Sunday 30 September 2012

Beer & Loathing in Fort Collins

When stepping off the plane in Denver International Airport for the fifth time I had a realisation, visiting Colorado was no longer like coming on holiday but like visiting my second home. My Dad has lived in Fort Collins for nearly two and a half years now and this would be the first time I was visiting without either my girlfriend Dianne or my sister Anna in tow. I’ve done most of the sightseeing Northern Colorado has to offer so this week long trip was about three things, good food, great beer and spending some quality time with my old man and thankfully I had all three in spades.

Arriving at my Dads house it was pleasant to see that he had seriously stocked up on beers with his fridge containing bottles from Dogfish Head, Great Divide, Odell, Breckenridge and Oskar Blues to name but a few. He removed a snarler (which I soon learnt is a small growler) from the fridge emblazoned with the logo of Big Beaver Brewing Company who are a small brewery based in Loveland, the next town along from Fort Collins. Big Beaver have made a name for themselves locally with the cheeky double entendres used for naming their beer, it’s not popular with everyone but those that turn their noses up at what is just a little harmless fun are missing out on some seriously great beer. The growler contained Big Woody, a double IPA that had a chewy, sticky malt character and was laden with piney hops that gave a real kick of grapefruit and lemon rind, it was a fantastic beer to start the trip with. Currently the only way to get Big Beaver beer is from their tap room in downtown Loveland, you can either pick up four pint growlers, two pint snarlers or by the pint in mason jars. If you're ever in the area I highly recommend a visit to Big Beaver for a beer and a brat cooked in their own Hefeweizen.

Dad and I spent the remainder of that evening trying a couple more IPAs from the likes of Oskar Blues and Boulder Beer Company but it had been a long journey and I was soon ready to hit the hay.

Thanks to the jet lag I was wide awake early on in the morning, the temptation to start working my way through the fridge of dreams was high but I had a big day (make that a big week) of drinking ahead of me and decided to stick with Mr. Coffee. We headed into Old Town Fort Collins at lunchtime and it felt as though I had never been away, the sun was shining and the beer would soon be flowing. We grabbed lunch at the Tap n Handle, the latest specialist craft beer bar to appear in Fort Collins which opened back in February. The Tap boasts a whopping 74 taps with brews from the US, UK, Germany and Belgium present and correct, it’s not quite as many as the nearby Mayor of Old Town which has 100 but while deciding what to drink the bartender mused that Old Town must have more beer taps within one square mile than anywhere else in the world. She may well be right, and after a bit of a personal crisis (it’s tough choosing between 74 amazing beers) I went for a White Rascal, a witbier from Avery Brewing who are based in nearby Boulder.

The rascal was a lovely, light and quaffable wit, laced with banana and clove esters and had a lovely hit of coriander in the finish, it made a delightful accompaniment to my Philly cheese steak sub which was tasting as good as the beer. Sadly this was the only chance I had to visit the Tap n Handle in what would become a very busy week but next time I’m Stateside I hope to spend a bit longer within it’s warm, friendly walls.

Hop bines are growing at the back of this shot
After a bit of shopping we headed to that most hallowed of places and my Dads favourite local hangout, the tap room at Odell Brewing Co. My Dad spends a lot of time here as he usually chooses to finish a hard week at work supping a fresh pint of IPA with his colleagues so it was a nice surprise for me when I walked in and the guys behind the bar shouted ‘Hey, Matt’s here!’ I instantly felt like an old regular and was soon sat outside in the sunshine watching some live Bluegrass and working my way through a tasting tray of some of the newly released and pilot brews. Highlights from the tray for me were Turkish Rye Wit, an interesting wheat beer which, as the name suggests, also contained rye in the mash, Deconstruction which I can only describe as a superb American Gueuze and The Meddler a newly released beer which is the Odell take on a Flemish style brown ale. It was delicious, tart and surprisingly suppable for it’s 8.9% ABV, unfortunately I seem to have misplaced my tasting notes for this one but it certainly comes highly recommended.

One thing you’ll soon realise if you visit the States at the moment is that brewers and beer geeks alike seem to be obsessed with sour beer styles. There were few tap rooms and bars that didn’t have a range of offerings that had been fermented with Lactobacillus, Brettanomyces or something equally as funky. It’s almost as if some brewers have got bored with attempting to make the strongest, hoppiest beers around and are trying new ways to create insane levels of flavour. Fort Collins heavyweights New Belgium have an almost ridiculous range of sours available at the moment and have recently installed new tanks to make even more, the good news is that their mastery over this style of beer is supreme.

After Dad and I, who had been joined by his girlfriend Terri at this point, had worked our way through the tasters we got straight onto the IPA. My Dad always likes to boast about the one time he tried it straight off the bottling line and just how damn good it was then but this is a beer that’s always on stunning form, one of my all time favourites. Interestingly Odell always have one cask beer on rotation and the current offering was a wet hop beer simply called Fresh Hop Cask, which had been brewed by Matt, one of the Tap Room staff at the brewery using Columbus hops that had been grown at the brewery hand picked by his good self. It was an interesting brew that was dank with oily hop resins, my Dad certainly seemed to be enjoying it and quickly polished off a pint.

Before we headed off for some food I had one more beer, Mountain Standard Double Black IPA which is brewed using 100% Colorado grown hops. I first tasted Mountain Standard last year when my Dad brought a couple of bottles with him when he visited over Christmas and loved it but this time the autumn/winter seasonal had been released just days before my arrival so all of those fresh, piney hops were much more up front than the last time I tried it. Mountain Standard was a real highlight of my trip as was Wild Raven, a barrel aged version fermented with, you’ve guessed it, Lactobacillus and Brettanomyces.

This is what a happy beer geek looks like
We then headed back into Old Town for some food at Jax Fish House, there was a minor moment of panic when I almost wasn’t served alcohol as my ID wasn’t issued by the US Government. Thankfully the Manager soon sorted things out and I enjoyed a delicious pint of Tropic King by Funkwerks, another Fort Collins based brewery that specialise purely in Saison style beers. Long time readers will know that I’ve really discovered my love for Saison since I started writing about beer and as I result I definitely got more out of this beer than the last time I drank it. Tropic King has an almost juicy quality with tropical fruit flavours mingling with the funkiness of a Belgian yeast and it paired beautifully with the pile of peel ‘n eat shrimp and crab burger that I was munching down.

After dinner we decided to head back to the tap room at Odell and why not, they were tapping yet ANOTHER new brew (these guys are unstoppable), this time another wheat beer called Fall Harvest Wit. It tasted a bit muted after all of the flavour bombs I’d been drinking throughout the day and as it was only a Wednesday night we decided to head back home after a couple more beers and continue working our way through the epic fridge of epicness. My first full day in FoCo was complete but I still had another six days of hardcore beverage consumption ahead of me…

Thankfully I got to visit that wonderful tap room at Odell Brewing Co several times on this trip and I’d just like to thank all of the awesome staff that work behind that bar for the warm welcome and the great beer, hope to see y’all again soon!

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