Life is full of surprises. As craft beer expands in this country, more and more people have ties to breweries and the beer scene as a whole. I was enjoying coffee with a good friend about a week before I left for my beercation, when she mentioned in the most off-handed, oh-by-the-way manner, that she thought her cousin owned a brewery in Fort Collins. This was comical to me on many levels because she waited until a week before I left to tell me this, knowing full-well how obsessed I am about craft beer. In her defense, she had just completed her first year as an administrator in an inner-city high school in Minneapolis, so she gets a pass for having a lot on her plate. We figured out that it had not been open when I first visited Fort Collins and that is why it was not on my radar. She was nice enough to text her cousin and get the communication ball rolling for me to set up a visit.
After emailing back and forth a few times, I had a meeting set for Thursday, July 9th at 1933 Brewing Company in the late afternoon. I figured out that there were another couple breweries not too far from there so I plotted out a map that started at Black Bottle Brewery for lunch, Zwei Brewing and finally 1933 Brewing Co. for the final stop of the day. In my preparation for this type of trip, I stumbled upon a very helpful hint in Michael Agnew’s A Perfect Pint’s Beer Guide to the Heartland which stated that whenever you can pair a meal with trying some beer, do it. This hint served me well for several reasons on the trip, but first and foremost, it allowed me to balance out the beer I was trying with ample food and water. This was paramount for me because I wanted the memories to be clear so that, along with the notes I was taking about the beer, when I went back later to write the stories, I would be able to recollect all the important details.
So, Black Bottle had quite a few of their own beers on tap along with many guest beers (beers from other breweries). According to many locals I talked to, Black Bottle is known around town for having tasty and unique food options. Black Bottle is located in a strip mall off of the main street (College Ave.) and is kind of tucked back behind another strip mall and gas station. After a few round about turns and slight anger at the judging voice of my GPS, I arrived. The first thing I noticed was a funny sign on the door that said, “Hippies Use Backdoor” and that got me to chuckle. I walked in and there was a lot going on visually in this place. A window reveals a glimpse into the brew house which is actually below the main level. One of the brewers was nice enough to let me poke my head in and snap some photos before he had to leave for an event. After taking a few shots of the place, I settled in at the end of the bar and began perusing the menu. There was a lot to figure out between the food and the beer. Conscious of the fact that I had a lot of craft beer ahead of me today, I settled on six samplers. For food, there were plenty of seafood choices, which I thought was strange given that we were in Colorado. I learned a long time ago that seafood is really only the best when it is fresh and my worry about whether or not seafood was fresh dissuaded me from ordering any of the Shark Week-themed specials. Instead, I went with some bacon and cheese sliders and a bowl of beer cheese soup. The food was amazing and went very well with my taster flight consisting of 6 varieties of craft beer styles: Hipster American IPA, Floozy Pale Wheat Ale, Carlos American Brown Ale, Ginger Red Ale, Scuba Steve 4 hop American IPA and Shameless Irish Dry Stout on Nitro. I would have to say that the Shameless was, by far, my favorite because of its roastiness. It also paired well with the food that I was thoroughly enjoying. The bartender was incredibly nice and we chatted for a bit about the beer scene and how he liked Fort Collins so much. The whole time I was talking with him, I could not get over the fact that he looked exactly like Seth Rogan from Knocked Up. I didn’t mention it because I am sure that would not have been the first time he heard that one.
My next stop was Zwei brewing, located further south off of College Ave. If you couldn’t guess by the name, this was another brewery that specializes in German style craft beer. This was a very aesthetically pleasing taproom due to lots of beautiful wooden tables and a very open space. I sat up at the bar and charged the bartender with setting me up with a taster flight of the beers that someone who had never been to Zwei before would have to have. She did not disappoint. I liked that all the Zwei craft beers were very clean and adept representations of the beer styles they represented. I am not sure if I could name a favorite of the Helles, Pils, Dunkel, Weissbier, Vienna Lager and Hopfen Pils because I thought they were all incredibly good. The maltiness and caramel flavor in the Dunkel was tremendous. The refreshing citrus flavor and clove spice in the Weissbier were spot-on. I chatted with Kirk, the owner and co-brewer of Zwei and he said that they opened last August and will brew between 800-900 barrels in their first year. They hope to be available in bottles in the future. I really hope that someday, those bottles make their way to MN!
