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A serious beer with a silly name

Chad Melis knows time is ticking on the gimmick.

Oskar Blues, the craft brewery born in Lyons that has since branched out in Longmont, built its reputation by answering a simple question: What if you sold microbrews in cans instead of bottles?

Since 2002, the brewery's name has been synonymous with "canned craft beer," and that isn't likely to change anytime soon. The brewery's revenue almost doubled from 2008 ($4.3 million) to 2009 ($7.9 million).

But browse a decent-size beer cooler at any store in Colorado and you'll find plenty of canned company for Dale's Pale Ale and other Oskar brands. Several craft brewers around the state have begun offering canned brews, and their share of shelf space is only growing.So where does that leave Oskar Blues?

"We've always stretched what people expect out of a canned beer," says Chad Melis, the marketing boss at Oskar Blues. "What we're working on doing is making beer that's challenging to people, but that people still like. I think our beer is going to eclipse the can. It has to, because the can is going to become prevalent."

The brewery's boldest attempt yet at crafting a beer that eclipses its container arrived in stores this month, following a launch party at the Tasty Weasel Tap Room inside Oskar Blues' Longmont brewing and canning facility. Gubna is a silly name with sillier inspiration (a scene from Mel Brooks' "Blazing Saddles" -- more on that later). But at 10 percent alcohol by volume, this is a serious beer, an imperial IPA, with a serious price: up to $14.99 for a four-pack of 12-ounce cans. (A six-pack of Dale's runs $8.99.)

"We wanted to distinguish this from all our other beers," said head brewer Dave Chichura. "I think we've done it."

Chichura heard no arguments at the launch party. Gubna makes itself known with a bold aroma of pine and resin, coats the mouth with an appropriately sharp splash of grapefruit, then finishes clean and dry. The sixth canned beer from Oskar Blues might be its most memorable.

As for that price, Melis compares a four-pack of cans to some of the high-end bomber bottles found at retail. Whereas one of those typically needs to be enjoyed in a single sitting, the quartet of aluminum containers offers four separate occasions for tasting, without any freshness lost in between.

Gubna will reach shelves as a seasonal, lasting from March through October; the equally potent Ten Fidy Imperial Stout retains its status as the cold-weather seasonal.

As for Gubna's name, you might recall that Mel Brooks played a loopy governor in "Blazing Saddles," and his cabinet meeting generated plenty of harrumphing. When Brooks caught a crony not complying, Harvey Korman chastised him with, "Give the governor a ‘harrumph.'" You'll read something similar on every can of Gubna.

Another scene from the 1974 comedy brings to mind a possible food pairing for the brew. But I'm not going there. Can I get a ‘harrumph'?

Beer and there:

This year's Beerdrinker of the Year, crowned at Denver's Wynkoop Brewing Co., is Bill Howell, a Sterling, Alaska, college administrator, retired Navy officer, homebrewer and beer educator. He gets free beer for life at Wynkoop, a $250 bar tab at a brewpub closer to home and more.

The Wynkoop stays busy this weekend: Hot on the heels of a Wynkoop-fueld beer dinner Thursday night at Le Central, the brewery's upstairs pool hall hosts "Kegs & Curds: A Toast to Beer & Cheese" on Saturday. Details at www.wynkoop.com.

Finally, yet more proof that beer pairs with just about anything, including bird watching: Breckenridge Brewery's Ballpark Pub hosts an evening of "Bird & Brew Trivia" on March 31. Expertise in neither discipline is required to enjoy the evening. But be sure to register by March 28 by calling 303-973-9530 or e-mailing info@denveraudubon.org.

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Jay Dedrick

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