The Transylvania Times -

 
 

By Sean Trapp
Staff Writer 

Brewery Picks Brevard For East Coast Hub

 


BREAKING NEWS: Oskar Blues Brewery, maker of craft beers such as Dale’s Pale Ale and Old Chub Scotch Ale, has announced plans to make Brevard the company’s East Coast hub, with the goal of opening a brewery near Railroad Avenue and a restaurant/music venue in downtown.

Specific locations haven’t been announced, but the company has secured a contract on a 30,000-square-foot brewery space.

The brewery is also looking at a 6,000-square-foot site to host a restaurant and music venue.

The company expects to employ 25 to 30 people in the brewery and 40 to 50 people in the restaurant.

“I’ve left a bike in Brevard for years as we’ve been coming here to ride mountain bikes and check out our buddies at Mountain Song Music Festival,” said founder Dale Katechis. “This place rings true with the same eclectic mountain charm that inspired Oskar Blues to put Dales’ Pale Ale in a can back in the day in Lyons, Colo. Brevard and Lyons share a small town main street tone mingled with live music and an energy emerging from the surrounding hills.”

Choosing Brevard

Brevard was on Katechis’ radar due to his long-standing friendship with local music and event promoter John Felty. The two originally met when Felty’s band, Jupiter Coyote, played a venue at Auburn, Ala ., where Katechis was bar manager. After Katechis moved to Colorado, they crossed paths again when Jupiter Coyote performed at Red Rocks Amphitheater in Boulder, Colo ., and their friendship grew from there.

Katechis first came to Brevard in 1999 to attend Felty’s wedding, and was immediately drawn to the town.

“Not only is there great mountain and road Biking here, but the fact Brevard has so much charm – the warmth of the people – he just felt like it was a cool little gem that was somewhat undiscovered,” said Felty. “He’s always been intrigued by the place.”

Felty stopped touring full time and got into promoting, producing and event management. He knew Katechis was looking for opportunities to share his product with a broader market, so when the Mountain Song Music Festival began, Oskar Blues became one the event’s original sponsors. Business continued to grow, and for several years Felty said the company focused on its Colorado operations. But when Oskar Blues’ sales east of the Mississippi hit 35 percent of their total, an East Coast production center made sense, and Brevard was Katechis’ first choice.

“We’ve looked at the options of growing our Colorado-based brewing to the next level, and the thought of opening another small, intimate restaurant and brewery on a grassroots level sounds like a lot more fun,” said Katechis.

“With that much beer traveling east of the Mississippi, it allows us to invest in another small town that shares our passions and recoup the investment as we contribute to the community and streamline our shipping costs, amongst other things,” he said.

Brewery Beginnings

Katechis began Oskar Blues in 1997 as a restaurant, Oskar Blues Cajun Grill. Lyons, a recreation-oriented town at the foot of Longs Peak in Rocky Mountain National Park, had a population of only 1,400 people. In 1999, Katechis turned the restaurant into a brewpub, and in 2002 began selling his beer in an unlikely package for a craft beer: a can.

At the time, the idea of putting a craft beer in a can was unheard of.

“We laughed, like everyone else probably did, about putting a big hoppy pale ale in a can,” said Marketing Director Chad Melis. But the more they looked at it, the more they saw the advantages of aluminum over glass: more portable, safer, greater protection against light and oxygen, and easily recyclable. And with modern waterproof linings, the beer and metal never touch, preventing the exchange of metallic flavor.

“Suddenly, it seemed like a no brainer: better for the beer, better for the environment, and better for the beer drinker,” said Melis.

In 2002, Oskar Blues became the first U.S. craft brewer to brew and can it’s own beer, using a tabletop machine that sealed one can at a time. They made 700 barrels of Dale’s Pale Ale, a 6.5 percent alcohol beer that Melis described as “hoppy” and “aggressive,” and definitely not what people expected to get from a can. Their next beer was a complex 8 percent scotch ale, Old Chub.

“We continued to put bigger, more complex, challenging beers in a can until people started noticing and saying, ‘That’s a really great beer,’” Melis said.

The staff won converts at beer festivals, Biking events, and music festivals such as Mountain Song.

“We were changing people’s mind one beer at a time,” said Melis.

Since then, their beers have won numerous honors: Dale’s Pale Ale was named the Top American Pale Ale by the New York Times, and Mama’s Little Yella Pils, Old Chub Scotch Ale, and Deviant Dale’s IPA all brought home medals at the 2011 Great American Beer Festival.

Oskar Blues now distributes in 27 states. In 2011, they produced 59,000 barrels, a 43 percent increase over the previous year.

A Perfect Fit

Melis, who had been hearing about Brevard from Katechis for years, recently joined fellow employees Jeremy Rudolph and Jason Rogers to visit. They looked at properties in town, explored the county’s mountain bike trails with Brevard City Councilman Wes Dickson, and rode in the recent Assault on the Carolinas bike race. Melis was struck by the similarities between Brevard and Lyons.

“There’s bike riding that’s going on, there’s music, there’s a lot of great, beer savvy people talking about beer at the bars. There’s just a really great connection between the things that we love about Lyons and the experiences that we’ve had in Brevard,” he said.

Melis also noted that the quality of life in Brevard was not an afterthought, but a primary factor in choosing a new location. One of Katechis’ business principals, Melis explained, is that being true to yourself, and having fun, are not things that happen by themselves.

“They are things you stay true to; they are things you make priorities,” said Melis.

Consequently, music, recreation and lifestyle are an integral part of the Oskar Blues culture. They host live music five nights a week, with open bluegrass picks every Tuesday night. They raise beef, pork and vegetables for their restaurants at the Oskar Blues Hops and Heifers Farm near the brewery in Longmont, Colo. Oskar Blues even produces its own custom made mountain bikes, REEB cycles.

Melis said the Brevard restaurant will be similar to their Colorado restaurants, which he described as Americana with a Southern influence. Melis said they expect to be up and running by December.

“We’re looking forward to coming out there, brewing beer, riding bikes and enjoying music,” he said.

For more information about Oskar Blues, visit http://www.oskarblues.com.