Dale Katechis

How Oskar Blues Managed Growth

Can a craft brewery get the funds needed to expand without its independence? Dale Katechis, the CEO of Oskar Blues Brewery, found an answer. Instead of selling out to a larger brewery, he brought in Fireman Capital, a private-equity firm in Boston. Katechis met Dan Fireman while developing a succession plan for his brewery, and concluded that Fireman would make a good business partner. He said, “It was refreshing to meet someone who understood the heart and the soul of this business was and knew how important the heart and the soul is to it. Sometimes, it isn’t the best business decisions that are the heart and the soul.”

Oskar Blues used some of Fireman’s cash to acquire Perrin Brewing Company of Grand Rapids, Michigan. Katechis was introduced to the brewery by Keith Klopcic, a co-owner of Oskar Blues’s Michigan distributor. Perrin had gone from zero to 14,000 barrels in two years, and had a distribution network in place; however, it “wasn’t into packaging.” After taking over the brewery, Katechis introduced a canning line. Cash flow doubled within three months, and Perrin is expected to grow substantially. Klopcic is in charge of Perrin, which will remain independent of Oskar Blues.

Brews and (Oskar) Blues

If you’re a fan of craft beer, one name you should know is that of Dale Katechis. He’s the Alabama native who brought his mom’s down-home recipes and a love of beer to Colorado, where he opened Oskar Blues Grill & Brew restaurant in 1997.

Oskar Blues has become famous as the first craft brewery in America to can its beer. A presentation from Cask Brewing Systems, Inc., a manufacturer of canning lines, got Katechis to appreciate the merits of cans; and Ball Corporation helped by agreeing to make a smaller run of cans.

The decision, which Katcechis originally thought “far-fetched,” paid off. Canned craft beer could go places where bottled craft beer couldn’t: golf courses, backpacking, and even on airplanes. Today, more than 200 small breweries can their beer.

What’s next for Oskar Blues in cans? The brewery plans to use Ball’s new 19.2-ounce resealable can, a size that’s common in Europe. These so-called “imperial pints” may soon wind up on the shelves of a convenience store near you.

The Canned Craft Beer Pioneer

Ten years ago this November, Dale Katechis, the founder of Oskar Blues Brewery, made what was then considered a risky move. Katechis decided to make Oskar blues the first craft brewer to can all of its beer. He started with a tabletop machine to create a hand-canning line that sealed one can at a time. This year, Oskar Blues is on track to turn out 90,000 barrels this year–all of it in cans.

Tom Rotunno, a senior editor at CNBC.com, talked about Oscar Blues with Katachis, who explained how mountain biking influenced his decision to switch to cans:

I didn’t really set out to start canning beer in order to align it with the outdoor industry, but it was an obvious arena and we felt like we could market our beer based on its portability. I’ve always been an entrepreneur and a risk taker and someone that lives by the moment. Life is short and we might as well have a good time while we’re here. I tend to have some of my best moments, or be most fulfilled, when I’m outdoors on two wheels on a mountain bike. So once we started to align marketing efforts with both parts of my life, it just made sense.

It made financial sense, too. Oskar Blues has posted seven years of consecutive double-digit growth, and is one of the three “Biggest Momentum Gainers” on the Brewers Association’s list of the top 50 craft brewers.

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