Becoming a Casual Animal

…Every one of us is called upon, perhaps many times, to start a new lifeto embrace one possibility after another…that is surely the basic instinct…

Barbara Kingsolver, High Tide in Tucson

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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”.

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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 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.

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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 brewing 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.

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official logo, designed by kyle

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.

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kyle and his dad building the deck

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lara after new equipment installation

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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.”

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1725 McGee St, Kansas City, Missouri

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.

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one “flight” is 5 tasting choices

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menu changes by popular requests and brewer’s creative recipes

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full house

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front door opens weather permitting

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casual animals hanging out

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.

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brut IPA featured for one local motive promotion

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designed by kyle–graphics and artwork for quarterly local motive tap

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.

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walk in refrigerator with full kegs

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keg feed from refrigerator to taproom

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looks like this on the other side

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.

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…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

www.casualanimalbrewing.com

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!

Berry Best Summer Sangria

“A perfect summer day is when the sun is shining, the breeze is blowing, the birds are singing and the lawn mower is broken.” –James Dent

“Hey! It’s summer! Be free and happy and danceful and uninhibited and now-y!” –Terri Guillemets

“Summer afternoon–summer afternoon; to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language.” –Henry James

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My husband has sometimes referred to me as a “late adopter”. I admit this has been true of certain forms of technology. I’m not the first one sprinting out of the blocks to run with the latest tech innovation when it is hurled into popular culture. But, when I do decide to jump in, it’s with both feet. I’m consumed with learning all there is to know. Afterward, it’s impossible to remember life as it was before…

This summer I surprised myself with a totally different type of “late adaptation”. It happened to be with a beverage I had never ever tried, even once.

On the American Independence Day holiday weekend [July 4th] with Dietician Daughter, her husband and his Kansas family, she served me a berry and fresh fruit topped drink in a tall glass with a straw. It was deep burgundy in color. The icy glass, sweating beads of humidity, was garnished with succulent fruit. It was her version of Sangria.

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On a sultry summer afternoon, around a backyard table with good people, this new drink captured, and held, my attention. First, there was the thirst-quenching coolness. Then, there was a sophisticated lushness of summer berries in red wine. I loved it immediately and drank another glass. I had to know everything about it…

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Sangria has been around for 2000+ years. When the Roman Empire reached the Iberian Peninsula of Spain and Portugal and began mixing wine into the water to sanitize it, the beginnings of Sangria were probably born. Long a common informal drink on the European continent, Sangria was not widely consumed in the U.S. until it was introduced at the New York World’s Fair in 1964.

I have been to the Iberian Peninsula in western Spain twice in the past two years, hiking the Camino de Santiago de Compostela, but I was not offered Sangria there. We drank delicious Galician wines in the evenings, after a day of hilly hiking, as an accompaniment to the excellent regional food. It was poured straight from the bottle and never mixed with anything.

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trail marker; camino de santiago

Sangria comes from the Spanish and Portuguese word “sangre” meaning blood, because of its’ usual dark red color. It is traditionally made with Spanish red wine, fruit, brandy, some kind of sweetener and ice. Carbonated water may or may not be added for fizz. This is not a necessity.

That’s all there is to it. This is also where Sangria becomes much more interesting. With a rudimentary knowledge of ingredients, the end result is in the hands of the maker. Nutritionist Daughter caught my imagination with her “berry” form of creativity. Now I find I can’t drink it any other way.

I really tried. For the rest of the summer, since that hot July weekend, I began ordering Sangria in bars and restaurants. Some were made with white wine, some with red. At the very most they might have one or two pieces of shredded, mangy looking citrus fruit in the bottom of the glass. Tasteful pizzazz and eye candy beauty were seriously lacking. Not one was memorable. Not one reminded me of friends and family sharing stories and playing games around an outside table on a late summer afternoon. Not one begged to be repeated.

Thus, my short scientific study convinced me that the only Sangria worth the name and the calories is the one you make yourself. With ingredients you choose. The wine must be of a quality that you would drink on its own. The fruit, according to my now highly discriminating tastes, must be plentiful. And FRESH. Keeping the carbon footprint in mind stick with any fruit in season.

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the basic best: summer fruit, wine, brandy, and a jar

So, here is the very, very best summer SANGRIA you will ever make. Or drink. It’s simple, it’s fruity, slightly dry and slightly sweet, a bit boozy, and very refreshing–like a lazy summer day. Pass the pitcher around a table in the mountains, by the sea, on the deck or patio or in the middle of the backyard. Heap more berries on top and serve with a spoon on the side!

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drink sangria in the mountains of colorado

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drink sangria on the côte d’azur, villefranche-sur-mer, france

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or on a patio in oberursel, germany

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in full summer bloom

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maybe even drink sangria on the amalfi coast, italy, overlooking capri

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Sit back and say “yes” to a berry good summer. Then, if possible, lie down and muse for awhile in a hammock strung between two leafy trees.

“Summer is the time when one sheds one’s tensions with one’s clothes, and the right kind of day is jewelled balm for the battered spirit. A few of those days and you can become drunk with the belief that all’s right with the world.” –Ada Louise Huxtable

LARA’S VERY BERRY SUMMER SANGRIA

  • fresh whole berries [or pieces of other fruit] for garnish
  • ice to chill
  • 750 ml bottle of Spanish Red wine, chilled [I used Ribiera de Duero. Rioja works well too.]
  • ½ C. brandy
  • ¾ C. orange juice
  • 3-4 T. brown sugar
  • any seasonal combination of blueberries, raspberries, blackberries and/or strawberries. [Or use peaches and mangoes]
  • ½ orange, rind on, sliced thinly
  • ½ apple, skin on, chopped

In a large glass jar or pitcher, place fruit and sugar and muddle with a wooden spoon or muddler. [I love the concept of muddling as in messing things up.]

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Add OJ and brandy and muddle again. Add red wine and stir.

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Taste and adjust flavors to your liking. [More brandy or OJ or sugar as you wish.] Stir again. Add ice to chill and serve as is in clear glasses.

Get the fruit on. Garnish with lots of fresh berries or fruit of choice. Serve with a spoon for scooping winey fruit into your mouth between sips.

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May be stored, covered, in refrigerator to steep and chill several hours, but then don’t add ice until serving.

Best drunk within 1-2 days.

Santé!