There’s a new — make that old — beer brewing in the valley, and this one just gets better with age.
Casey Brewing and Blending officially began rolling out its special blends of Belgian-style, oak-barrel-aged Saison beer at a public tasting event earlier this month after a soft July opening.
Similar events will take place every first Saturday of the month at owner/blender Troy Casey’s south Glenwood Springs barrel cellar, overlooking the Roaring Fork River at 3421 Grand Ave.
“We’re very much a small-batch, artisan type of brewery,” Casey explained. “I try to make beer like it was made before the industrialization of beer occurred.”
That means limited amounts of delicately blended and aged beers sold by the bottle and enjoyed more like a fine wine or sipping liqueur, in the tradition of the Old World brewers, he said.
Casey’s beers are also all about being local, made from 100 percent Colorado ingredients, including his barley, wheat, hops, different fruits and, of course, Rocky Mountain water.
The brewing process itself is actually done through a unique partnership with another fairly new local brewer, Chase Engel of the Roaring Fork Beer Co. in Carbondale, to use his facility for the first stages of the process, Casey explained.
“We’re doing such limited amounts that it didn’t make sense to have our own brew house,” he said. “This way, it saves us a little money during the start-up phase, and it gives them an opportunity to get some more use out of a piece of equipment that they’ve invested in.”
There’s also the benefit of two up-and-coming yet seasoned young brewers learning from each other along the way, Casey said of he and Engel.
After the brewing process, though, the secrets of Casey’s special beers begin with a unique blending and aging process.
It’s called “mixed culture fermentation” — a pre-industrial era style of brewing born out of the traditions of European farmers who would make beer from grain harvested over the summer to help sustain the field workers through the winter months, he explained.
Unlike the lager-style beers brewed by their neighbors to the east in Germany and the ales that were more popular in England, the Belgians would blend different fruit flavors in with their beer for a more tart, less hoppy beer.
“It’s a type of brewing that has the most magic left in it,” said Casey, who has trained and worked professionally for 10 years in large breweries such as Coors and Anheuser Busch before striking out on his own.
“When you make these types of beers, there are a lot of unknowns, and every barrel is a little bit different,” he said. “They take a long time to age, and the transformation during that time is the miracle.”
The key is in the aging. Where most beers are brewed and bottled or sent to the tap within 10 to 20 days, Belgian-style Saisons are aged for anywhere from three to 12 months.
For Casey’s part, he reuses vintage oak barrels obtained from wineries. His blending cellar is filled with dozens of barrels of different sizes from wineries in California, with more on the way.
The wooden barrels allow for just enough oxidation that the yeast reacts in different ways. While wineries want the oak flavors when the barrels are new, Casey is looking for the interaction with the fermented wine flavors that remain in the barrels after most of that oaky flavor is gone.
“I also thought I would experiment with some whiskey barrels to see what different flavors I get from those,” he said of future plans.
Not only is the oak barrel aging beneficial to the process, “They’re a lot more romantic than stainless steel barrels,” Casey said.
Casey moved to the Roaring Fork Valley last year with his fiancee, Emily Dreman, who took a job at Whole Foods in Basalt.
“Both of us fell in love with the valley, and I was ready for a change from my job at Coors,” said Casey, who went to the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs and obtained his master’s degree in brewing from University of California-Davis.
He got his start at Bristol Brewing in Colorado Springs, and is a second-generation brewmaster. His father, Greg Casey, recently retired from Coors Brewing Co.
The next tasting event at the barrel cellar will be Saturday, Sept. 6, and every first Saturday after that until early spring when Casey said he may expand the offerings. His brews are also available at Cooper Street Wine and Spirits in Glenwood Springs, and at Four Dogs Liquors in Basalt, next to Whole Foods.
Casey and Dreman are planning to get married this fall, and their honeymoon will take them back to Belgium where they’ve visited before, and probably a little more firsthand taste of the Old World brewing styles.
Future Casey Brewing releases are to include versions of Saison blended with fresh Western Slope fruits, such as sweet and sour cherries, peaches, plums and blackberries.