LYONS HAS BEEN FAMOUS for more than a century as the gateway to the Rockies, an almost absurdly beautiful town surrounded on three sides by Technicolor red sandstone mountains.

In the last decade, Lyons’ fame has spread even further thanks to Oskar Blues, a funky Cajun restaurant which begat a brewery which has rapidly evolved into an internationally renowned beer empire and epicenter of the “canned-beer apocalypse.”

The original Oskar Blues Grill & Brew in Lyons doesn’t look that impressive from its shopping center exterior, but inside it’s all southern hospitality and bluesy rock’n’roll. The waitstaff serves pulled pork and red beans to customers they’ve come to know by name, the nights are filled with live music by blues luminaries like John Lee Hooker Jr., and the Oskar Blues beer on tap is legendary – particularly the flagship brew, the aggressively hopped Dale’s Pale Ale.

Dale’s Pale Ale is named after Dale Katechis, the man who started Oskar Blues. The way Katechis’ success has played out in Lyons is equal parts accident and inevitability. It was a fluke that brought him to Colorado in the first place, but once here, his restless creativity and energy made it all but assured that he would do something special.

Katechis was born and raised in Alabama, where he met his high school sweetheart, now wife, Christi. When they both graduated from Auburn University 20 years ago, the couple made the fateful decision to move to Wise River, Mont., after seeing an article in Outside magazine about the outdoors lifestyle and mountain biking scene there. They loaded up the van and set out, but they only made it as far as Boulder, where they stopped to visit friends.

“Once we realized that the thousand bucks that we started with ran out in Boulder, we said, ‘You know what? We’d better get some jobs,’” Katechis said. And so they did. In fact, Katechis got two jobs in Boulder, working 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Madden Mountaineering, making high-tech custom backpacks, then riding his bike to his bartending gig at Old Chicago on Pearl Street, which started at 4 p.m.

During his commute on the bike path, he’d occasionally smell the familiar aroma of brewing beer. Katechis, a home brewer in his college days, followed his nose one day to find the source, a guy named Gordon Knight, whose High Country Brewery was on the cutting edge of the now wildly popular big-hopped beers. The two struck up a friendship that helped kindle Katechis’ desire to do more brewing. But when Katechis started his own business in 1997, a brewery wasn’t part of the picture.

“I’d always had a dream of opening a restaurant and brewing on the weekends,” he said. He and Christi maxed out four credit cards to start a southern-style restaurant in Lyons, north of Boulder, where they had just bought a house. Katechis named the restaurant Oskar Blues after two friends he’d met on a bike tour, Oskar and Old Blue. In the early days of Oskar Blues, Katechis sometimes wondered what he had gotten himself into.

“Our first winter up in Lyons was pretty quiet,” he said. “I remember walking through the dining room and there’s no one in there, and waitresses are looking at me like I’m an idiot.”  Katechis knew he had to make Oskar Blues a destination.

The first idea, live music, was an instant hit. Lyons has a sizable population of bluegrass musicians, and touring blues artists made sure to put Oskar Blues on their itinerary. Soon the place was rocking almost every night.

The next idea was the real game changer: turn the place into a brewpub. In the late 1990s, Katechis turned his homebrews into beers to serve on tap at the restaurant, transforming the Oskar Blues basement into the first incarnation of the brewery. Soon, people were coming to Lyons just to sample the famous ales, which had begun racking up awards. Knowing he was onto something, Katechis decided to start packaging the beer for sale at retailers.

“Initially, it was a marketing idea to drive people to the restaurant,” Katechis said. “When you’re in a town of 1,400 people (Lyons’ population at the time), you’ve got to do something to drive up traffic. But it created this life of its own and snowballed, more than anything else.”

Katechis stayed true to his spirit of anarchic innovation when it came time to distribute his brews. Back in 2002, small craft breweries always put their beer in bottles; aluminum cans, meanwhile, were only used by the mass-produced corporate lagers reviled by the beer cognoscenti. Katechis did the unthinkable by putting his microbrews in cans, prompting a collective gasp in the beer world. 

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The polymer-lined cans protect the beer from sunlight and oxygen, which keeps it fresher than bottles, but some still thought it was a gimmick. Besides the naysayers, the can experiment hit some rough patches in the early days, when the beers were “handcanned” two at a time in the old barn across the alley from the restaurant. Oskar Blues had recently started shipping to markets beyond Colorado when disaster struck. The crew was loading a huge truckload of beer bound for Georgia, Katechis remembers.

“The amount of beer on that size of truck could make or break our company,” he said. “As the last pallet is going on the truck, I notice that one of the cans’ seams are leaking. I look and start to see other ones that are leaking. It was 2,000 cases of leaking cans – $40,000 worth, at a time when we weren’t even selling $40,000 a month.”

They had to pull all the cans off the truck and destroy them, missing the shipment and infuriating the company’s distributor. Katechis called it a “fetal position, in your closet crying, going, ‘What have I done?” type of experience. “But we’ve grown by our screw-ups,” he said. After that, you can bet they had quality-control measures to ensure cans are properly sealed.

Major validation for Oskar Blues’ canned-beer revolution came in 2005, when a New York Times blind taste test named Dale’s Pale Ale the best pale ale in the country. And later that year, The Wall Street Journal’s expert beer panel “pretty much swooned” after trying Oskar Blues’ Scottish ale, Old Chub. Also highly regarded is imperial red ale G’Knight, named in memory of Katechis’ old friend Gordon Knight, who died in 2002 when the firefighting helicopter he was piloting crashed while battling the Big Elk Meadows fire near Lyons.

