As the craft beer movement grows in the United States, breweries are working to set themselves apart and offer something different. Many are experimenting with new kinds of beer, offering up so-called “sour” and “wild” varieties. A new brewery in Glenwood Springs is specializing in this avant-garde beer. Aspen Public Radio’s Marci Krivonen toured Casey Brewing and Blending and filed this report.
Casey Brewing and Blending sits on a steep hill above the Roaring Fork River. Inside a warehouse space, lots of used oak wine barrels are stacked high.
Troy Casey is in charge here. He’s the master brewer, owner and experimenter. He motions toward two upright barrels, where the fermentation process begins.
"This is where the Saison starts, is in these fermenters. We basically took one of the heads off the barrel, stood them upright, added some valves to them so we can do this primary fermentation."
If you’ve done a brewery tour, you’ve likely walked by large stainless steel fermenters. Here, the beer is aged in oak barrels reminiscent of an age-old tradition. This beer, called Saison, has its roots in farming.
"It’s traditionally a French and Belgian style beer that was made with the ingredients a farmer grew during the summer. He would make beer with what was left over during the winter. And so, that beer would be used to sustain the field workers for the coming summer," says Casey.
Casey’s specialty beers fall into the “wild” or “sour” categories because of the yeast strains used and the aging process. He got his start at a mega-brewer, working in research and development at MillerCoors.
"We got to play around with a lot of different styles and recipes and ingredients, which is where I learned a lot about making these beers."
After five years at MillerCoors, he decided to venture out on his own. Now, his creations, which infuse Colorado fruit, are his own.
"Creating those different flavors because these are not easy flavors to make, whether it’s a stout or a saison, it’s always tricky to make and you always want to tweak something. It’s kind of like a painter, one day they have to put the paintbrush down and say, ‘ok, I’m done.’ Because if they’re like me, they could go on forever."
He’ll eventually distribute two beers to area liquor stores: the Saison and a Lambic-style ale, which takes six or seven months to age.
Casey pours two glasses of the cloudy golden Saison.
Marci: "Wow, I like that. It has a rich flavor."
Troy: "It definitely has some tropical citrus fruits. I think some people might be surprised to find there aren’t fruits added to the beer, it’s just natural. It’s a dry beer and it’s well-carbonated, so it’s going to expand in your mouth a little to leave a nice clean, dry finish."
Julia Herz is with the Brewer’s Association, a trade group that represents most breweries in the United States.
"The wood and oak aged beers are definitely something we’re seeing more and more of out in the market because of today’s small producers," she says.
She says more than 200 breweries are serving up craft beer in Colorado alone and consumers are looking for new and unique flavors.
"With small and independent craft brewers on the scene, there is a lot of innovation and experimentation that is really igniting a more advanced beer lover and a more advanced beer culture in the U.S."
Wild and sour beers are trending, even though they’re often more expensive for breweries to make. Troy Casey says most brewers experiment on the side but depend on traditional favorites, like Pale Ales or Lagers to pay the bills.
"I think a brewery that’s only focused on these types of barrel aged and wild beers, that’s doing that exclusively, is not only new for Colorado but for the whole country."
Casey’s beer is being distributed to two locations in the Valley: Hops Culture in Aspen and Four Dogs Wine and Spirits in Willits. He plans to open his tasting room in Glenwood in early August.