Fort Collins, craft Beer cap­i­tal of colorado, is A mecca for BrewCA­tion­ers

Craft beer cul­ture in charm­ing Fort Collins, Colo., is brim­ming

Calgary Herald - - NEWS - BAR­BARA TAY­LOR and WAYNE NEW­TON

Tourists hop­ing to find an ac­tual fort in Fort Collins will be stymied, but those with a pas­sion for ex­cel­lent craft beer and food will find nir­vana.

We’ve been drawn by the craft beer cul­ture in this charm­ing Colorado city of 165,000, a 90-minute drive from Den­ver, but are pleas­antly sur­prised by Fort Collins’ Dis­ney-es­que vi­brant 19th-cen­tury down­town and a culi­nary cul­ture that’s ma­jor league.

Our base is one of the state’s fan­tas­tic his­tor­i­cal ho­tels, the 1920s Arm­strong where checkin in­cludes meet­ing the ho­tel lobby’s res­i­dent cat, Oreo. Thirty years ago, no tourists would stay at the ho­tel as it had fallen on rough times. But new own­ers and a year­long ren­o­va­tion in 2003 brought the Arm­strong back to its glory, and the ho­tel now is a well-lo­cated place to stay while ex­plor­ing the re­vived Fort Collins down­town, its leafy side streets and, most im­por­tantly, more than 20 craft brew­eries to make it the craft beer cap­i­tal of Colorado.

Time is of the essence, so with the help of the city’s mar­ket­ing di­rec­tor Katy Sch­nei­der and lo­cal Bob Wil­liams — he’s a bi­cy­cle me­chanic and cer­ti­fied ci­cerone who leads beer and bike tours in­ter­na­tion­ally in places such as Bel­gium and Ja­pan, as well as Colorado — we’ve keyed in on three. Two were ob­vi­ous choices, and one was a brand new Bel­gian sour sen­sa­tion.

Pur­pose Brew­ing and Cel­lars is a bou­tique craft brew­ery opened by Peter Bouck­aert, the for­mer brew­mas­ter at the iconic New Bel­gium Brew­ing Co., and Zach Wil­son, for­mer brewer at 1933 Brew­ing Co., also of Fort Collins.

For Bouck­aert, it was a switch from one of the big­gest craft brew­ers in the United States to one of the small­est in Fort Collins, al­though since our visit Pur­pose is look­ing to ex­pand its brew­house and add a cof­fee bar.

Pur­pose is a small-batch brew­ery with a con­stantly chang­ing board, mak­ing it a po­lar op­po­site ex­pe­ri­ence for Bouck­aert, who spent years at New Bel­gium where the fo­cus was on con­sis­tent qual­ity of large na­tional craft brands such as Fat Tire.

On our visit, with Frezi Bouck­aert, Peter’s wife, in charge, Wayne hap­pily tries Smoel­trekker No. 6 and No. 17 (ver­sions of the same sour beer num­bered for the bar­rel used) and Nacht Up, a black ale with hints of co­conut and vanilla brewed us­ing am­bu­rana wood from Brazil.

Dur­ing the tast­ing, Wil­liams ob­serves, “If you like the way the beer tastes, it’s a good beer.” And cer­tainly that was true of the Nacht Up.

Next up, a stop at the lively Odell Brew­ing Co., one of the twin peaks in Fort Collins’ con­sid­er­able con­tri­bu­tion to Amer­i­can craft beer. Founded in 1989 by Doug, Wynne and Corkie Odell, the com­pany is the 34th largest craft brew­ery in the United States, and its beers are found in 11 states and the United King­dom. Odell’s mar­quee brands are Bri­tish in style.

Orig­i­nally lo­cated in a con­verted 1915 grain el­e­va­tor, to­day’s brew­ery is a sprawl­ing mod­ern en­ter­prise fea­tur­ing a colour­ful tap­room and an ex­pan­sive pa­tio.

Odell co-owner and tap­room man­ager Kai­ley Bowser toured us around the brew­ery where we wit­nessed ro­bots load­ing kegs and bot­tles mer­rily mak­ing their way through an assem­bly line. It was in­trigu­ing to wit­ness a panel of em­ployee tasters rat­ing the prod­uct.

