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Hophead: Uncannily Good Beer From Oskar Blues

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Last year, Oskar Blues added five 100-gallon tanks and increased its brewing by more 64 percent over 2007 in order to keep up with increased demand. That the Lyons, Colorado, brewery experienced such a rapid growth probably wouldn't surprise anyone who has tasted its excellent flagship beer, Dale's Pale Ale, or other offerings like Gordon's Ale (a Hophead favorite). What is surprising is that the Oskar Blues beers are primarily available in cans.

Cans carry a stigma among the beer-snob crowd. This is in spite of the many advantages, including its lighter weight and having no risk of breaking or light spoilage. Yet some connoisseurs claim to pick up on a distinct metallic taste when they stoop so low as to drink beer from a can. Whether cans actually change the flavor of a beer is open for debate--and will be likely the subject of a future Hophead experiment. It could easily be that most beers available in a can would taste foul whether they're drunk from the can, keg, bottle or Waterford crystal.

That's not the case with Dale's Pale Ale. According to the brewery's home page, the idea of canning its beers began as a joke.

But then we discovered that the belief that cans impart flavor to beer is a myth. The modern-day aluminum can and its lid are lined with a water-based coating, so the beer and the can never touch. Cans, we discovered, are actually good for beer.

Indeed, Dale's tastes just right straight from the can, making it an ideal choice for pool or beach parties, barbecues, camping or other outdoor activities where glass is frowned upon--how 'bout that, NASCAR fans?

Pour it into a glass and you'll be surprised that such a handsome beer came from a metal container. The thick, creamy off-white head crowns a clear copper-amber body about the color of cream soda. The hops are front and center in the nose, a fine balance of citrusy hops and sweet maltiness. The taste is big and brash, definitely an American-style pale ale as opposed to the less-hoppy Brit version. Compared to Sierra Nevada, the touchstone of American pale ales, it is less bitter and less floral. Instead, it presents a clean, dry bitterness that doesn't linger. This is a very refreshing and drinkable beer, a great summer quencher with a bit of a kick at 6.5 percent ABV.

On the other hand, the company's Scottish-style ale, Old Chub, would probably be better suited for cooler weather. Dark reddish-brown, it's a heavy, sweet beer that feels nearly as thick as a root beer float. Chocolate and caramel malts dominate the flavor profile, along with a very subtle alcohol warmth--no surprise, given its 8-percent ABV.

Where to score: Ben E. Keith distributes Oskar Blues varieties to several fine stores and bars in the area including Eno's Pizza Tavern, Arcadia Barcadia and The Ginger Man.

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