What cannabis can learn from craft beer: Q&A with the man behind Dale’s Pale Ale

Image of Dale Katechis

Now that Dale Katechis, the founder of Colorado craft brewer Oskar Blues, is joining the marijuana industry, he can confirm what was always an open secret.

That little silver circle on the Dale’s Pale Ale beer label was rumored to mark the hole for converting the aluminum can into a pipe.

“We never talked about it,” said Katechis, who revolutionized craft beer in a can.

“If someone in the media would bring it up, or a retailer or distributor? We just were like, ‘No.'”

But Katechis recently joined the leadership team as an investing partner of Denver-based Veritas Fine Cannabis, so he’s more free to talk about marijuana.

“We might have to make it official now,” he said.

MJBizDaily spoke with Katechis about why he joined the cannabis industry, marijuana branding and the comparisons between MJ and craft beer.

What made you want to get into this industry, and why Veritas?

I’ve been shopping for an opportunity in the cannabis space for several years, and nothing excited me. For the most part, I ran into a lot of companies that I don’t think were set up for success.

Image of Dale's Pale Ale can

The silver circle on the Dale’s Pale Ale label has long been rumored to mark the spot for making the beer can into a pipe.

I wasn’t looking for an opportunity to go in and be a fixer-upper. Especially at a space that I would be new to.

I just kept looking at these companies, and they weren’t profitable and they weren’t run well.

I was only looking within Colorado. I wasn’t necessarily looking to travel.

I have a childhood friend who’s an investment banker. He’s friends with the Veritas guys (managing partner and co-founder Mike Leibowitz and partner Jonathan Spadafora). He called me up and said, “Hey, I want you to take a look at this.”

It was immediate that we think about business the same way.

Culturally, they were just real, genuine, authentic guys. So that checked the boxes for me that I wasn’t looking for a headache.

But from a business standpoint, they are extremely profitable. They understand even the limitations that they have of being in the space, how important it is to be involved in the community.

And more than anything, walking through all of their grows, and to see how Mike and Jon treat the staff and how they interact with them.

It reminded me so much of Oskar Blues in the early days. There was an understanding of what made the business work, and it was individuals taking ownership of their role.

What do you think craft growers can learn from craft beer companies?

There’s wide-open space to go attract consumers who want to learn more. Just like we did in the early days of trying to educate people on what an IPA was, when pale ales were a tough battle for them.

I had that experience because we somewhat disrupted the craft beer space by putting beer in an aluminum can and all the challenges that came with that.

We went out as educators, and we weren’t just beer salesmen. We were there to teach them why this vessel in this package is better for craft beer.

No different than what’s happening in the cannabis space right now. The single-serve eighths and jar-branding.

I would say, as a whole, the dispensaries in Colorado have done a great job of being educators.

There’s so many things that we’re still learning about terpene profiles and how they affect different people or affect people differently.

It’s a fascinating opportunity to just continue to learn something new and apply that to fundamental basic business models.

Oskar Blues has strong branding. Dale’s Pale Ale is very recognizable, for example. How can you use that same approach in marijuana?

Our marketing was us as brewers and the people that work for the company going out and taking our beer to things that we love doing – mountain bike races, festivals, events. And that was our lifestyle.

We didn’t have a marketing plan.

It was, “You’re going to a mountain bike race, take a cooler of beer and hand it out.”

We held on to that inside of our company through the years. We made sure that it was important that we never let anyone’s ego get in the way. We were there to have a good time, create a great product, have fun doing it.

And it made people want to be a part of our team, which is how we grew our staff.

So it was very grassroots. And there was something real and authentic about it.

Veritas has all of that, because they’re focusing on what’s important. They’ve got a loyal customer base. And they’re constantly trying to learn how to make it better.

What about events? Oskar Blues has sponsored events such as the Bolder Boulder 10-kilometer run as well as music festivals. What are some similar opportunities in marijuana, and how would that benefit a cannabis company?

I think that will be part of this renaissance. Of what’s next.

We were always kind of hijacking events, because we never had the big check to be the sponsor. So we would just throw some beers in our truck and hang out in the parking lot and create a culture and a vibe around that.

There’s a lot for us to learn about what’s going to be next for cannabis and what we’re allowed to do.

We don’t want to be everything to everyone. We’re a high-end luxury flower company that wants to focus on quality, and to focus on quality is expensive.

When you think about crossover potential, how do you see Oskar Blues benefiting from your move into marijuana?

Probably a little too early to say. But I will say that everything’s on the table for discussion.

And, you know, for us on the brewing side, we have to be careful, obviously.

Three years ago, four years ago, we would try to do some promotions with cannabis companies. And it was like, no way.

There’s just no way that we can risk our Brewer’s Notice to even do a collaboration. Those things are starting to lighten up.

I think both groups would be excited to explore just about anything.

So, then, no Dale’s Infused Ale?

Not yet.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Bart Schaneman can be reached at bart.schaneman@mjbizdaily.com.