A Brewer Breaks Out

Troy Casey’s new operation in Colorado is all about the barrels.

casey_brewing_blending In life, blending is a good thing. Just think: Root beer floats. Neapolitan ice cream. And who can forget Goobers, that wonderful blend of peanut butter and jelly that came in a single jar?

Troy Casey knows a thing or two about blending. Casey earned a reputation as an expert on sour ales aged in oak and blended in the ancient (and ultra time-consuming) Belgian tradition while he worked for AC Golden, the MillerCoors-owned beer incubator in Golden, CO. Casey left AC Golden in the end of 2013 on good terms with his big brewery colleagues, ready to forge a path of his own.

In his new venture, Casey Brewing & Blending overlooking the Roaring Fork river canyon in Glenwood Springs, CO, Casey is focusing just on those very “wild and funky beers,” as he dubs them. And thanks to that approach Casey Brewing & Blending was one of the most anticipated openings in Colorado in recent months. Casey’s first creative beers were introduced to the public over the Fourth of July weekend.

Have you tried barrel-aged sour beer? What was your favorite? Tell us below.

And read on for Weekly Pint contributor @KatieCoakley’s interview with Casey before his opening about his passion, his beer, and what all those barrels are really about.

Weekly Pint: What’s your background, brewing-wise? Did you always want to go solo?
Troy Casey: I never had dreams of opening my own brewery. I was very excited to be a company man for MillerCoors because large companies are interesting—they have a lot of moving parts. But things shifted in the industry and I realized that it wasn’t the future I wanted.

WP: Why not?
TC: I started out making a lot of German-style lagers when I was with MillerCoors. I’m really proud of those beers, but I got a little bored with having to make beers that are completely of one style, that can only taste one way. There’s no leeway when you’re brewing—that’s just the style. They’re fun to drink, fun to brew, and it’s a great place to start. However, like anything, I’m always seeking more challenges.

WP: So now you’ve decided to focus solely on your love for barrel-aged beers—why? How do these brews allow you to explore your passion?
TC: The flavors are unlike anything out else out there. I wanted to break away from making beers one way and have more creative freedom. I enjoy the challenge. There’s a challenge in making them, but there’s still mystery.

WP: What do you mean by “mystery?”
TC: When I drink a German pilsner, I’m usually bored by it only because I know a lot about how that beer is made. For me, making these Belgian styles, it’s still a mystery—I don’t know what’s happening. There’s a symbiotic relationships in a barrel that’s unlike anything else. No matter how much you look at the science, you’ll never understand.
I mean, I made these beers and I can’t tell you exactly why they taste that way. Another brewer could do the same thing I did and they’d make a completely different beer. It’s all about the climate, the temperature, the type of barrel, the humidity you have. That’s why it’s really fun.

WP: Why did you decide to open in Glenwood instead of Denver?
TC: If I was smart, I would have done it in Denver—that where lots of passionate consumers are. The reason to open up here is for the lifestyle. These beers take so long to make—you can’t rush them. They have to be able to do their thing.
It’s the same for the lifestyle in the mountains—it’s much slower here, there’s not the hurry-up-and-wait. I’m very happy to be up here, enjoying the small town life and being outside. I get to sit outside and look at most beautiful river in the world. I’d much rather be looking at the river from my tasting room than looking at traffic on I-70 or I-25. People might have to drive a long way to try the beer; there’s not easy access. But I’m making better beer because of the environment that I’m in.

WP: Why did you decide to make beers that take so long to brew? Are you a masochist?
TC: If I had longer hair I would have pulled it out by now, but these are the beers I like to make. I learned about these beers when I was working for MillerCoors. I had this eureka moment: we could make these beers wherever we wanted to. My fiancée had just moved to Valley and we weren’t sure if she was going to stay here or if it was just temporary. But I had this moment when I realized that we could make these beers and only make these beers. So I made a business plan and figured out what was viable.

WP: Nice work. Tell us about your beers.
TC: We have two core brands—the Saison and a Belgian-style sour. About a third of what I’m making is the Saison; two thirds is going to be Belgian sour ale, inspired by Belgian lambics. Those are some of my favorites to drink.
I’m very proud of my Saison. It’s 5.5% ABV; it’s very dry and pleasantly tart. It has a really interesting naval orange taste that I’ve never tasted in a beer before. I’m very happy with it—it has far exceeded my expectations with what I could do.

WP: What’s involved in your brewing process?
TC: The Saison is fermented in used oak wine barrels. We do all our fermentation and aging in oak. We’re using three strains of yeast: Brettanomyces, lactobacillus and our house sour culture, which is one that I developed. It’s constantly changing and making some interesting flavors. I use that (the house sour culture) in almost all of my beers.
As for the Belgian-style sour I’m making here, I’m not calling it lambic. That’s very important—it’s not a lambic—those are only made in Belgium. In America, it’s a lambic-inspired beer. Mine will age about six to twelve months and will be about 5% ABV. I’m blending from different aged barrels to make some different flavors.

WP: Tell me about these Colorado ingredients that you’re using. Is this a farm-to-table kind of beer?
TC: My beer is made with 100% Colorado ingredients. Saisons used to be made on farms, with ingredients that were grown during the summer and they made beer during the winter to sustain their workers for the next summer. It’s a very local thing. You can only get that beer at that source, if it was sold at all. So I felt that using 100% Colorado ingredients was very important.

I can get any ingredients from around the world, but I don’t believe it could be any better if it was made with ingredients from anywhere else. That’s what I love about brewing Saisons. It’s very important to use what you have available. I don’t think of it as limiting. I use that as a challenge to make something that no one else can make. The challenge of using only a handful of ingredients to make some amazing beer is very exciting and appealing to me. They are simple ingredients, but they can make some incredibly complex flavors that you can’t get any other way.

WP: What about farm produce?
TC: We’ll really just have two beers, but I’ll be doing a lot with Colorado fruit. Real fruit is rarely used in brewing. Most people are using purees or concentrates from California or the Pacific Northwest. What I’m using is only fresh local fruit. Last Friday I drove out to Paonia and picked up 100 pounds of Colorado sweet cherries. It’s the first fruit available on the Western Slope. I’ve never used sweet cherries, but I put them in a barrel of the Saison and I’m looking forward to seeing how that works out. We spent all day stemming them, crushing them, then putting them in the barrel. We’re getting flavors that you can’t get anywhere else. It’s the freshest fruit flavor in a beer and is a form of fruit preservation. When you’re picking fruit at its peak and putting it in a beer, the fruit doesn’t age. Six months from now, you can open a cherry beer and have those flavors.

WP: Yum. What do you have planned for the rest of the summer?
TC: We have a limited amount of beer this summer. We’ll do a cherry Saison, a raspberry Saison, blackberry Saison and a plum Saison. I have five barrels of Saison that I can play with. We might do a sour cherry Saison. Or, depending on when the grape harvest is, we might try to use some grapes. We’re having fun with beer.

Ed. note: Casey Brewing and Blending opened for the first time on Thursday, July 3. Since the majority of the brewery’s beers are still aging, the brewery opening times are extremely limited and sporadic. The next opening will be August 9th from 11 p.m. – 5 p.m. The Saison is currently available for purchase in bottles in select stores in the Denver area only. 

Photo Credit: Casey Brewing & Blending 

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