Oskar Blues’ growth has been fast and furious of late. The main brewery operation moved to Longmont in 2008, complete with the Tasty Weasel Taproom, while a second restaurant, Oskar Blues Homemade Liquids & Solids, opened in Longmont the next year. Production has grown from 17,000 barrels a year in 2008 to a projected 95,000 barrels this year. A new brewery and restaurant open this year in North Carolina, to better meet demand on the East Coast. This year also marks the launch of a distillery in Lyons, to be located in the barn that was once home to the original canning operation. And not limiting himself to food and drink, Katechis merged his love of beer and mountain bikes last year with the launch of REEB Cycles – yes, that’s “beer” spelled backwards.

Oskar Blues is expanding all over the map, but its roots remain firmly in Lyons. And it’s gotten bigger, too, annexing an adjacent Subway sandwich shop, redubbed Old Chubway. It serves sandwiches, but also homestyle breakfasts like biscuits and gravy. And there’s ice cream, with flavors like Ballpark, which disturbingly and deliciously mimics the taste of beer and popcorn.

Old Chubway is run by Jeana Johnson, a fifth-generation Lyons resident whose great-grandfather had a sawmill on the site of the shopping center where Oskar Blues is now.

“Now that Oskar’s been here 15 years, they’re considered part of the old town,” Johnson said. “As Dale changed things, the town kind of grew with him.”

It seems like all the local high schoolers work at Oskar Blues at some point, Johnson said – as have many of their parents and siblings, at one time or another.

On a recent afternoon, Laurie Skeie was in Oskar Blues for lunch. She first met Dale and Christi before they opened Oskar Blues, when they were regular customers at a restaurant where she was a waitress.

“They were our neighbors, great fun people and great tippers,” Skeie said. “So when they opened up, of course we had to come here.”

Despite the attention the beer has gotten, hospitality and a personal touch remain the key selling points, said Anita Gray, general manager of the Oskar Blues restaurants. The company has always had a family feel, she says. Dale’s brother Chris is one of the distribution chiefs, and his mother, known by all as Ya Ya, was for years the office manager. Gray points out one of the many bits of memorabilia on the wall: A framed sheet of paper with “I will not spit on Kevin,” written over and over in young Dale’s childish scrawl, which Ya Ya made him write decades ago to atone for an offense against a sibling.

Oskar Blues is a multimillion dollar, multistate operation now, but it sure doesn’t feel like it. The sign above the administrative office is Longmont says it all: “Anti-Corporate Headquarters.” Even though the free-spirited Katechis is now technically a businessman whom The Denver Business Journal has named “Entrepreneur of the Year,” his company has the feel of a business that’s somehow been taken over by pirates. He readily agrees with that assessment.

“A big part of my job is making sure the pirates are still running the ship,” he said. 

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WHEN YOU VISIT OSKAR BLUES, you dine with legends: Robert Johnson, Jim Morrison, Elvis Presley – late rock and blues greats who live on in music and style. But dig a little deeper, or just dig in, and you’ll find that the living legends are in the kitchen. With locations in Lyons and Longmont, Oskar Blues has become a veritable institution of brews, beef and a new brand of Mountain-Cajun cooking. From 5,000 feet to the below-sea-level bayou, take a taste of these no-fuss and fresh recipes, brought to you by Chef Jason of Oskar Blues. Put a little y’all in your next meal.


Catfish Po' Boy

4  catfish filets 

4  hoagie rolls 

2  cups Bibb lettuce, shredded 

1  red onion, sliced 

2  ripe tomatoes, sliced 

2  cups rémoulade 

2  cups beer batter          

8    cups vegetable oil 

2  cups J-Rog Secret Corn meal   

Fish Dredge (buy at Oskar Blues)



 1  cup mayo

4  anchovy, finely chopped

1  rib celery, finely diced

1  Tbsp yellow onion, diced

1  Tbsp Creole mustard

1/2  oz Worcestershire sauce

1/2  oz lemon juice

1  Tbsp horseradish

2  Tbsp ketchup

1/4  cup scallion, diced

1  Tbsp capers, chopped 

Salt and pepper to taste


Beer Batter:

 1  12-oz can Mama’s Little Yella Pils beer

1  cup flour

1/2  cup corn starch

1/2  tsp salt


In a large iron skillet, warm oil to 325°. Dredge catfish in beer batter, followed by J-Rog Secret Cornmeal Fish Dredge. Cook fish until golden brown on each side. Place cooked fish on paper towels to drain excess oil. Meanwhile, split and toast each hoagie roll; spread rémoulade equally and layer lettuce, tomato, onion and catfish. 

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Bourbon Street 'Tato Skins

Chef Jason’s twist on an old standard – because blue cheese and cedar smoke will make everything better.


6 whole potatoes 

2  strips of bacon, cooked and diced 

1  avocado 

6  oz lightly smoked cheddar 

3  oz Maytag blue cheese 

2  oz sour cream 

1  Tbsp chives 

1  Tbsp scallion


Boil potatoes until softened. Preheat oven or grill to 375°. Slice potatoes in half lengthwise and scoop out center. Arrange potatoes on a baking sheet or cedar plank (if grilling). Add cheeses and bacon and bake for 10 minutes or until cheese is melted. Arrange potato halves on serving plate; add avocado slices and sour cream. To finish, sprinkle with chives and scallions.



Chocolate Bourbon Balls

Thank Grandma for these bourbon delights. Chef Jason tells us that his Grams kept scraps from her baked goods to create these anytime favorites. Start the party when you end a meal with this decadent dessert.


5  cups chocolate chips 

2  c ups bourbon

1 ½   cups corn syrup

4  c ups pecans

3 ¾   lbs Oreo crumbs

1 ½  cups sugar




Melt chocolate with bourbon and corn syrup in double boiler. Add dry ingredients and let cool for 2 hours. Scoop and serve. 

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