…Every one of us is called upon, perhaps many times, to start a new life…to embrace one possibility after another…that is surely the basic instinct…–Barbara Kingsolver, High Tide in Tucson
In 1989 Ray Oldenburg coined the term “third place” to define an essential zone separate from home and the people you live with [“first place”] and work [“second place”]. Third place is your hangout, an informal social space with no dress code and a welcoming vibe that invites you to return again and again.
A third place is also one’s anchor to community life. You are drawn to it because it is socially fun, playful, and light-hearted. It’s where you go to chew the fat, discuss issues, ventilate, play games, or get to know someone. It is “…where you relax in public, encounter familiar faces and make new acquaintances.”
Third place is like pitching a tent in your back yard. It is home away from home.
When life opportunities create a geography change and your third place is left behind, it’s important to find a new one. And if what you are looking for can’t be found after searching, a creative instinct might emerge “…to start a new life…to embrace one possibility after another”.
This is Kyle’s story. He grew up in Kansas, in the heartland of America. From the age of five, he began drawing images–people, animals and made up characters. Riding in the car during family vacations, he drew the storylines from books-on-tapes while the rest of the family listened. While still a high school student, Kyle knew he would pursue an artistic course of study at university. He graduated in Fine Arts and Graphic Design.
In 2006, Kyle’s first job took him away from home and long-term friends to Fort Collins, Colorado. He started out living in the basement of a relative’s house. It was isolating for a young man. He needed friends his own age and a place to socialize with them.
A booming craft beer industry was the catalyst for many microbrewery openings in Fort Collins. Kyle found his “third place”, along with a friendly social circle, in the evolving scene.
Later, in a widening circle of mutual friends, Kyle met Lara. They enjoyed camaraderie in the breweries, but also shared a strong sense of community service. Together they coached Special Olympic basketball and softball for disabled adults.
When Lara accepted a new job in another state, Kyle’s mother said, “I thought he would never leave Colorado. So when he followed Lara to Kansas City, I knew she was the one he would marry.” They did.
In 2014, the craft brewery scene in Kansas City, Missouri was not as mature as the one left behind in Colorado. Lara and Kyle searched but couldn’t find the informal, social environment they were looking for in their new hometown.
Creative “can do” instincts took over. Kyle had experimented with beer making in the past. Now he became serious, bought equipment, and began home brewing in the basement. He went to weekend fairs, gave away samples, and won some tasting competitions, too. Feedback was consistent and positive.
He read book after book about the chemistry of beer making, industrial brewing equipment, hops and grains and flavor additives as well as how to open a small business. He enrolled in the American Brewer’s Guild Intensive Brewing Science and Engineering program. The final weeks of coursework were on site in Vermont.
Kyle befriended local KC brewers by cold calling them. He volunteered to work one day each week to help them brew commercial batches. He gained knowledge and a warm welcome into the community of micro-brewers. By now an idea was actively fermenting.
Over the next couple of years, Kyle and Lara drafted a business plan, found real estate property to buy, cultivated investors, and a bank loan. In a former commercial garage space, Kyle designed a back-of-the-house brewery with a front-of-the-house taproom. Doing most of the interior construction, alongside family members who pitched in time and expertise, Lara and Kyle founded a craft brewery on the principle of creating a social community space and then giving back to it.
In early February 2018, Casual Animal Brewing Company opened its’ doors at 1725 McGee Street in the Crossroads area of downtown Kansas City, Missouri. Their signature motto is: “Laid back beers that tap into your wild side.”
Casual Animal runs eleven full taps. Each has its’ own beer style, name, and an original logo of Kyle’s design. Animals are a recurring theme. Names are metaphorically linked to the style of brew. Customer favorites include Chaos Monkey [a banana cream pie ale], to Honey Wheat light ale, Nomo Rhino IPA, Branch Out Stout, and Hop The Fence IPL.
Tying into Kyle and Lara’s commitment to community service, Casual Animal taps into the ethic of “giving back” by designating a rotating beer called Local Motive. The beer style changes quarterly along with the charitable organization the staff votes on to support. Two dollars of every pint of Local Motive sold is donated. In-house events promote the spirit of the current charity.
The most recent charity promotion was the Kansas City Pet Project, a nonprofit pet shelter that guarantees every stray animal a home. Kittens and puppies were brought into the brewery for customers to play with and cuddle. A completely contagious combination–adorable baby animals plus eleven beer styles equals fun AND donation success!
