28 August 2010

The Skinny on Brewery Tours in Fort Collins, CO

The school year is starting to stare down at us oppressively and we soon won't be able to come up for air before Thanksgiving break.  Maybe that's too dramatic, but that's how it always feels in August.  So it seemed like a good time to enjoy our freedom and head to Fort Collins to sample some of the most recent beers.  While I have learned that I am cannot drink as much as I used to, it was a pretty pleasant day overall.

My husband and I started at New Belgium, at 500 Linden, who might have the cleverest marketing campaign ever. Modeling their beers after the founders’ great passion for ancient Belgian-style brews, they have created a niche market that is pretty unique in the industry. It yields some pretty weird stuff at times, but you can't say they aren't trying.  Their brewery is also completely wind- and solar-powered, and they hand out four generous 5-ounce glasses of the stuff for free to anyone who comes into the tasting room (over the age of 21, of course). Oh, and employees get free bikes and free trips to Belgium for their loyalty.

We tried the following samples at New Belgium Brewery:

From the Lips of Faith series:

Belgian Style Blonde: a clean, light lager with strong citrus notes.

Helle: A Southern German style lager with a hint of citrus and a strong taste of wheat.

Belgo: A Belgian style IPA that was bright and bitter, but missing the floral notes of a British IPA. The bitterness seemed rather unbalanced for the rest of the flavors to my taste.

1554: A dark stout with a hint of coffee and a chocolaty finish.  This is my favorite NB brew of all time.

Abbey: a Belgian “dubbel” with a strong scent of banana and flavors of banana, clove, and caramel. These are some pretty unique and powerful flavors to mix together, and it’s one of the more adventurous brews they make. In other words, this is one of those weird ones I warned you about.

Ranger IPA: a British style pale ale that is crisp, bitter, and hoppy. It’s not as hoppy as some of my favorite IPAs, but the bite is still there.

We also had Fat Tire shoved at us, which niether of us asked for, but it was free.  FT is fine, and as far as ubiquitous beers on tap go, I'd drink it over Coors, for sure. 

A short walk down the road took us to Odell Brewing Company at 800 East Lincoln. Rather than choosing from everything on tap, samples are organized into different coordinated “trays” of six or eight different beers. We chose the “Pilot Tray” from the menu of samplers. The $4 you pay is donated to charity.

Session D.O: this rather complex ale was hoppy and golden in color; it was my favorite of the day.

Snowriders Ale: a very light American wheat with a mild, clean flavor.

Town Pump Pail [sic] Ale: Odell’s British IPA is hoppy and far less bitter than New Belgium’s.

St. Lupulin: a seasonal “dry hopped ale” that didn’t seem very hoppy, but was rather bitter with a slight citrus aftertaste.

Nitro IPA: an American style IPA smoothed out by nitrogen gas, creating the texture of Guinness while retaining the flavor of a light, hoppy ale. This was a strange experience for me, and it certainly challenged my expectations of either an IPA or a nitro pull.

Nitro Cutthroat Porter: pure Guinness all the way.

Both New Belgium and Odell offer tours, but it’s perfectly acceptable to just belly up to the bar in the tasting room if you’re short on time (or attention span).

We intended to walk a couple of blocks down the street to visit Fort Collins Brewery, which boasts a new building slated to open this month on its website. However, said building is still under construction and shows no sign of opening anytime soon. When they do open, they will have a full restaurant, as well, so this is one to check on again in the near future.

At this point, we were hot, thirsty, and hungry. We needed to fill our stomachs with something besides strong beer. Just south of the breweries was Saigon Grill Vietnamese food at 755 S. Lemay. It’s in a shopping plaza and lacks some of the outward charm of those sidewalk cafes on the pedestrian mall, but the food is cheap, plentiful, and delicious.

Lunch specials range from $5.95 to $6.25, and include a cup of hot and sour soup (rather sweet, but also pleasantly spicy), a vegetable egg roll (swap it out for a jumbo-sized crystal roll for $1), and a generous plate of steamed rice and authentic Vietnamese food made with fresh ingredients and accompanied by versatile, flavorful sauces.  There is also a separate noodle bowl lunch menu within the same price range.  Get one of everything.
For us, no trip to Fort Collins would be complete without a stop for coffee. This is because we always drink beer when we visit, and then we have to drive home to Greeley.  Our favorite place is Bean Cycle, which shares space with the socially conscious Matter Bookstore. Located at 144 N. College, it’s on the way back up to Laramie and brews a strong, flavorful cup of coffee with in-house roasted beans. The staff is friendly and very serious about their craft, and the bookstore offers some pleasant browsing time while you sober up for the drive back home.


New Belgium Brewery:  500 Linden, (888) NBB-4044

Odell Brewing Company: 800 East Lincoln Avenue, (970) 498-9070

Saigon Grill: 755 S. Lemay Ave, Unit D-3, (970)416-9722
Bean Cycle and Matter Bookstore: 144 N. College Avenue, (970) 221-2964