Beer: Ten FIDY Brewery: Oskar Blues Brewery Style: Imperial Stout ABV: 10.5 percent
As we inch ever closer to the third-annual AmeriCAN Canned Craft Beer Festival, our discussion of aluminum cylinders continues, and it's only right that, at this point, we bring up Oskar Blues.
Founded by Dale Katechis in 1999, Oskar Blues Brewery began life as a simple brewpub. The people of Lyons, Colorado, visited and drank often, but none of the place's beers were available anywhere except draft lines in the immediate area. It wasn't until November 2002 that Katechis decided to package his brews, and then he had a decision to make. Would he invest, as most emerging craft breweries were, in a bottling line and a responsible order of 12-ounce bottles? Or would he go all in on cans, a more expensive option that at the time was the realm of the big brewers and soda producers?
He chose cans. Was he crazy?
He probably was crazy. Aside from the stigma attached to cans, a major reason more breweries don't package their beers this way is that the start-up costs are greater -- canning lines are more expensive than bottling lines, and most companies that actually produce the cans require a minimum order of around 200,000 units. A single order can cost a brewery upwards of $45,000 before it even packages its first beer.
But Katechis ignored the status quo, and by 2003 the "Canned Beer Apocalypse" had begun. Dale's Pale Ale, Oskar Blue's flagship American pale, was the first to hit shelves. Gordon, an imperial red now known as G'Knight, came soon after. And then, in 2007, Ten FIDY arose.
The name has two meanings. First, the obvious: 10.50 is the alcohol content of the beast. But there's another, less-obvious explanation that requires that you know a bit about the way OB does business. The guys despise corporate structure -- the administrative building in Longmont, Colorado, has cornhole boards in the lobby and is adorned with a sign that reads "Oskar Blues Brewery Anti-Corporate Headquarters." So, FIDY is an anagram -- it stands for Fuck Industry, Do it Yourself.
Six years after its premiere and three years after it took gold at the World Beer Championships, Ten FIDY is still one of the few imperial stouts you'll find in a can, which makes its thick, heavy appearance all the more unsettling. The brew pours like tar, and rarely do you see thicker legs gripping the glass. It's syrupy like molasses, black and viscous as 10w30, with a tiny head of cinnamon that peeks out of the murk before swiftly fizzing out.
As in the aroma, which boasts notes of maple, molasses, cocoa powder and a bit of vanilla, the flavor trends toward the sweeter side of life. The viscosity of the appearance translates to the mouthfeel, as it's nicely velvety and creamy about the palate. It should be no surprise -- the beer is made with enormous amounts of malt, including two-row, chocolate, roasted barley and flaked oats. What is surprising is that there are actually a ton of hops in here as well -- 98 IBUs' worth, although you'd never be able to tell. Molasses and maple syrup play about in a way that makes you feel the beer could provide a nice base for ginger snaps. As the beer warms, it makes available some roastier stuff like toasted bread, peanuts, and a finish of espresso.
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Ten FIDY is delicious now, but with its massive malt content and high ABV, Ten FIDY is a prime candidate for the cellar. Aging a beer . . . in an can? Why, yes. Kept under the correct conditions, a canned creature of the night like Ten FIDY will age just as gracefully as any corked bottle. Chris Katechis, brother of Dale and namesake of Oskar Blues' Gubna double IPA, recommends a gestation time of about three years. I've had one aged just a bit longer that tasted like a chocolate milkshake -- a smooth, sweet, inebriating dessert.
More than 200 craft brewers across the country now can their beers, including big guys like Sierra Nevada, Boston Brewing and New Belgium, and this is definitely thanks in part to the brews -- and balls -- of the guys at Oskar Blues. Any new brewer putting its beer in cans has OB to thank for convincing drinkers that "canned" doesn't have to mean "crap."
"We love the way people's heads spin around after they try one of our four-dimensional canned beers," Dales says. "'That came out of a can?' We hear it all the time."