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Brewery to watch: Casey Brewing & Blending

A Colorado brewery works magic in oak.
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Photo by Gibeon Photography for DRAFT

Photo by Gibeon Photography for DRAFT

Troy Casey, founder of his eponymous brewery, says he has a distinct “lack of desire to grow” any time soon. For his burgeoning legion of fans, that’s not exactly good news.

Located in Glenwood Springs, Colorado, the brewery specializes in oak-barrel fermentation, and there’s no question that Casey’s wood-influenced beers generate major buzz. Though the brewery only opened in 2013, beer-seekers quickly caught wind of it (due, in part, to top scores on RateBeer) and now flock to its rather remote location in the Roaring Fork Valley for saisons and fruited sours; one day last September, more than 200 people lined up hours before the doors opened. At that point, Casey decided he’d have to sell tickets to ensure everyone could buy beer during the one day a month when the brewery is open to the public.

Casey first began experimenting with oak barrels while working for AC Golden Brewing Co.—MillerCoors’ specialty beer division—and it kindled a desire to start an all-wood-aged brewery.

“Using only oak is kind of romantic. It’s the way Old World brewers did it before they had stainless steel, and the beer styles were created because of that limitation,” he says. “I love those styles of beer, and I love the challenge and the magic of it.”

While others might see growing demand as a reason to rapidly expand, Casey says he’s perfectly happy with the way things are. His small facility houses just 140 barrels (he hopes to add an additional 40 before the end of summer), and the company was a one-man operation until last year when Casey hired his first full-time employee. He says he’d like to add another this year.

“The company is pretty successful and we love being able to come in [to the barrel house], go fishing in the afternoon and then come back and finish work,” Casey says. “We want to keep it small for now. A friend of mine referred to it as a lifestyle brewery. We’re not trying to be the next big thing. We don’t want to grow in multiple states. We just want to make beer that allows us to live in a gorgeous part of Colorado.”

Other than all-oak fermentation, Casey’s beers also focus heavily on local ingredients. He brewed five beers released this year made exclusively with Colorado-grown ingredients. Casey says his favorite part of the job is visiting local farmers once or twice a week during the summer in search of the best-quality hops and fruit.

“So, we can’t make a beer with mangoes, but that’s OK. People in states where mangoes are grown can go ahead and run wild with them,” Casey says. “I want to be known for not only making the best fruit beers, but I want to be known for the fact that the fruit comes from Colorado.”

For each batch, Casey blends beer from different barrels until he finds the desired aromas and flavors. The process allows him to create unique variations between batches, which he says is something his customers have come to expect. “It’s great from a creative standpoint. With a major craft brewer’s flagship ale, if they tweaked that every time, consumers would know and be upset with that. The challenge can be that when we do find something we like, it can be hard to replicate.”

Casey’s three to try:

The Low End
“This is about 4.5% alcohol. It’s a hoppy farm-house ale with 100 percent Colorado ingredients. It’s dry with a hint of tartness, very well-carbonated and very refreshing. The hops don’t come off in an IPA way; I think they come off more as a citrusy yeast characteristic. It’s one of those beers that you don’t need to sit down and think about; it can just be enjoyed and help make a situation better instead of the beer being the situation itself.”

Hop Mess
“We did a collaboration with Rockslide Brewing Co. in Grand Junction. The brewer there, Zorba Proteau, is a good friend of mine. This a hoppy American farmhouse ale, a 100 percent wood-aged beer that we massively dry-hopped. It’s basically a sour IPA without the bitterness, but its flavor is super hop-forward. The citrus notes from the Citra, Simcoe and Centennial blend perfectly with the citrus notes that come from my farmhouse culture. It was dry-hopped in the barrel, and I figured the hops would just settle in the barrel and I could rack off the hops, but that didn’t happen. We lost a lot of beer and I had hops all over the place, so that’s why we called it Hop Mess. It made a mess, but it was a phenomenal beer.”

Casey Family Preserves Elberta Peach
“This is my fifth year making a peach sour beer. I like using different varieties of fruit. People think of a peach as a peach, but different peaches in the same quantity provide such different flavors. This year, I want to do more single-variety fruit beers with peaches, apricots and plums just to learn more about the varieties that are grown around here.”

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