, you’re at your next destination, the Hops & Heifers Farm.  Here, a small plot of land grows a small farms-worth of hops to be used in non-production beers, including the HGH (Home Grown Hops) American strong ale, to be served to you later.  There is also some land for some cattle, who eat primarily spent grain from the home brewery.  The beef goes to the Oskar Blues restaurant, which you will visit later, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.  Because with the mountains as a backdrop and the fresh Colorado air in your lungs, you’re getting on a tractor trailer for a hay ride through the hops!  Oh, and there’s a large cooler of beer cans in the middle of the trailer bed…who put that there?!

After a quick education of hop growth and the Hops & Heifers Farm in general, you stop at a wooden stage, where you are treated to some HGH from a kegerator.  Bittered with the very hops that were somewhat-recently plucked from the very bines you just rode through.  Socializing and revelry ensue, until it’s time to leave on your way to lunch.

12:00–another bus ride later, and you’re in Longmont, just a bit east and hometown of Oskar Blues’ main brewing facility, as well as the restaurant you’re stopping at, Oskar Blues Homemade Liquids and Solids.  You’re brought to the upstairs VIP lounge, where you’re given 2 of the amazing-est things you can be given as an Oskar Blues fan: a burger + hot wings buffet, and 5 tickets for half-pint “samples” of brews from the downstairs bar, featuring 2-5 OB oddities, their 7 production beers, and a whole butt-ton of eccentric guest taps, 52 total choices.  Your food coma and liver recuperation can wait, because you have one more stop:

1:30pm–a short 4 minute bus ride down the road brings you to The Tasty Weasel, the taproom and production facility for all your beloved Oskar Blues brewskis.  The facility shines with the reflected light of dozens of stainless steel tanks that can each fit the entire Lyons brewhouse inside.  You’re given the tour of the place, which is pretty neat because it’s a subtle mix of a macrobrewery tour with a tour of a micro facility (and make no mistake, OB isn’t producing much compared to some breweries).  If you’re lucky, and you probably are, you’ll be given an open can from the running canning line, snatched in those precious 1.5 seconds between filling and capping…and then you’re given a voucher for a draft pint from the tasting room when the tour is done.  Merriment and revelry ensues.  But like all good things, you have to take your last photos and finish off your pint to go back to Denver.

4:00pm–aaand you’re home!  Back at the Falling Rock Tap House in downtown Denver.  You probably took a nap in the bus and now you’re all kinds of groggy.  If you’re not going to the GABF, by all means get thee inside Falling Rock and celebrate.  Otherwise, you have some time to come back down before the GABF doors open and it’s time for more beer.  Best of luck.

(The) Dale

Either way, you just experienced something special.  And I don’t just mean the all-access booze.  In a tour-de-force you were introduced to, and spoiled rotten by, a very unique subculture in the craft beer world.  There are a very small handful of breweries that can give you a day of days like Oskar Blues can.  Between multiple facilities and locales, the punk/blues/weird/downhome culture is tangibly evident in a way that’s not just lip service.  You cannot taste Old Chub the same way again after this trip.  Somehow, in some way, being drenched in the Oskar Blues culture, in all its forms, leaves a permanent imprint on you, even if it’s only a 6 hour trip.  If you have the means, and the time, and you can’t imagine your live without Dale or his Pale Ale, you need to do this.  Best non-GABF use of $60 you’ll ever spend.

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