If you ask a beer drinker what the greatest beer city in America is, most answers will include: Portland, OR, Asheville, NC and San Diego, CA. After visiting Fort Collins, CO, I believe it deserves to be mentioned with these other great beer cities. Nestled against the beautiful backdrop of the Rocky Mountains, Fort Collins is home to eight innovative breweries.
The first of the eight breweries that RandumInk and I visited was New Belgium Brewing. The New Belgium brewhouse and taproom is more reminiscent of a ski lodge or ranch home than a brewery. It is a breathtaking building with its bay windows, giant 4 x12 pillars and substantial size. As we entered the taproom, I was shocked at the beauty from old memorabilia (bikes and pictures), the endless enthusiasm from the staff, and the engineering marvels of the draft set-up. I think this was the first time that I saw draft lines come down from the ceiling, but to make things even cooler, the draft lines ran through two giant support pillars.
After my shock and awe dwindled to the point where I was ready to read the draft list, I decided to get Billy’s Beer, while RandumInk chose the Tart Lychee. Billy’s Beer was essentially an Imperial Hefeweizen or Weizenbock even though they didn’t call it either. At 9.1% ABV, Billy’s Beer was dominated by alcoholic phenols suppressing the traditional banana, clove, and bubble gum qualities. The Tart Lychee, the newest member of the Lips of Faith series, was a delicious sour beer with overtones of lychee and notes of cinnamon. The tartness was accentuated by medium level carbonation, allowing the fruit to resonate up front and through the finish. On a ninety-degree day, this beer truly hit the spot.
We each decided to get two more tasters. I selected the Valentine Ale and the Cascadian Dubbel and RndumInk selected the Pink Peppercorn IPA and another Lips of Faith beer, Cocoa Mole. The Valentine Ale, a raspberry saison, looked and smelled just like raspberry Kool-Aid with a light, pillowy head. The taste was nice, but it had an artificial quality that didn’t quite jive with my palate. The Valentine Day was a very interesting take on the style, but I think the fruit adjuncts overtook the traditional yeast and funk that most people expect, and enjoy, from saisons. The Cascadian Dubbel was very dry and exploded with roasted malt character. I really enjoyed this American hybrid because the Belgian esters and American hops were nicely balanced. All-in-all, New Belgium is a drinking experience that I will never forget, but it was time to head to our next stop, Odell Brewing Company.
We didn’t have to drive very far from New Belgium to reach Odell’s--thirty seconds was all it took, as Odell's was just down the road. The Odell’s taproom had a much different vibe then New Belgium. While New Belgium was bursting with energy and a visibly business savvy design, Odell’s was more traditional and pub-like, which I really appreciated. Since I didn’t select a hoppy beer at New Belgium, I decided to try the Myrcenary Double IPA, while RandumInk continued to build on his love of sours with the Footloose Blonde Sour Ale. The aroma of the Myrcenary was amazing. It was rich, citrusy, and mildly dank. I was surprised at the clarity of this ale because of its grain bill and hop additions. The taste was everything you want in a Double IPA: massive hop character with just enough malt backbone to keep it from becoming a hop bomb, this ultimately became one of my favorite Double IPAs, and I would place it alongside Sculpin and Double Sunshine.
After finishing our pints, we ventured to our third stop, Funkwerks. From the outside, Funkwerks looked more like a Mexican cantina than an all-saison brewery. Its stucco walls are painted bright neon green, a very eye-catching yellow, and hypnotic light blue. Funkwerks, as the name implies, doesn’t make traditional beer or have a traditional beer portfolio. Instead, they specialize in developing and pushing the limits of saisons. We were really excited to taste the ingenuity and creativity of the brewmasters behind this funky beer style. Having watched New Brew Thursday’s interview with the owners, Brad and Gordon, I had envisioned a much bigger facility, but it seems I'd let my imagination get the better of me. Funkwerks, although small, produced arguably the best beer during our Fort Collins brewery tour.
We decided to get the tasting flight, along with a ten ounce pour each. I was excited to try the Codename: Ron Burgundy. Goulet!!! On the website, it says that the Ron Burgundy is based upon an Oud Bruin recipe, but fermented with a saison yeast and then aged in French oak barrels for several months. The taste of this beer was very complex. Fruit characters, roasty malts, and woodiness all came together each sip. It was absolutely delectable. RandumInk settled upon the Alchemy for his ten-ounce pour, a play on the Belgian tripel that was very light and contained an abundance of citrus notes. I think Emily, my triple expert, would have loved this combination of two Belgian beer styles. We completed our Funkwerks experience with the flight of samples. My two standouts from this five sample flight were the Codename: Farmhouse and the Flagship Saison. Each was a standout for completely different reasons. The Codename: Farmhouse contained a malty character that reminds me of British ales, which complemented the saison qualities very well. Their flagship Saison may be the best American saison I have ever tried. It was the perfect mix of citrus notes, peppery spiciness, and just enough hop character to remind you that it is an American interpretation of the style. It was a fantastic beer from an outstanding brewery.
To complete our Fort Collins tour, we left Funkwerks and headed into downtown to Equinox Brewing. Equinox Brewing was a very small and intimate brewery. With twelve beers on tap, I needed time to survey the taplist, and I decided to end my tour the same way I started it--with the Supergiant Imperial Hefeweien, Equinox's take on an Imperial Hefeweizen. This wheat beer far exceeded my expectations. It burst with banana flavor and finished dry, which I really enjoyed on the ninety-degree day. The mouthfeel was very creamy and silky, reminding me of Ayinger’s Weizenbock. When compared to Billy’s Beer from New Belgium, the Equinox version was far superior because it contained all the traditional elements of a Bavarian Wheat beer along with American brashness to produce a very bold and unique product.
I am extremely grateful to RandumInk and his Pops for the tour of a great American beer city. If you love beer and have never made it to Fort Collins, I highly recommend it. You will not be disappointed!