My Beercation to Beer Mecca & Beyond: Fort Collins Finds

Since a two night stay in 2013, I have been obsessed with Fort Collins. The beer, people, coffee shops, and vibe are all fantastic. In 2015, I stayed for a week and really got a true sense of just how magical the beer culture in in Fort Collins. This time around, I will be spending a week here. That should allow me to explore at a leisurely pace as opposed to the 4 breweries a day pace that I have been doing.

Over the years, I have visited the noteworthy breweries in this adorable college town. Each time I come back, my experiences cement the fact that Fort Collins might be the most influential craft beer city in the country. With New Belgium Brewing and Odell Brewing Company both establishing their own roots as well as blazing a trail for others to follow, both quantity and quality breweries options are plentiful. With such a concentration of craft beer quality comes a question. How many more breweries can Fort Collins support?

Since my last visit in 2017, a few new breweries have opened their doors. So, I am curious to see if they are thriving, or if Fort Collins is reaching its peak of breweries. I think that by reading, you will be able to draw your own conclusions.

Gilded Goat Brewing Company

Gilded Goat Brewing Company’s taproom resides on the southern edge of town in a strip mall. They are fairly new to the Fort Collins beer scene and came highly recommended from several trusted beer aficionados. I walk in on a sunny Monday afternoon. There are plenty of open spots as it is shortly after lunch and I pick a spot at the middle of the ample bar seating.

This taproom is cozy and welcoming. I don’t feel like I am sitting in a taproom, I feel like I am in someone’s house. There are incredible decorations all around the taproom depicting the brewery’s namesake. As I situate myself, the bartender, Kelsey checks in to ask if I have any questions.

I decide to start off with a flight. Luckily, there are plenty of things to choose from today. As she pours my flight, I snap some pictures of the goats all over the taproom. The more I explore, the more I fall in love with this place. Of course, for me to be smitten with a brewery, their beer has to be good.

Gilded Goat Beers

Poudre Pils

I start off with the Poudre Pils. This pilsner is dry-hopped with Centennial and Chinook hops. The dry-hopping imparts a geranial and floral aroma into the beer. There is even some pineapple and grapefruit in the nose. The malty flavors of multi-grain bread provide balance and the finish of the beer has just a hint of pine. It also finishes crisp. I like how this beer broadens the parameters of what a pilsner can be.

Meandering Wheat

The next beer up is the Meandering Wheat. This beer is clean and citrusy thanks to the navel orange peel aroma. A crisp beer with a decent body to it. This is a refreshing summer beer.

Nokhu IPA

The Nokhu IPA is a marmalade colored beer with bright grapefruit aroma. There malty notes of bread and caramel support an old-school hop profile that is profoundly piney. I love this beer because it is the kind of IPA that got me intrigued in hoppy beers more than a decade ago.

Guten Bock

The Guten Bock is last but not least. This GABF gold medal-winning beer is outstanding. The malty aromas and flavors in this beer are heavenly. Rich and satisfying sweetness of toffee and caramel mixes with a roasted and almost nutty bread note. The body is fulfilling with just enough carbonation to not make it heavy or syrupy on the tongue. Each sip gets better as it warms. This beer is fantastic.

Unbeknownst to me, the gentleman working on his laptop at the end of the bar happens to be the Head Brewer at Gilded Goat, Charlie Hoxmeier. He notices me snapping pictures and taking notes and asks if I want to take a look in the brewhouse. I accept his generous offer and the tour begins.

It’s A Family Affair

Charlie explains that Gilded Goat Brewing is all about providing people with a place to drink good beer made with the best ingredients. On a family trip to Europe, Charlie’s family became enamored with the hospitality and comfort of British pubs and the focus on quality. Charlie strives to create the same atmosphere at Gilded Goat. Charlie also makes it clear that they do not skimp on malt.

As Head Brewer and a student of quality beer, Charlie fervently believes that malt is an essential point of emphasis if one is to brew great beer. Gilded Goat Brewing works closely with Troubadour Maltings in Fort Collins to ensure that their beers are using quality and locally sourced malts. In fact, Troubadour Maltings supplies the malt for their incredible Guten Bock!

