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Posts Tagged ‘Fort Collins’

1.  New Belgium Brewing, Fort Collins, Colorado

Founded:  1991

Production:  approx 437,000 barrels

(website)

fat-tire-label

The place that started it all.  My own beer revolution.  “Fat Tire” was her name.  And she was delicious and demanding; pay attention to me!, she said.  And I did.  I took note.  For the first time ever in my, albeit young and naive, life, I stopped and payed attention.  Really asked  myself, what am I tasting?  And that’s when I GOT it.  I felt connected to the Germans and their intricate beer steins my father collected in the basement; I thought of the Englishmen with waxed mustaches and elegant manners sipping the Bitter.  I did not know that what I was tasting was an introduction to Belgium; a country and a style of beer that takes you by the horns and casts you into a world of depth of flavor beyond what you ever thought possible (Lambic?  What the f?).  But this beer I grew up with, this beer with the beautiful label of the bike leaned on a tree while you eat your picnic basket in a Belgium wheat field, this beer started my journey and cemented a foundation of beer experiences to come.  “You never forget your first”, I believe the saying goes…

In 1989, at the age of 32, Jeff Lebesch was riding his fat-tired bike through Europe’s famous brewing towns and was astounded by the beer he was encountering.  Riding on one’s bike always brings up the renegade feeling for me; I used to race road bikes and I recall often feeling like a cowboy alone on his horse on the prairie or zipping up and down the foothills for hours at a time.  A one-man survival machine, with all necessary tools to allow yourself to trust being so far from civilization that your mind quiets and your thoughts tune into focus.  But back to Jeff…He returned with new familiarity with different ingredients and went straight for Belgium.  Brewing in his basement, he crafted two beers that would launch New Belgium:  a brown Dubblel with rich, toffee flavors he named Abbey and Fat Tire, his American Amber beer with a biscuity, toasted maltiness backed with a balancing freshness of hops that exhibits a broad range of light, fruity notes.  Today, they have an ever-expanding portfolio of brews that range the gamet in style.

But thats not even remotely the end of the story.  Without the contributions of his wife, Kim Jordan (now a renowned CEO), all that existed was some great beer.  Nothing else.  Together, they built a brewery based on founding principles they wrote together while on a hike through Rocky Mountain National Park with a jug of a home brew and a pen and a pad of paper.  Emphasizing eco-friendly practices and employee ownership, they’ve gained a devoted workforce that has very little turnover because they’re happy.  They ride on frickin bikes, for gods sake!  Its like something out of Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, this bizarre crew of beer craftsmen zipping on bikes from building to building.  Not only that, but they’ve built a massive, two-wheeled following with their annual event Tour de Fat.  A professional bike racing tour/traveling circus that moves from town to town, with each stop culminating in a mass ride of costumed bike fiends from every ilk and sector blowing it all out in celebration of the wheel.

Before 2006, New Belgium was only in 16 states, but has since been growing its distribution tentacles like an aging octupus.  Oh how I’ve waited each passing year for her delicious tentacle to reach us fair city dwellers in Gotham City.  Oh how I miss thee, my fair sweet…somebody smuggle me a friggin case.  Please.

Favorite brews:  Fat Tire, Sunshine Wheat, Trippel
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3.  Odell Brewing Company, Fort Collins, Colorado

Founded:  1989
Production:  approx 60,000 barrels

(website)

odells-beer-labels2

It’s gotta go back to home for me.  Doesn’t it always?  Something about those early years of ANYTHING.  Your first stumbling in the dark with a girl’s brassier.  Your first, horrible taste of coffee leading to that next, almost palatable, strangely forbidden sip.  The rowdy fans slamming their cold cans of Bud together at the tailgate party as you sheepishly waddle by slightly scared for your young life.  What’s the fascination with these items, I thought?  Why do I see them all around me?  For me, New Belgium and Odell’s were like two pony-tailed, Swedish foreign exchange students skipping towards me in knee-high socks while holding hands and shouting my name in unison.  Who were these devilish beauties?  Why am I so viscerally charged by them?  And how do their socks stay up like that?

Odell’s 90 Shilling remains to this day one of my favorite beers of all time.  Have I had it in years?  No.  Would I recognize it in a blind taste test?  Probably not.  But just the sound of its strange name brings back memories of my days in high school…those formative years when we were stumbling awkwardly through our days, slowly developing our identities and learning to connect with (or rally against) the world.  Like the smell of burning wood which always skyrockets me back to the campsites of my youth, Odell’s beers transport me.  They were my litmus, my palate-trainers….I didn’t know it at the time, but 90 Shilling and Easy Street Wheat laid the foundation for all of my experiences to come.

So where did it all begin?  After moving to Fort Collins in the 1980’s to search out his destiny, Doug Odell followed his bliss and bought an old grain elevator built in 1915 with the plan of moving his homebrewing hobby into a full-time business.  Soon, he began to make his dreams a reality and Odell’s became the second microbrewery to open in the state of Colorado.  Employing what must have been a jury-rigged system that looked a lot like the Millenium Falcon’s engine room, they built a four-level, gravity-fed brew system which employed open fermentation tanks.  Whoa.  Now that’s a vision backed up by sheer tenacity.  And within five years, they couldn’t produce enough beer to meet the demand that the hippies, soccer moms and professionals alike began to be fascinated with.

And now, as I track their business practices and brewing experiments, they are still pushing the envelope.  They began creating barrel-aged beers in the summer of ’08, and use an ingenious five-barrel pilot system which gives their brewers the freedom to experiment with new recipes every couple of weeks.  Rock on, Odell’s.  And rock on Fort Collins.

Favorite brews:  90 Shilling, Easy Street Wheat, Cutthroat Porter

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