Oskar Blues Brewery has an interesting past with some interesting accomplishments, culminating in our review today of a crowler1 of Four Roses Barrel-Aged GUBNA, but before we get to that lets rewind the clock just a little bit. Founded in 1997 by Dick Dale Katechis, Oskar Blues Brewery was originally Oskar Blues Grill & Brew Restaurant located in Lyons, Colo. After doing the restaurant thing for a year, they started brewing their own beer in the basement and took home a bronze medal at the Great American Beer Festival for their beer The Reverend Sandi’s Sinful Stout.
Fast forward to 2002 and they released their first canned beer, Dale’s Pale Ale.2 This was remarkable not because it was a revolutionary beer, but their claim is that this was the first craft beer to be canned by the facility that it was brewed at. While there are a couple of other breweries that claim that as well, the fact remains that Oskar Blues Brewery was an early adopter of cans in the craft brew scene. As a growing trend, more and more craft breweries have started using cans, but with their early adoption and using cans for their entire lineup, Oskar Blues can be considered leaders in the idea that bottles aren’t the end-all be-all.3
This year Oskar Blues once again brought a revolution to the industry in the form of a can. They took a Ball Packaging 32-ounce aluminium can and a machine made by Wisconsin Aluminum Foundry and sold exclusively through Oskar Blues Brewery and created a system that’s easy to fill and seal giant aluminium can growlers – or as they call it, a crowler. This machine is a fairly reasonable $3,000 to get started, and has already been purchased by a few breweries and brewpubs around the United States.4
But while packaging is exciting and all, the real reason we get excited about it is because of what’s inside, and inside this crowler is a special release of the GUBNA, an imperial IPA. Aged in Four Roses Bourbon barrels, this version of the GUBNA was draft-only, so unless you were sneaking your glass of beer out of a bar or the brewery, the only way it was going home with you was in a crowler or a growler. Brooks Whittington picked this up while visiting the brewery, and opted for the crowler to make a safe journey back to Texas. The crowler had a fun label that looked like a barrel and when torn reveals that it appears to be a wood veneer with print on it. Oskar Blues has also done a barrel-aged GUBNA with Breckenridge Bourbon barrels, cabernet wine barrels and tequila barrels.
Popping open the giant can, the beer fills it to the very top making the first couple of ounces poured quite a mess. After I cleaned that up and finished pouring my glass, the deep orange-brown imperial IPA was semi-opaque and sported a beautifully thick white head, though it slowly dissipated to a smaller head about an eighth of an inch. Eagerly burying my nose in the aromas I pick up rich bourbon, sweet malts, some fruity hops and a very strong alcohol note. At 10 percent ABV I’m not surprised that I can smell some of it, but I think the bourbon note adds to it, making it smell even boozier.
Taking my first sip, the GUBNA’s bourbon-alcohol note hits me first, quickly followed by the hoppy tropical fruits and a pleasant sweetness that isn’t too cloying or overwhelming. I can feel the warmth of the alcohol from the tip of my tongue all the way down my throat, reminding me how strong this beer is. There’s a good amount of carbonation and a medium weighted mouthfeel which mesh together very well. The finish is long with a slight bitterness from the hops5 on my tongue, along with sweet malts and that lingering bourbon taste.