When I first met Oskar Blues owner Dale Katechis, he invited me on a morning bike ride with him into the hills that loom above his brewpub in Lyons, CO, about an hour north of Denver. Knowing I only had casual mountain biking experience, I expected Katechis to take me on a softball, scenic ride to a lookout over the town of Lyons. That was not the case. Fifteen minutes into the ride, I had gone over the handlebars and was bleeding from my forearm. Katechis looked over his shoulder and spun back, stopping a few yards in front of where I lay and peered down at me, the sun at his back and a water bottle to his mouth. “You good?” he asked.
I was hurting, but couldn’t keep from smiling. I had heard stories about how seriously Katechis took his mountain biking, yet with so much hype and phony corporate advertising in the world, there’s something special about experiencing something as advertised. This was, without question, a trail I needed to continue down. “I’m good,” I said, and we rode off.
“Cool,” he said, looking at my elbow. “Good thing you’re not carrying the beer.”
To get a sense of the impact Katechis has had on the beer industry, one has to look no further than his role as the figurehead in the craft beer canning movement. He saw how the can’s durability fit perfectly into his active, outdoor lifestyle, but was frustrated by the fact that only light, cheap beers ended up in them, and consequently, in his backpack on a ride. At a time when no one else would touch the idea due to a public perception that good beer only came in bottles, Katechis became the first U.S. craft brewer to can his own beer in 2002. It was a bold move that paid off. The movement has since developed into an aggressive trend, especially in Colorado, where beer drinkers are also bikers, climbers, hikers and campers.
“We’re all trailside, riverside, or music festival centric beer freaks,” Katechis said. “It wasn’t something we should do. It was something we had to do.”
With that decision, the brewery was officially on the national map. But Katechis’s vision for the integration of biking and beer was just getting started. As a cyclist, he wanted his two passions to blend seamlessly, both in his personal life and in his business. He adopted the slogan, “Ride Bikes. Drink Beer.” to emphasize the brewery’s dedication to the sport. He hired avid mountain bikers to run his company and produce his beer, from the marketing department all the way down to the can line. It’s not uncommon to see him riding his bike through the brewery or at the front of an organized staff ride after work. His meetings, as I learned, are routinely held on the trail.
“Bikes and bloody elbows have always been at the heart of Oskar Blues culture.”
In 2011 he took combining his passions to another level, creating his own brand of mountain bikes known as REEB Cycles (that’s “beer” spelled backwards). The bikes are no marketing gimmick, built using 100 percent American-made, True Temper OX Platinum tubing and hand-welded one at a time in Colorado. Every employee, regardless of rank, gets a REEB on their two-year anniversary as a bonus.
“We’re just doing what we love, keeping it real, drawing in people and concepts that excite us,” Katechis said. “Bikes and bloody elbows have always been at the heart of Oskar Blues culture. REEB is starting to turn heads. We’re making quality bikes.”
Oskar Blues also owns and operates several restaurants (Oskar Blues, Chubuger, Bonewagon); at their newest location, Cyclehops, REEB bikes are practically part of the dining experience. In fact, the tacos and tequila, though delicious, take a back seat to cycles and beer. REEB’s official retail location is just inside the door, and bike-inspired art (think wheel-spoke chandeliers) decorates the interior. The coolest perk, though, is the full-service bike shop, where you can sit and have a beer while you wait for a tune-up. There’s even an official beer, REEB Rye’d Pale Ale, that’s only available in small-batch quantities but always on tap at Cyclhops.
Last year, Oskar Blues opened a second brewery and taproom in Brevard, North Carolina, and the decision was 100 percent about the proximity to the mountain bike trails of Dupont State Forest. “The quality of mountain life we’re looking for resonates from the mountains in Brevard the same as it does in Lyons and Longmont”, Katechis said. “Being able to ride the kick ass trails of Pisgah Forest from our taproom and now being able to tap into the DuPont State Park trails from the Oskar Blues REEB Ranch is the shit to live for. The beer, music, and outdoor scene in general all played a role, but man…Pisgah trails from the taproom is the shit.”
Perhaps the best piece of this story is that all of Katechis’s success has come as a result of staying true to himself. Few breweries have so aggressively paired their beer (or, for that matter, their brewery and their staff) with a particular activity; as with his decision to can 12 years ago, Katechis seems to just follow his gut on the matter. He’s even left a piece of advice for all of us to discover hidden in the name of one of his beers, the Ten FIDY, which at first glance seems to be named solely after its alcohol content (10.5%). But FIDY is actually an acronym, and a fitting one: “Fuck the Industry, Do it Yourself”.