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Meet the winner: Casey Brewing and Blending

Top New Brewers in the World 1st place: Casey Brewing and Blending
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Photo by Gibeon Photography

Casey Brewing and Blending
Glenwood Springs, Colorado

In an age when many craft breweries are using initial success to fund rapid growth within a few years of opening, Troy Casey is taking a decidedly different approach. The founder of eponymous Casey Brewing and Blending, which already draws crowds of eager fans for bottle releases, says he has a distinct “lack of desire to grow” any time soon.

Located in Glenwood Springs, Colorado, Casey Brewing and Blending specializes in fermenting all of its ales in oak barrels. Casey says he first began experimenting with oak barrels when working for AC Golden Brewing Co.—MillerCoors’ specialty beer division—and it kindled a passion to start an all-wood-aged brewery.

“Doing it only in 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.”

Drinkers also love those styles, and less than two years after Casey Brewing and Blending opened in 2013, craft beer seekers from California and Texas flocked to its rather remote location in the Roaring Fork Valley to purchase Casey’s saisons and fruited sours. The brewery is open to the public only one day a month, and Casey decided to start selling tickets online for bottle releases last year, after the September open day drew more than 200 people who lined up hours before the doors opened.

While others might see such demand as a reason to 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 by this summer) and the company was quite literally a one-man operation until last year when Casey hired his first full-time employee; he says he’d like to add another in 2016.

“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 sport a heavy focus on local ingredients. He takes pride in the fact that all components of the five beers released in January were grown in Colorado, and he 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. The state’s agriculture provides a bounty of cherries, peaches, apricots and plums, but such a local focus does limit the ingredients that will make their way in the brewery’s beers, such as the Fruit Stand saison line and The Cut sour ales.

“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 flavor and aroma. The process allows the blendery to easier alter the mixture and recipe to create variations between the batches, which Casey says is something his customers have come to expect. “It’s great from a creative standpoint that we don’t have to deliver the same beer every time. With a major craft brewer with their 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 that.”

THREE TO TRY

The Low End
“It’s about 4.5% alcohol. It’s called the Low End because it’s on the low end of the spectrum for alcohol levels [for the style]. It’s a hoppy farmhouse 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 drinkable and refreshing. It’s one of those beers that you don’t need to sit down and think about it; 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 a brewpub in Grand Junction called Rockslide Brewing Co. The brewer there, Zorba Proteau, is a good friend of mine. If that brewery was on the Front Range, it would be considered one of the top breweries out there. It’s a hoppy American farmhouse ale. I told Zorba which hops I was excited out and he made the recipe. We then fermented it with my farmhouse cultures. It’s 100 percent wood-aged beer that we massively dry-hopped. It’s basically a sour IPA without the bitterness, but it’s super hop-forward in flavor. 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. I figured the hops would just settle in the barrel and I could rack off the hops, but that did not 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 Preserve Elberta Peach
“This is my fifth year making a peach sour beer. We did one last year for our Casey Family Preserve with Elberta peaches. It came out delicious. It has a huge vanilla note to it. 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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