Singing the ‘Blues’: Finding the Next Big Boy in Beer

Big-Boy-logo-oskar blues

Look around you and it’s impossible to miss. The world is growing up all around us.

The maturation of people, places and things we hold dear is a necessary and welcomed evolution, one that signifies change, hopefully in a good way.

Our near, dear beer industry has hit a wonderful growth spurt in recent years, filling our towns and cities with new breweries and bars stocked with the latest libations of hopped up goodness. The advancement within beer has provided us with many wonderful new businesses that add jobs, fulfill individual dreams and expand the palette of options.

But what about the old standbys? The ones that have been around long enough to not just see the industry as a whole grow to potential, but their own enterprises as well?

It’s New BelgiumAllagash, Boulevard and so many more.

But also Oskar Blues, the Colorado (and North Carolina) brewery that in recent months has seen it’s arms and legs grow long, a deeper, stronger voice among peers and a declaration of maturity: they’re ready to be a Big Boy in beer.

It should be no surprise, as Oskar Blues was named one of the fastest-growing companies in America in 2014, a testament to its practice in business and beer. Since 2008, the brewery has averaged year-to-year barrel production growth of 43.1 percent while expanding its lineup of nitro-infused cans, starting a non-profit, opening up restaurants, and, of course, that East Coast facility in North Carolina.

But what makes Oskar Blues rather unique at this moment is its place among other big names in beer. In 2015, they’re shooting for an annual production of 200,000 barrels, which would put them in rarefied air of peers.

According to Beer Marketer’s Insights, just five breweries shipped over 200,000 barrels five years ago. In 2014, 14 met that mark. Here’s their growth, showing barrel production by 1,000:

Brewery 2014 2013 Change bbls % 2013-2014 Change bbls % 2009-2014
Boston Beer 2,580 2,325 11 37.9
Sierra Nevada 1,067 984 8.4 47.4
New Belgium 945 792 19.3 62.1
Craft Brew Alliance 792 726 9.1 35.8
Shiner 600 568 5.6 46.3
Lagunitas 599 400 49.8 731.9
Deschutes 335 286 17.1 79.1
Bell’s 319 248 28.6 155.2
Stone 287 213 34.7 189.9
Brooklyn 252 216 16.7 180
Dogfish Head 228 202 12.9 135
Matt FX 218 211 3.3 26.7
Harpoon 209 205 2 59.5
Firestone Walker 208 151 37.7 252.5

Lots to digest there, but for a quick comparison, here are Oskar Blues’ figures:

 Brewery 2014 2013 Change bbls % 2013-2014 Change bbls % 2009-2014
Oskar Blues 149,000 119,000 25.2 405.1

Between 2009 and 2014, no one has come close to Lagunita’s massive growth – except Oskar Blues. To get a better picture, here’s Oskar Blues’ barrel production over the last 10 years, showing year-to-year growth percentage. The conservative expectation for 2015 is 190,000 barrels, with an eye for 200,000.

Year Barrels YTY Growth %
2006 8,219
2007 12,500 52.1
2008 17,000 36
2009 29,500 73.5
2010 41,000 39
2011 59,000 43.9
2012 85,750 45.3
2013 119,000 38.8
2014 149,000 25.2
2015 190,000* 27.5*

While many breweries of similar ages with national aspirations have also seen monumental growth, to put this into perspective, Oskar Blues is hoping to grow barrel production 2,221.7 percent over 10 years.

That’s a lot of percents.

Which is part of the reason Oskar Blues is prepared to make the jump into the upper tier of Big Craft.

Already sold in 42 states and Washington, D.C., the brewery plans to enter craft havens Vermont and Maine this year, but they’re also going about their expansion in a more calculated way, focusing more on retail chains where craft beer sales grew 19 percent in 2013 and 17 percent in 2014. This includes grocery, drug, Wal-Mart, Club, Dollar, Mass-Merchandiser and Military stores.

“We weren’t in front of these chain buyers as frequently and, as we look at all of our opportunities for growth, it is the single largest area for us to make substantial increases in,” Lou Romano, Oskar Blues’ national sales director, told Brewbound in January.

DalesGallery1Additionally, Oskar Blues’ preferred packing source – cans – is part of one of the hotter trends in beer today. While macro beer still reigns supreme when it comes to metal-based  options, craft’s surge in this portable marketplace has made cans appropriate for high-end beer, where Oskar Blues has been for years.

Sales of canned beer grew more than 30 million cases in 2014, with strong boost because so many craft breweries are making that a package of choice.

Industry can volumes CY 2013 vs CY 2014 web_0

But mostly, you can tell Oskar Blues is ready for prime time thanks to the hottest topic in beer right now – acquisition. Just last week, Oskar Blues announced the purchase of Michigan’s Perrin Brewing Company in what may be the first in a series of investments. Founder Dale Katechis said Oskar Blues may buy up to six breweries around the country.

Of course, all this is on top of Oskar Blues’ well-crafted portfolio of beers, which ranks the brewery in the top-50 of Beergraphs “brewery leaderboard” based on their “Beers Above Replacement” model. Also, their selections carry an average ABV if 6.9 percent, which we know is a positive for how drinkers perceive beer.

Every day, there are continued signs of maturity across the beer industry, and it also seems there are plenty of hints that Oskar Blues is has grown up along the way. The brewery has hit their growth spurt, started to flex some new-found muscle and look ready for center stage among the Big Boys in town.

oskar blues-lineup-beer

+Bryan Roth
“Don’t drink to get drunk. Drink to enjoy life.” — Jack Kerouac

Footer image via capturingwncphoto.com.

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One thought on “Singing the ‘Blues’: Finding the Next Big Boy in Beer

  1. Pingback: A ‘Definitive’ Guide to the Best Beer of 2015: The Breweries | This Is Why I'm Drunk

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