If Denver is referred to as a Mecca of Craft Beer, Fort Collins should be referred to as the Napa Valley of Craft Beer. While Fort Collins is a much smaller town than Denver, the craft beer is sublime and dialed in. The bar for craft beer quality is so high here that there is no bad beer. To take it a step further, the places to go and enjoy a beer in this town and the surrounding area are all so hospitable and welcoming.
This is the second time that I have had the pleasure of traveling to Fort Collins. The first time around, I was here for a little over two days and really just scratched the surface of this jewel of craft beer. The people I met and the places I went were enough to bring me back. However, this time I would be staying for a total of six nights and would really be able to immerse myself in the Fort Collins craft beer culture. What is the Fort Collins craft beer culture, you ask? Well, it is consists of discerning palates, breweries who support each other and people who understand that good beer, can and should, bring people together. Aside from being home to just under 20 incredible breweries, it also boasts the Mayor of Old Town and the Tap and Handle, two of the country’s highest-rated beer bars.
The last time I visited with my wife, we ran into a couple who were about a month from opening up their own brewery in Fort Collins. We were both drinking at Equinox, a fantastic brewery just about a block off from the main drag in Fort Collins and at one point, it came up that we were on a beer vacation from MN. Carol and Tim were intrigued by this and had also lived in midwest (WI) for several years. As we chatted with them, it was clear that their passion for beer would take them far. I remember leaving Equinox wishing that we would be able to visit their brewery because they seemed to be the right type of people to own a brewery. The next night, we bumped into them at The Mayor of Old Town for a Funkwerks tap takeover and Carol wanted to take a picture of us for her blog (scroll down and you will see the blurb). We thought it was so cool that she remembered us. Carol and Tim then introduced my wife and I to a couple other people there and the staff at the Mayor took really good care of us for the rest of the night. The fact that Carol and Tim would go to such trouble to make sure our craft beerexperience was first rate exemplifies the Fort Collins craft beer culture. We continued to follow the progress of Horse and Dragon Brewing Company online and watched it grow into a brewery the fits perfectly into the fabric of the Fort Collins brewing community.
One of the first things I did in planning my trip to Fort Collins was to contact Carol and ask her if I could stop by and take some pictures for the blog. She said that would be great and if I wanted to, I would be able to accompany Tim to a beer club with other people at The Mayor of Old Town afterwards. The day was a gloomy one and as I drove up to the Red exterior of Horse and Dragon, the rain started sprinkling. The brewery had kegs as planters for flowers and an incredibly artistic metal rendering of their logo that looked incredible. As I stepped inside, I was absolutely blown away by all the wood. The tables and chairs were polished and stained to give the taproom a very artististic and warm feel. Flags representing their brews hung from the ceiling timbers like championship banners would adorn a sports arena. Behind the row of taps was a breathtaking painted horse on a wooden backdrop that really centered the focus to what they were pouring.
I presented Tim with a few beers from MN and then set to trying a tasting flight of the Horse and Dragon beers. They were unfortunately out of one of their most popular beers, Sad Panda, but I had tried that on tap at Falling Rock in Denver. I ordered a flight of their Almost Summer Ale, Dragonero Belgian Pale, Carol’s 2 Obsessions Coffee Pale, NoCo IPA, H & D Stout and Trina’s Mint Chocolate Stout. In addition to the flight, I also enjoyed some Sage Adweisse Berliner Weisse and Total Genie ESB. If I had to pick one descriptor that applies to all their beers it would be balanced. The flavors and aromas of their beers are right on. Everything is measured and distinct. From the roastiness of the malt in the H & D Stout to the tartness of the Sage Adweisse, everything is done with a deft hand. Their brewer, Linsday, who used to brew at Odell, is an artist. Unfortunately, she was gone and I missed the chance to compliment her on her wonderful work. These beers are tremendous and for a brewery to only be open a little over a year and have such an accomplished craft beer portfolio is a testament to the dedication to quality at Horse and Dragon. Tim was busier than a beagle after someone spilled the Chex Mix, but was gracious enough to check in on me at the bar as I was in the throes of beer nirvana. I asked him what was the biggest surprise about owning and operating a brewery in the first year. He said that the success of the taproom was completely something that they did not expect. They were on tap at bars a couple months before the taproom opened and H & D’s emphasis is mostly on getting their beer on tap at different places. The success of the taproom is just extra lacing on the glass. However, with success they have outpaced their growth and are further ahead of where they thought they would be and that has posed some challenges that they are meeting with aplomb. They brewed 450 barrels in their first year and are feverishly keeping up with the growing demand for their awesome beer. It was almost time for the beer club at The Mayor of Old Town and so I wrapped things up. Luckily, my hotel was not far from there and I would get back to the taproom one more time during my stay in Fort Collins. If you are headed up that way, I implore you to make the Horse and Dragon Brewing Company part of your beer trip. The feel of the taproom along with the high quality of their craft beer make it a fabulous craft beer experience.