It was time to head over to 1933 Brewing Company and chat with one of their owners, Cody Pisacka. Located in a strip mall about a block off of College Ave, this place has the feel of a speakeasy with the familiarity of “Cheers.” There is a lot of space here and the U-shaped bar is gigantic. There is a large window that offers patrons a view of the brewhouse. Since I got there at 3, I wasn’t expecting it to be packed, but there was a decent crowd there when I arrived. I saw Cody sitting at the bar enjoying popcorn and a beer and joined him at the bar. We started chatting and before long, there was a taster flight in front of me. 1933 brews on a 5 barrel system, which keeps them very busy. Cody and Jimmy started out as homebrewers and eventually decided they wanted to start a brewery. They bought equipment from The Library in Laramie, WY and signed the lease on their location in 2013. One of the things that Cody was intent on was providing people with a great place to gather and enjoy craft beer. There is a stage and a lot of times, there will be live music playing in the taproom.
In order to provide people a place to enjoy good craft beer, you have to understand how to manipulate a space and contour it to your needs. In order to provide people with unique and tasty craft beer, you need an extraordinary brewer. That is where Zach Wilson comes in. Most people around the Fort Collins area refer to him simply as, “Z.” Zach is great at what he does. Zach is well suited to brew beer because it runs in his family. His father was a homebrewer and Zach has been involved in the brewing process since the age of 12. He then studied the science of brewing along with Chemistry and Microbiology. These skills all manifest themselves in the craft beer that Zach brews. Each craft beer at 1933 is well-constructed and the nuances in the brews will definitely make you think about the uniqueness of each offering. I had the pleasure of chatting with Zach briefly as he was busy working on a raspberry kettle sour in the back. It is always a thrill to be able to complement a brewer face to face on their brewing achievements. The look of pride on his face when he talks about his beer shows that this is more than just a job, it is a passion.
There is something for everyone at 1933, which is not always the case at a brewery. Even though Fort Collins has a beer culture that is well-established, it is always good to have something available for the drinker who is just getting into craft beer. 1933’s Bathtub Blonde is the perfect “gateway” beer. It will take someone who prefers a domestic light lager and give them something with the same level of alcohol, but with a ton more flavor. For the craft beer geeks, they have you all covered. The Enforcer Oatmeal Stout has a ton of roasty malt goodness. Hints of coffee and chocolate make this beer so distinct and the mouthfeel of it is pure heaven. The Revenuer is the hop lover’s dream and dazzles the palate with citrus and fruity hop flavors along with a malt backbone that creates a lovely balance. The Trigger Man Brown Ale has a robust malt character with a little hit of coffee from the roasted malt. I typically don’t like Amber Ales because they are usually very one-note for me. The Astronaut Captain at 1933 was a completely pleasant surprise because it had a distinct biscuit and bready malt character.
After trying their main beers, my two favorites were The Revenuer IPA and the Enforcer Oatmeal Stout. I understand why other breweries in town were telling me that 1933 was a must-see. Cody said that it has been special to see it all come together. After numerous construction hiccups and setbacks, 1933 is firing on all cylinders. One of the things I absolutely love about 1933 is the decor. There was a lot of thought put into how this place should feel. The bar is made from wood that was originally the floor of an old Coors railcar. The tap handles are each a unique piece of art. The light above the bar is a wort chiller that has been transformed into an awesome light fixture. The biggest positive that Cody has seen is that this is a brewery where a lot of locals will come to kick back and relax. Cody said that the taproom gets pretty lively during college football games because people love to cheer on their favorite teams while drinking great craft beer. Annabelle, the taproom manager, will usually have the beer ready for the regular before they even sit down. While I was sitting there, I noticed many people coming in like this was definitely not their first time. Everything about 1933 lends itself to conversation. There was live music while I was there, but it was not so loud that I couldn’t carry on a conversation. Cody and I wound up chatting for over two hours. Cody is soft-spoken, but his passion for providing his loyal patrons comes through loud and clear. I sure am glad that I made it down to 1933 Brewing Company because it is definitely was a terrific experience.
Another perfect day in Fort Collins thanks to Black Bottle Brewery, Zwei Brewing Co. and 1933 Brewing Co. The beers are consistently tremendous, but I am finding the people to be equally, if not more amazing and friendly. All three of the places I visited had unique ways of providing a wonderful craft beer experience. Prost!