Wasatch welcomes Oskar Blues to Utah
When Longmont, Colorado’s Oskar Blues Brewery announced last month it would begin distributing its beers in Utah, you might expect the Utah Brewers Cooperative (comprised of local outfits Wasatch Brewery and Squatters Craft Beers) to come up with a plan to combat them. Oskar Blues is new competition, right? Wasatch/Squatters Head Brewmaster Jon Lee said in the world of craft beer, it just doesn’t work that way.
"The craft brewing industry as a whole is a very collaborative type of environment," Lee said. "And even beyond the craft movement. I’m a member of the National Brewers Association of America, the IBD out of England. Also the American Society for Brewing Chemists.
"So there is a longtime tradition within the brewing world of sharing scientific knowledge and developing better methods."
It goes even deeper than that with Wasatch and Oskar Blues, though. Their relationship began around 2002 and stemmed from a friendly disagreement over bragging rights.
"At Wasatch/Squatters, we were the first craft brewer in the nation to be in a can, but it was one we had made for us by another canner," Lee said. "Oskar Blues bought their own canning line, and they were the first to actually can their own beer. Here we are, we’re selling Provo Girl at the time in cans and it was doing pretty well. We thought it was the wave of the future. And then all of a sudden there’s this new guy on the scene, the founder of Oskar Blues, Dale Katechis. He comes out with Dale’s Pale Ale in a can, saying he was the first.
"The avenues of communication were opened up with that and over the years there has been a lot of healthy back and forth."
Lee said since then Wasatch/Squatters and Oskar Blues have had a collaborative relationship.
"So it was a natural thing when they said Oskar Blues was coming into Utah and bringing all the different canned beers they have available, we thought, well, let’s have some fun," Lee said. "We’ll do a collaborative beer."
Lee and Oskar Blues Brewmaster Tim Matthews put their heads together with brainstorming sessions that started over the phone.
"We were kind of bouncing around these ideas of just these off-the-wall beers," Lee said. "What can we do to kind of play with different ingredients? We want a good, solid beer but let’s have some fun with it."
Lee said he enjoyed working with Matthews in large part due to their philosophical differences. Wasatch takes a fairly traditional approach, Lee said, whereas Oskar Blues is known as a boundary-pusher. So the process of meeting in the middle, as he put it, was a fun experience. The two outfits have different strengths they brought to the table.
"Obviously here we are very good at session beers, as we need to be," Lee said. "So the 4 percent ABV stuff that comes out of here is always top-notch. And Oskar Blues doesn’t have experience with that. They don’t need it. They can brew high-strength stuff. So that’s the part where it leaned on us."
The result of the collaboration was dubbed Utah Blues, a limited release beer that Lee jokingly says he and Matthews had trouble describing.
"It didn’t really have a name. Tim and I kind of invented it. So we’re calling it an apple ginger hopfenweiss," Lee said.
The beer started with a malt base and includes apple juice, which Lee said gave it kind of a cider feel. It was then hopped with mosaic hops (and dry-hopped afterward, as well). The weiss yeast gives it a spicy edge and finally, Lee said they steeped the beer with ginger while it boiled.
"I’m happy with it. It came out pretty good," Lee said. "It was such a gamble. We didn’t know if it was going to work or not so I’m happy with how it turned out."
The beer has been available at Wasatch’s Park City and Sugar House locations for about a month, but Lee cautioned that any curious craft beer enthusiasts who want to try it should do so fast.
"This is it. It’s a one and done thing. We’ll never make it again, and once it’s gone, it’s gone."
For those who missed out on Utah Blues, Wasatch/Squatters has another new offering: Utah Experimental (UT-X). The idea behind UT-X, Lee said, was to take advantage of all the interesting new hop varieties available to brewers, which he previously had no way to use.
"Every year we head up to Yakima, Washington, to select hops," Lee said. "Every year we’re up there we get shown these new varieties. The growers are developing a lot of new hops. Their experimentals are always coming out, as well, stuff that doesn’t always make it to full-scale production. And the growers aren’t entirely sure if these new hops have good agronomic stability. They might have good aromatic profiles or good bittering, but that’s all."
Lee said he and Wasatch Brew Pub brewer Ray Madson have long wanted to find a way to try out those small-batch hops, and on their road trip back from Washington a few months ago they came up with a way. UT-X starts with a base malt recipe with a neutral profile, and every month it is brewed with a different hop, giving it a different flavor and aroma. Lee said the response from craft beer enthusiasts has been very positive and Wasatch/Squatters plans to keep going UT-X in rotation indefinitely.
"The goal is that, if you come in every three weeks or so, there will be a new UT-X for you to try," he said.
For more information visit WasatchBeers.com.
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