Fort Collins is a settled, unassuming college town at the base of the Rocky Mountains. But it has more to offer than Colorado State University. A sub-culture – one of hops, brews and grains – has developed here.
I’m talking about breweries, from the famous, such as Anheiser-Busch, to the not-so-famous, like the Fort Collins Brewery. Each offers beer (for those 21 and older), a tour of its facility and an explanation of the deep-rooted admiration for beer and beer culture.
We took a tour of some of these breweries, and each put its best mug forward.
The Fort Collins Budweiser factory offers free guided tours. The beer at the end of the mile-and-a-half walk is also free.
While waiting for the tour to begin, we help ourselves to complimentary soda and pretzels in the bar. The adjacent gift shop sells all the Budweiser paraphernalia one could want, including T-shirts that say “don’t worry, be hoppy.”
Our tour guide, Cory, gathers the group together and gets us under way. Our first stop: the Clydesdale Hamlet, home of the famous Budweiser horses. Cory explains the Fort Collins Bud brewery is the training facility that teaches these immense creatures to be commercial stars, parade ponies and everything else the job demands.
He then leads us through the Willy Wonka-style gates and up to the brewery doors. Inside, we take an elevator to the “hot side” where wort – a young, unfermented beer mixture – is made. Through the hall windows we see the brewing vats – gigantic silver cones that make this facility tied for the fifth-largest automated brewery in the Budweiser system.
From here the wort is sent to the “cold side,” where other ingredients are added. We follow suit, passing in hallways filled with black-and-white photos of the company’s founding workers and product.
In the second elevator, we can smell the bitter fragrance of hops from the room above. As we enter, we stare at the enormous holding vats. “We still make beer like they did back then,” Cory says, “…but we’ve made it more efficient. Guys like Busch, Pabst and Coors are responsible for the mechanization.”
After a few educational stops, we’re led to the beer packing and shipping area. As we watch the massive amounts of machinery, Cory explains the entire process, from the brew being poured, to the cans being pasteurized.
A display of the beer line is next.
“I’ve tried every beer in this case – for training purposes, of course,” Cory says jokingly, “so I can help you find a beer you’ll like.”
Walking through the advertisement hall, with familiar slogans like “This Bud’s for you” and “Nothing beats a Bud,” we pass into the lager cellar. The room, kept at a chilly 48 degrees, stores rows upon rows of giant vats with fermenting lager. The deep carbonated smell fills our nostrils, adding to the anticipation of the beer that awaits.
Once the tour is over, we’re back to the bar to treat our taste buds. Cory explains each 3-ounce taster of beer our bartender serves, from the intake to the aftertaste, and invites us to have an additional 10-ounce beer of our choice.
This tour, which lasts about 1 ½ hours, is free from start to finish, but an expanded Brewmaster Tour is offered for $25 per person. In addition to a hat, T-shirt, tasting glass and 10 percent discount at the gift shop, the paid tour offers a more in-depth look at what makes the Anheuser-Busch one of the most popular companies in the world.
Beermaster Tours must be scheduled in advance, and participants must wear closed-toe shoes and pants. $25 per person for those 21 and older, $10 for those 13 to 20, who are not allowed to taste the beer. October-May, 10 a.m. and 1 p.m., Thursday through Monday, June-September, 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. daily.
While Budweiser offers immensity and an impressive production, Odell presents a different side of beer. The microbrewery, established in 1989, brings the pub atmosphere right outside the brewery doors. The tours are short, but to the point – walks of the brewery floor.
While waiting for a tour to start, we sit in the Tap Room and order the beer-tasting tray for $4. It comes with six 3-ounce selections. There are two choices: the classic tray (the beers they distribute) and the special (served only in-house).
In-house specials are developed on the test vat, with some recipes coming from CSU science students.
“If it’s good it ends up in the Tap Room,” our guide, Niko, explains. “If it’s not, we pour it (literally) down the drain.”
Fort Collins Brewery
The Fort Collins Brewery is smaller even than Odell, but gives us a taste of home-grown brewery culture. The small Tasting Room, with steel or wood tables and stools, sits right next to the mini-brewery. FCB T-shirts and lager logos are the main decoration, with a huge calendar of special events that shows the weekly liveliness of the small pub.
“What are you in for – tasters or pints?” comes the greeting from one of the friendly bartenders.
We choose another tasting tray – seven 3-ounce concoctions for only $4. We sip these and enjoy the relaxation of less buzz and more beer.
The quick tours through the facility run only on Saturdays. Even on a non-tour day, most of the small operation can be seen through two windows down the hall. Bottles are filled, capped and labeled in a ballet of conveyer belts in front of the window. It’s a mesmerizing display, and a good close look at micro brewing.
New Belgium Brewing Company
This so-called microbrewery has made a name for itself with its Fat Tire beer and as the first wind-powered brewery in the U.S. The company was started in 1991 through inspiration from Belgium-style recipes (and wide European bike tires).
New Belgium also launched the Tour de Fat, a bicycling festival that encourages participants to trade their car for a bike, a costume and a beer (but to drink and bike responsibly).
Tours of the facility (accompanied by a beer) are free. Beer is kept on-tap in the Liquid Center, where visitors can enjoy the brew, grab some grub and become part of the movement with New Belgium goods.
Pateros Creek Brewing Company
Pateros Creek Brewing is deeply entrenched in Fort Collins history, getting its name from Pateros Creek, the Cache La Poudre’s original name. Yet another tasty addition to northern Colorado craft brewing, Pateros has a unique combination of beers.
Many breweries do their versions of things like pale ale, porters, and other ales, but Pateros has put a spin on all of its brews. The Stimulator Pale Ale incorporates rye malt to give an extra spice flavor, while one of their porters is made with vanilla, making the Snowy River Vanilla Porter a welcome change to other seasonal beers.
Pateros has “Outlaw Tapping” every Thursday where the brewers put their creativity to the test and make a one-keg batch of beer for patrons to try out. With no restrictions or limits on what they put into the beer, this is one of the most unique brews you’ll find in town. But with only one keg of it, it’s best to arrive early to try their newest concoction.
Stephanie Wilson is a journalism student at Metropolitan State College in Denver.
If You Go
2351 Busch Dr., Fort Collins, 80524;
Free tours: Oct. 1-May 31, Thursday-Monday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; June 1-Sept. 30, daily, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
800 E. Lincoln Ave., Fort Collins, 80524;
Tap Room hours: Monday-Saturday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tours: Monday-Saturday, 1 p.m., 2 p.m. and 3 p.m. No charge.
Fort Collins Brewery
1900 E. Lincoln Ave., No. B,
Fort Collins, 80524;
Tasting Room open from noon to 6 p.m. Monday-Thursday and from noon to 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Free guided tours are on the hour from 1 to 5 p.m. every Saturday.
New Belgium Brewing Company
500 Linden St., Fort Collins, 80524;
Liquid Center is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday. Tours are offered Tuesday through Saturday and last about 90 minutes. Tickets must be reserved through the website.
Taproom hours are noon to 7pm Tuesdays through Thursdays, noon to 9pm Fridays and Saturdays, and noon to 5pm on Sundays. The taproom is closed on Mondays.