I parked on the street and dodged raindrops on my way to The Mayor of Old Town, a bar that has 100 beers on tap and serves great food. The place was crowded, but I found the group after a quick once around the place. Thank goodness I majored in English in college because the beer list reads like a book. With so many wonderful things on tap, I settled on a Prairie Artisan Ale Bomb!, a world-class Imperial Stout. This is a beer that I have long sought after and was ecstatic to be able to enjoy it on tap. Tim introduced me to a few people in the beer club. I belong to a neighborhood beer club where we bring beers to share that all fall under a pre-determined category. This beer club is a little different and it was pretty fun. Each person explains what they brought and then you vote on your top 3 beers. Each meeting they have is either a 4-pack, 6-pack or bomber themed event and since tonight’s theme was 4-packs, I brought Surly Furious. I was elated to see that my 4-pack got the most votes for #1 and that meant that I got to pick the first beer out of all the 11 different 4-packs that were available. There were quite a few beers that I had never even heard of before and so I tried to pick ones that would be new to me. I got the first pick, but then would not pick again until everyone else got to pick twice, so I had to make my first pick count. I decided on Elevation Beer Co.’s DIPA, 7437 because I had not been able to get to that brewery. Things went on and the beers were chosen. My next two picks were a Red Ale from Coronado Brewing and an Alt Bier from Prost. I feel like I walked away with a pretty decent selection of beers, all but one were new and the one I had tried before was a Boulevard Hibiscus Gose, so not a bad beer to have again.
I was sitting at a table with a few people who had never been to the beer club before so it was nice to not be the only rookie. They usually have a men’s and a women’s club, but the women’s club for the night was cancelled. Because of that, there was one couple there and they were sitting at my table. Their names were Dave and Melissa and I started chatting with them due to proximity and the fact that we were all newbies. What I came to understand is that Dave and Melissa have lived in Fort Collins for a little over a month. They were from South Carolina and both very into craft beer. As we got to talking, the conversation about Fort Collins and the surrounding areas became very excited. By the end of the night, it was as if we had been friends for much longer than a few hours. There were a few other people at the table who were also very into beer. A couple young bucks, Chris and Cale, who were in their early twenties, but were very dialed into the craft beer scene. This was interesting to me because when I was that age, I was definitely not in touch with craft beer. In fact, I believe in my early twenties, I was still searching for the perfect Jolly Rancher to Zima ratio. As the conversation rolled on, the group dwindled and the time passed. Dave and I started talking beer trades and I was asking where in town were good places to find a great craft beer selection. Dave told me about a brand new craft beer store called The Craft Beer Cellar in Fort Collins. We checked our phones and it was still open, so we decided to pop down there. I stopped over to Tim and thanked him again for his hospitality at the taproom and allowing me to accompany him to the beer club. The family that owns the Horse and Dragon Brewing Company really are tremendous people. Carol had texted Tim to tell him to make sure that I knew I could stay with them at their house and felt bad for not being able to meet me at the taproom. I was touched by the kindness and care that they showed me and will definitely be back to visit them again.
It was on to the Craft Beer Cellar to check out their selection and talk about a possibility of a beer trade. We arrived shortly before they were closing for the night. They had gotten a shipment of Russian River Consecration, a much sought after sour beer and I was hoping that they still had some left. Luckily, they were not sold out, so I bought the Consecration and a can of Oskar Blues Death By Coconut, which had gotten some love at GABF and sounded like a delicious beer. I chatted with one of the owners and we arranged a time for me to pop over the next day to look at what he and his co-owner had down in the cellar. The best thing about owning a craft beer store is that you don’t have to cellar your personal collection of rare beers at home. I headed back to the hotel and turned on Baseball Tonight and slowly calmed down from the exciting first full day in Fort Collins. Tomorrow, I had meeting at Grimm Brothers Brewing Company and Verboten Brewing Company in Loveland, so I would definitely need my rest.