Charlie kicks out all these fantastic beers on a modest 7 barrel brewhouse. There is no wasted space to speak of at Gilded Goat Brewing. They even share their cooler with the liquor store next store-also owned by their family. After Charlie is done showing me around, I graciously thank him and let him get back to work. I am enjoying my time at Gilded Goat immensely. So many cool goats on the walls and the warm wooden bar makes me feel like I am a guest in someone’s home as opposed to a taproom.

As I am taking notes, Charlie pours me a bit of their red wine barrel-aged Quad. A cavalcade of raisin, plum, and red wine aromas immediately invigorate my olfactory senses. The subtle tart cherry in the flavor along with the leathery notes from the malt create a wonderfully complex beer. I am floored at how good these beers are. This euphoria is multiplied by the fact that the taproom is comfortable and a place I would hang out weekly if I lived here.

My time at Gilded Goat Brewing is an unexpected surprise. For being relatively new to the Fort Collins craft beer landscape, they certainly embody the tradition of quality that this beer destination has become known for. Charlie treated me like I was a friend visiting his home, which certainly augmented my wonderful experience. If you are in Fort Collins, Gilded Goat Brewing Company is a must!

McClellan’s Brewing Company

On my beercations, my itinerary is never planned out to the minute. This leaves me open for flexibility and exploration. There are also times when I just throw caution to the wind and roll the dice on a place. In a town like Fort Collins, I figure that if a brewery opens its doors, it must be good. McClellan’s Brewing Company is further evidence that my theory is correct. Sticking with the theme of family-owned breweries that check the great beer and welcoming hospitality boxes, we have McClellan’s Brewing Company.

If It’s Not Scottish, It’s Crap

The taproom is festooned with various flags and coats of arms reflecting the proud, Scottish vibe of the place. Nothing about the atmosphere is forced or tacky, rather, it has an inviting and hospitable feel. McClellan’s is located on the northern part of Fort Collins, is definitely worth a stop. As a brewpub, they have guest beers on tap, spirits, and food. I know instantly what I am going to order when I see the beer engines. These heavenly beer dispensing vessels sit there like silent sentinels ready to pour their smooth and familiar contents into pint glasses.

I absolutely love cask ales. It is heartbreaking to me that they are not as popular with the masses. It is incredibly rare to find a brewery with a quality cask ale program. There is an artistry that goes along with producing good cask ales. They are finicky and if a brewery doesn’t have a cellarperson gifted in the arts of cask, it is pointless to even try.

Luckily for me, the cask ales at McClellan’s are stellar. Of the six tasters that I try, 5 of them are from a beer engine. The young gentleman working behind the bar is a tall and skinny chap who cannot be more than 25. He definitely looks the part of a Fort Collins beer guy because of his tattoos and facial hair.

He also seems to know everybody who comes in. In fact, because I love hearing the conversations that go on around me when I travel for beer, I learn that the bartender is getting married in about a month and is hopelessly smitten with his soon-to-be bride. This dude certainly understands how to make a local feel welcomed and appreciated. He is quite attentive and checks in on me frequently as I write down tasting notes between sips.

Cask Ales Done to Perfection

Benbecula ESB

When it comes to cask ales, my measuring stick is the ESB. The Benbecula ESB should fit the bill nicely. There is a slight earthy hop aroma wafting out of the glass. Lots of nice toffee, biscuit, and light cereal flavors from the malt. The body is so smooth and I would order this every time if I lived here. I am off to a great start and so excited to try the rest of the beers.

Pierce Brosnan Irish Red Ale

The Pierce Brosnan is an Irish Red Ale on cask. I love a good Irish Red Ale and they are also hard to find on tap outside of March. This beer checks all the boxes for me thanks to the malt character of the beer. Lots of light caramel and toasted bread in the nose and the taste. The body is nice and smooth and really allows the warmth and nuttiness of the malt to shine.