Unless you are a real brewer, all there is to know about the process of grain and hops and water turning into deliciously drinkable beer is the basics of what happens in Casual Animal’s back room. Inside a series of huge shiny stainless steel tanks, Kyle’s chemistry know-how is mixed with the help of fermentation, time…and recipe magic.
Hot Liquid Tank water is piped into the Mashtun Tank where grains are mixed together and cooked. Next, this mash up is transferred to the Brew Kettle where hops [and sometimes other flavors] are added. After time in the Kettle, the liquid is piped into the Fermenting Tank, leaving behind all the grain residue. Now yeast is added and fermentation begins. This takes approximately two weeks depending on the kind of beer. From the Fermentation Tank, beer is transferred to the Brite Tank for carbonation and clarifying. And finally, kegs are filled and stored in the massive walk-in refrigerator that feeds the taps at the front-of-the-house. 217 gallons of beer per brew.
Cycle complete. As for the magic? Well, every time I sip Casual Animal’s velvety dark nitro stout, it’s easy to believe in magic.
When I asked Kyle to talk about his favorite beer tastes, he said, “Well, it depends on the day. On cold, snowy days, I would say smooth, slight malty sweetness, and roast-y to describe a tasty pint of Nitro Stout. Other days it might be an IPA with resin-y, fruity, and bitter characteristics imparted by the hops. Now, is anyone thirsty?”
There is passion and precision in Kyle’s word selection that describes every beer Casual Animal makes. That same passion speaks of a man who dreamed of possibilities and pursued them with intense preparation. And labor. And love.
The truth is, when Kyle couldn’t find his “third place”–he built one.
…Let me be a good animal today. Let me dance in the waves of my private tide, the habits of survival and love…–Barbara Kingsolver, High Tide in Tucson
Casual Animal Brewing Company, 1725 McGee St., Kansas City, Missouri 64108
Instagram and Facebook: Casual Animal Brewing Co.
On 10-10-18, Lara and Kyle produced a new brand of casual animal sweetness and introduced her to the world. Welcome Sloan Kasey!
16 thoughts on “Becoming a Casual Animal”
Kyle and Lara are two of the finest folks on this Earth: caring, smart, funny, kind, giving…and they make great beer!
Great article! And a perfect ad for Kyle’s brewery!
Gail, that wasn’t the intention, but publicity is good for most businesses, so I hope if others find the story interesting, they might check out Casual Animal when in KC. Perhaps a destination vacay with Craig in KC with us? After Charleston…
A great tribute to Kyle (and Lara)!
This was so personally felt by this reader, your sister. What a glowing tribute to Kyle and Lara! His vision, with her help and encouragement, has brought Casual Animal to life. What a testimonial to hard work and a bigger than life dream! I am so glad to have this family! I have several third places that have brought me peace and comfort! I turn to them weekly to refuel my tank. Beautifully written, tenderly felt, and amazing photographs of what it takes!💜💙❤️💚
Molly, very heartfelt comment. Know that L&K will love it.
Lovely tribute, Wendy. Definitely makes me want a beer.
Well, Tim, if you wander into KC one day, you know the best address to go to fix that.
What a great story. Knowing Kyle & Lara made it even more meaningful. Chemistry is critical in crafting beer and life long friendships.
Kyle & Lara have created a beautiful building for their business. With your photographic skills you captured a delightful atmosphere to meet friends and enjoy a beer.
The new addition to your family is precious.
Thank you, Carol. I know Lara and Kyle will love your comment!
A continuing story well told! Such creativity shown in so many ways. I love the logos and decorations Kyle has created. A wonderful picture of Lara, Kyle, and Sloan.
Marilyn, you have become commenter #1 on atasteofmind so I offer thanks with my congrats. Of course you know the people behind this story and they hope you can get to Casual Animal one day, just to see it in 3D.
Mark told me the fringes of this story but you certainly gave it fullness and life through your words and photos. Great post-thanks. Congratulations to Lara and Kyle. New calling and new baby, who could want more?
Aaron, thank you! I’m glad you continue to follow my musings post Paris years. We are thriving in new environment.
Wendy- thank you for this beautiful story. I’ve often thought of Lara – so glad to read that she continues to follow her dreams. Congrats to Lara and Kyle and welcome to Sloan Kasey!! xx
Thank you, Gail. Please feel free share this with others who remember the Taiwan years. We are all so spread apart now. I’m perhaps not as connected as I should be…