Fort Collins, Colorado, sits along Interstate 25 between Cheyenne and Denver. It is noted for its university and veterinary school, gold-medal fishing rivers, skiing nearby, parks, theaters, fine dining and, best of all, its collection of microbreweries that brew more than 20 unique styles and flavors of beers. These microbreweries, also known as craft breweries, collectively earn the city the title of the “Napa Valley of Beers” according to Cathy Jones, Tourism and Marketing Director at the Fort Collins Convention and Visitor’s Bureau. “Fort Collins has the most microbreweries per capita in the state of Colorado and the state is ranked first in the country in production from our brewpubs and craft breweries,” says Jones.
We visited Fort Collins to tour the microbreweries, sample their beers, eat lunch at a brewpub and purchase the brews we liked to take home. The breweries are close to one another, so the tours can be accomplished in a day.
Our visit began at the Fort Collins Brewery owned by Jan and Tom Peters. Jan was our guide. Fort Collins Brewery brews about 7,500 barrels of six types of beer each year. Major Tom’s Pomegranate Wheat is a unique strawberry blond, sweet-tart flavored beer made with real pomegranates and is one of FCB’s most popular beers.
After the Fort Collins Brewery it was time for a bite. We moved on to the CooperSmith’s Pub & Brewery in Fort Collins’ Old Town square. CooperSmith’s brews eight beers, six of them ales. The brews range from the Columbine Kolsch, a German-style ale, to Horsetooth Stout, made with oats and roasted malts. For the non-beer drinker, CooperSmith’s root beer, cream sodas and ginger ale are also available. The root beer is simply the best we have ever tasted. For lunch we ordered the signature applesauce made with apples and pears and cooked in beer in a crock pot. After lunch we took a tour of the brewery.
From CooperSmith’s, we drove to the Odell Brewing Company, which is family-owned and operated since 1989 and produces more than 30,000 barrels annually. Beers can be sampled six days a week. You can taste from the four-beer “Pilot” or the six-beer “Classic” taster trays, or you can sample all 10 beers. Carol especially enjoyed the Easy Street Wheat, while I found it more difficult to pick a favorite. Odells also produces a seasonal lineup, which includes a yet-to-be named summer seasonal, a Red Ale and a winter warmer Isolation Ale. The gift shop offers plenty of beer-related gifts for everyone.
The largest of the craft brewers in Fort Collins is the New Belgium Brewing, makers of Fat Tire Amber Ale. This brewery is unique in that it is totally employee-owned. After a year of employment, each coworker receives his or her own Fat Tire bicycle, similar to the one shown on the bottle label. After five years the employee receives a trip to Belgium to learn about the origins of their company which was envisioned on a bike ride through Belgium. The brewery is also totally energy-conserving and is the first wind-powered brewery in America. New Belgium uses light tubes to provide natural light in the warehouse and all materials are recycled whenever possible. The best-known brews are the Fat Tire Amber Ale, Sunshine Wheat and Blue Paddle. The huge tasting room, or Liquid Center, takes on the party atmosphere as visitors can enjoy the ambiance, the aroma of beers and, best of all, the tastes for all palettes.
The Anheuser-Busch Brewery just north of town along I-25 also hosts tours to view the brewing process and complimentary samples are available in the tasting room following the tours. The unique feature of this brewery is that it is also the breeding farm for the famous Budweiser Clydesdales. Visitors can stroll through the barns and get close to these gentle giants or walk outside to see the new crop of colts frolicking in the pasture. Once a month the brewery holds Clydesdale camera day, where visitors can take great photos of these magnificent horses.
Once a year, on the last weekend of June, Fort Collins hosts the Colorado Brewers’ Festival in the center of Old Town. The 2009 event, celebrating the festival’s 20th year anniversary, takes place June 27-28. The local craft breweries join a good percentage of the almost 40 craft breweries from around the state in a celebration of brewing in Colorado. During the two days, more than 300 kegs of beer will be tapped and will complement the entertainment provided by local bands. There are free soft drinks for designated drivers over the age of 16, and the proceeds from the ticket sales benefit a host of downtown activities.
After our tours, we took time to explore the city itself. We began in Old Town Square, the preserved historic district now inhabited by trendy shops and fine restaurants. Old Town was the inspiration for some of the buildings on Disneyland’s Main Street in California. The Fort Collins Museum is one of the classic red sandstone buildings in town. Originally built in 1904, with funds provided by Andrew Carnegie, it served as the public library. In 1941 it became the Pioneer Museum, and in 1976 it became the Fort Collins Museum that focuses on the area history and culture.
Just outside of town is the Horsetooth Reservoir. Built in 1951, it supplies water to the city, the university and to farmers for crop irrigation. The lake supports fishing, water skiing, sailing and picnic grounds, and has ample shoreline for staying in your RV. The city also boasts more than 90 miles of paved bicycle trails that wind through the city, prairie and grasslands. The League of American Bicyclists voted the city as a “Bicycle Friendly Community” in 2005.
Overall, the combination of the city amenities and the microbreweries make visiting RV-friendly Fort Collins an interesting, educational and fun adventure for everyone to enjoy … responsibly, that is.
Anheuser-Busch, (970) 490-4691, www.budweisertours.com.
Coopersmith’s Pub and Brewing, (970) 498-0483, www.coopersmithspub.com.
Fort Collins Brewery, (970) 472-1499, www.fortcollinsbrewery.com.
New Belgium Brewing, (970) 221-0524, www.newbelgium.com.
Odell Brewing Company, (970) 498-9070, www.odellbrewing.com.