I’ve been held up in our Nation’s Capital for the past few days writing, resting, and, to be honest, simply enjoying being by myself for a change. It’s been an amazing week here at Wake and Wander, with several travel and writing opportunities materializing for this fall (soon to be announced). The recent run – including my first article with Outside Magazine – has got me all juiced up, and I feel refreshed and ready to hit the road this fall.
Quiet as the days have been, they have not gone to waste – they’ve been especially rejuvenating, and I owe the renewed confidence and courage, in part, to the crew at Oskar Blues Brewery.
When I visited Eagle Island in Georgia about a year ago, owner Andy Hill gave me a great piece of advice when I told him what I was trying to accomplish in the travel business. You might not be able to afford the deck today, he told me, but you can probably afford a shovel. During my final days in Colorado, spending time at Oskar Blues Brewery, I was once again offered advice that led to an attitude overhaul, but this time it was in the form of a beer, not physical labor.
It was a hot day and we were out on the deck of the Oskar Blues restaurant in Lyons. Owner Dale Katechis had brought out a few samples, and I was trying the Ten Fidy Imperial Stout. It’s received all kinds of accolades for being a titanic beer – one that would be absolutely perfect on the ski lift. At 10.5% alcohol, it’s a day changer, for sure, and I asked Dale what the hell the “Fidy” was all about. Not one to sugarcoat his words, he said, “It stands for fuck the industry, do it yourself.”
This November, Oskar Blues will celebrate the 10th anniversary of a decision, one of continued success that everyone told them they were crazy to make. Back in 2002, the commonly held belief, both in and out of the beer industry, was that a beer in a bottle is better preserved and/or of a higher quality than one in a can. Turns out it was his lifestyle – an obsession with the outdoors and the sport of mountain biking – that led Dale to the concept of the can being superior to the bottle. As a man who spent much time on the trail, he saw the benefit of the can as being trail friendly, of traveling much better than a bottle in a backpack. Easily transported on a hike, bike, or climb and crushed for an easy carry out, Dale saw that the can would allow people to enjoy craft beer in places where glass bottles are not ideal.
Fuck the industry, do it yourself. I’ll tell you this very honestly: Although I didn’t show it at the time, I was screaming inside when Dale started talking about this concept. People who have gone against the grain in spite of constant “Wrong Way” signs have always inspired me, people like Ernest Hemingway, Boy Pierce, and Billy Beane (I just finished reading Moneyball… Some parts may bore non-baseball people, but the way Beane continues to do his thing amongst all the doubters is incredible).
It’s not always easy being yourself – sometimes it can appear to be doing more harm that good, especially when people form lines to criticize your work, whether it’s a new writing style in the case of a guy like Hemingway or a new concept of putting craft beer in a can as it relates to Oskar Blues. When Dale made the decision to put his beer in a can rather than a bottle, everyone pointed their fingers and laughed. As they stood there, laughing and pointing, Dale decided to raise a different finger.
I think the big lesson here is that any vision of unconventional success must begin with an unconventional commitment to being yourself. Tomorrow, we’ll look more closely at the way the canning of craft beer has altered the thinking of an industry, and I’ll show you a few reasons why you should go visit Oskar Blues Brewery immediately.