Bowser also noted em­ploy­ees can con­coct their own brews just as she did for her re­cent wed­ding, pro­duc­ing “Lov­ing Cup,” a golden ale named af­ter a Rolling Stones song.

And that’s just one of many em­ployee perks.

“We’re spoiled,” said Bowser, adding af­ter five years em­ploy­ees are taken on a trip to Eu­rope to wit­ness other brew­ing tech­niques. She said em­ployee ap­pre­ci­a­tion “is who we are from Day 1.”

Wil­liams and Wayne quickly tuck in with flights be­side a fel­low brew­ca­tioner, a home­brewer from Madi­son, Wis., who is gen­er­ous with his praise for what he’s dis­cov­ered at Odell such as 90 Shilling, an am­ber ale.

There’s no leav­ing here with­out tast­ing Colorado Lager and, for a walk on the hop­pier side, the sum­mer sea­sonal St. Lupulin ex­tra pale ale.

In any other city, Pur­pose and Odell would be enough to con­vince a craft beer lover they were in heaven. But this is Colorado, ar­guably the mother of the North Amer­i­can craft beer world, and we’re not done yet.

New Bel­gium Brew­ing, em­ployee-owned and mas­sive, of­fers free tours of its brew­ery ev­ery af­ter­noon. The tours are equal parts sto­ry­telling, cy­cling and le­gal drink­ing age (21 in the United States) play­ground.

Early on, we’re in­tro­duced to an ac­tual fat tire bi­cy­cle. It’s the same type founder Jeff Lebesch, as a 32-year-old, rode around the vil­lages of Bel­gium be­fore re­turn­ing to Fort Collins in the early 1990s to start brew­ing beer in his base­ment.

To­day, New Bel­gium’s Fat Tire brand of Bel­gian ale is brewed in both Fort Collins and Asheville, N.C., and is one of the most rec­og­nized craft beer brands in the United States.

But New Bel­gium doesn’t rest en­tirely on its lead­ing brand. The Fort Collins brew­ery is home to the world’s big­gest wood cel­lar beer pro­duc­tion fa­cil­ity, pro­duc­ing beers such as Os­car, brewed in black­berry whiskey bar­rels.

The tap­room also fea­tures such beers as the Voodoo Ranger IPA se­ries, seven ver­sions in to­tal.

New Bel­gium is big on en­vi­ron­men­tal sus­tain­abil­ity and our tour, led by Jesse Claeys, re­flects that, point­ing out ev­ery­thing from poli­cies re­gard­ing sourc­ing ma­te­ri­als to en­cour­age­ment of cy­cling cul­ture and fit­ness. They’ve just added a great lawn per­fect for cy­cle-in movie nights and beer yoga.

For the kid in us all, tours end with a lit­eral slide back to the tap­room level.

Of course, there’s more to nour­ish the soul than craft beer in Fort Collins. There is also some of the best nosh­ing we’ve ex­pe­ri­enced in Amer­ica.

A favourite was The Kitchen, a bistro in his­toric Old Town with a farm-to-fork menu and a motto of “com­mu­nity through food.”

For a hearty break­fast and a fine cup of joe, few can match Sil­ver Grill, which is the old­est con­tin­u­ously op­er­at­ing restau­rant in North­ern Colorado, trac­ing its his­tory to 1912. No one had to twist arms to sam­ple their much­lauded cin­na­mon rolls and fresh­squeezed or­ange juice.

And wouldn’t you know it, there’s a Sil­ver Grill cin­na­mon roll beer brewed in the Christ­mas sea­son by Odell.

That has us smack­ing our lips in hopes of a re­turn visit.

PHO­TOS: BAR­BARA TAY­LOR

Frezi Bouck­aert pours a va­ri­ety of craft beers for vis­i­tors to sam­ple at Pur­pose Brew­ing and Cel­lars in Fort Collins, the craft beer cap­i­tal of Colorado.

Odell Brew­ing Co.’s Kai­ley Bowser says the brew­ery’s cool pa­tio is hop­ping in warm weather.

PHO­TOS: BAR­BARA TAY­LOR

New Bel­gium Brew­ing Co.’s Jesse Claeys is a foun­tain of in­for­ma­tion about the pop­u­lar Fort Collins brew­ery.

Down­town Fort Collins boasts an im­pres­sive ar­ray of street art, in­clud­ing Jazz Al­ley by artist Terry McNer­ney.

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