It is easy to see why Fort Collins has been nicknamed the Choice City. A lively city just over an hour away from Denver it is home to Colorado State University. Fort Collins is also known for its craft-brew breweries, including New Belgium, O’Dell’s Brewery, and the Fort Collins Brewery. Along with several brewpubs, including Coopersmith’s and CB and Potts, and a healthy home brewers club all contribute to a serious beer culture. In fact, according to the Fort Collins Convention and Visitors Bureau it ranks third in the country in its volume of breweries and pubs.
Make sure to begin your day with a hearty breakfast at Café Bluebird – you’ll be visiting too many tasting rooms to attempt this day on an empty stomach! They have an extensive egg menu including omelets, scrambles, and benedicts. If eggs aren’t for you, try their mandaberry waffle; it’s spread with lemon cream cheese and loaded with strawberries, blueberries, and Mandarin oranges. Take in the atmosphere while there including paintings of flora and fauna on the walls and regulars ordering their “usuals” sitting in the booth next to you.
After breakfast, head to Fort Collins’ largest local brewery, New Belgium Brewing Company for a tour. With facilities capable of producing more than 400,000 barrels of beer annually, you’ll need a full stomach to make it through.
Next stop is the New Belgium tasting area where you can enjoy some free samples and learn a bit about their history and brewing process which is entirely green.
Everything from their incredibly efficient brewing kettles to a building designed to maximize solar energy to their community and environmental advocacy programs testifies to their commitment to reducing their impact on the environment and encouraging others to do the same. New Belgium Brewery is doing considerably more than many corporations to reduce their impact on the environment all the while brewing great craft beer.
Their signature brew is Fat Tire, features a picture of a fat tire cruise bicycle on the label. Owner, Jeff Lebesch, received his inspiration for the label from the tour of Belgium he completed on just such a bicycle.
After your first tour and tasting, try the Stonehouse Grill for lunch. A fairly new restaurant, the Stonehouse was started by two natives of Fort Collins with a touch of Scottish heritage. Summers spent across the pond in a Scottish stone house was the inspiration for this venue. The full bar, serves many local brews, as well as wine and cocktails, and their menu is diverse and delicious. Consider the Caprese wrap with an added chicken breast to tease your palate. Or, if you’re a traditionalist at heart, try their bangers and mash or haggis plate before heading over to your next brewery tour.
Make the next stop on your Fort Collins beer culture appreciation tour O’Dell Brewing Company. Smaller than New Belgium, this local brewery has the capacity to produce about 40,000 barrels of beer in a year, but it is by no means any less tasty. The tasting room, aside from offering full scale pints, also offers a tray of six of their traditional brews as well as a tray of four of their pilot brews, which are sold exclusively in the tasting room and are seasonal, experimental, or both. One successful experiment has been to tap the beer using pure nitrogen; it leads to a smoother finish with less bite. After your tour and tasting, travel further down the road (literally) to the Fort Collins Brewery.
The Fort Collins Brewery is a place where you’re most likely to be sitting on a stool next to one of the owners in the tasting room. It is more of a destination for local members of their tap club coming in to fill their growlers with the month’s special brew, but it is worth stopping in for a taste and a chat with the guys behind the bar. There really aren’t any organized tours for this brewery, except on Saturdays, but there’s usually more than one person behind the bar who would be more than willing to oblige, especially if you purchased a growler to go. Fort Collins Brewery is the smallest of the microbreweries in Fort Collins, producing about 4,000 barrels a year, but you’ll probably gain more of an appreciation for Fort Collins’ beer culture after 10 minutes on one of their stools than you would from any of the other tours.
For the capstone of your appreciation tour, dine at Choice City Butcher and Deli. It’s a very unassuming atmosphere, but the dinner menus are fresh, creative, and sure to tantalize your taste buds. They host beer pairing dinners every month or so. If you’re lucky enough to be in town for one, be sure to make reservations – you won’t be disappointed. Russ Robinson, the owner, makes an effort to be the last face people see as they walk out the door after their meals. He likes to mingle with everyone, suggesting a beer or wine to go with your entrée choice, or talking about the latest band to play at the Aggie Theater across the street. If you get Russ talking about his take on the beer culture in Fort Collins, you could be there until the wee hours of the morning. He’s definitely an authority in that area and works hard to bring his knowledge and passion to anyone who comes in for a pound of meat or a three course meal.
While dinners at Choice City Butcher are sumptuous, save room for dessert and the Walrus. Walrus Ice Cream is a locally owned and operated shop that uses fresh ingredients to produce some of the best tasting flavors around. Just to prove it’s fresh, they have two featured flavors daily; something expected like double chocolate mint, and something a little wacky like green tea and black bean. They offer Saturdaes, boasting the motto, “And you thought Sundaes were good.” You can also bring your dog in on its birthday for a free small cone (I’m sure they do the same for the kids too). Indulge in a chocolate-dipped waffle cone. You won’t be disappointed.
If your perfect beer culture-steeped day has left you exhausted, not to worry, The Armstrong Hotel is right around the corner. It is Fort Collins’ oldest hotel still in operation, built in 1923. A boutique hotel right down to Oreo the cat who lounges on the chaise in the lobby, Hotel Armstrong has 37 rooms and suites that were recently renovated in 2003. With its centralized Old Town location, near a myriad of shops, restaurants, bars, and an Aveda spa, the Armstrong Hotel is the perfect place to lay down a head that’s likely spinning with thoughts (and hops) from your Fort Collins beer culture tour.
What and Where:
Café Bluebird (524 Laurel Street; 970-484-7755)
New Belgium Brewing Company (500 Linden; 970-221-0524)
Stonehouse Grill (125 S. College Avenue; 970-498-0873)
Odell Brewing Company (800 E. Lincoln Avenue; 970-498-9070)
Fort Collins Brewery (1900 E. Lincoln Avenue; 970-472-1499)
Choice City Butcher and Deli (104 W. Olive Street; 970-490-2498)
Walrus Ice Cream (125 W. Mountain Avenue; 970-482-5919)
Armstrong Hotel (259 S. College Avenue; 970-484-3883)