Kilt Tilter Wee Heavy

The Kilt Tilter on cask is a Wee Heavy Scotch Ale. The caramel aroma is so enticing that you almost miss the earthiness from the East Kent Goldings and Fuggles hops. I think that the hint of smokiness from the roasted malt really balances out the caramel sweetness. The body of this beer is so creamy and soothing. At 7%, this beer is definitely something I would love to have on a cold December night as the snow falls outside. After 3 beers, I am thoroughly enjoying my time here.

Tom Hennessey Oatmeal Stout

The next one in the queue is the Tom Hennessey Oatmeal Stout. This beer, by nature is smooth, and I am really interested to see how awesome it is on cask. Pleasing aromas of toasted brown bread, dark chocolate, and earthy hops enchant my olfactory senses as I hold the glass under my nose. The malty flavors of molasses, dark chocolate, and bitterness of a perfect cup of coffee reward my palate. If I ever make it to heaven, the Tom Hennessey better be on tap!

The Porter

The porter on cask continues in the footsteps of its malty brethren with complex flavors and aromas. I am enjoying aromas of leather and pipe tobacco. This has a nice roasted malt flavor that reveals itself in the form of dark chocolate. The bitterness from the roasted malt is dialed in wonderfully because it is not overwhelming in the least.

The Velvet Donkey Barleywine

The Velvet Donkey Barleywine smells boozy and I worry if my string of balanced and delightful beers is about to come to an end. There are a lot of different flavors in this beer and I am thankful I let it warm up so they are all shining. Dark fruit flavors of raisin and plum set the tone of complexity nicely. There is toffee and chocolate there as well to provide a balance. The body of the beer is hefty and chewy thanks to the abundance of malt in this beer. The finish is warming with the booziness I eluded to earlier. However, there is nothing hot about the booze, rather, it is warming and calming.

No Wonder These Cask Ales Rock!

As I am writing and smiling, the bartender asks me how the beers are treating me. I reply with effusive praise and gratitude. I know that it is easy for a brewery to say that they have a cask program for a gimmick to enhance their pub feel. However, I told the bartender that these cask beers are on par with Hogshead Brewery and Brewers Union Local 180 as far as quality and variety of cask offerings.

I inquire about where they learned to brew such stunning examples of these incredible ales. The bartender explains that their brewer is actually from Scotland and has a wealth of knowledge and experience when it comes to cask ales. Then, the bartender told me how they almost didn’t get him over here due to the stricter immigration guidelines set forth by the current presidential administration. Apparently, McClellan’s had to pay quite a bit of money to expedite the process or it would have been years before their brewer could come to the US.

As I am wrapping up, I ask the bartender his name. The young man cracks a bashful smile and replies, “I’m Joey McClellan.” I return his smile with a laugh. Here I have been ranting and raving about how amazing the beers are and how much I detest the fact that there are not more adeptly brewed cask ales. Joey explains that it means a lot to hear that I like the beers. I pack up, wish Joey well on his upcoming nuptials and thank him profusely for the 43rd time for the incredible beer experience.

Craft Beer Is Alive and Well in FoCo

In a beercation destination like Fort Collins, there are some incredibly big name breweries that have forged deity-like reputations in the craft beer world. The beer scene here is showing no signs of slowing. Everyone knows about New Belgium and Odell as stalwarts of the industry. However, Gilded Goat Brewing Company and McClellan’s Brewing Company are shining examples of what it takes to play with the big boys in town. They each create comfortable and welcoming environments to enjoy quality and delicious craft beers. If you plan on visiting this Sonoma Valley of craft beer that you allow plenty of time to go exploring and find the hidden gems like I did. Your efforts will be rewarded by wonderful craft beer experiences. Prost!

Dan Beaubien has been involved with Beerploma since 2014 although his passion for craft beer dates back to 2006 when he started traveling for beer.  Dan mostly covers craft beer events, festivals, brewery openings/releases, and beer reviews. Dan has a soft spot in his heart for authentic British Style ales, IPAs, and all things barrel-aged.  If you have any questions or comments about this article feel free to email Dan at dan.beaubien@beerploma.com .