Thursday 26 April 2012

A Night with the Mayor of Old Town

I have just about got over the jet lag since my arrival back in to the UK about a week ago and now I’ve had the time to sit and digest my fourth visit to the wonderful Fort Collins it feels like time to write it down. I had planned to simply summarise the week in one or two posts but a single night sticks out far further in my mind than some of the others.

It was a Wednesday evening, I had been out the previous night and was struggling with a pretty bad hangover which wasn’t being helped by the mile-high altitude of Colorado. Despite the headache my Dad suggested we head to the biggest dedicated craft beer bar in town, The Mayor of Old Town and sample a few brews. Within seconds my hangover had lifted and I was out the door in a fashion akin to a rat out a drain pipe. The Mayor is actually about a ten minute walk from Old Town which lies in the centre of Fort Collins and stands just across the road from the smart campus of Colorado State University. The bar is set in a spacious and relatively new building (It’s the American west so old buildings are a rare thing indeed anyway) with modern furnishings, nice low yet warm lighting and a lengthy bar. You can either take a seat at a table or at the bar itself and thanks to the glorious thing that is American service there is no need to queue at the bar as a server comes to you to take your order.

The Mayors selection of beers is very impressive
Now the Mayor is no ordinary craft beer bar, it has no less than one hundred beers on tap, the line up of tap handles is mind blowing (the taps themselves span 26 feet) but what’s more impressive is the huge projected screen above the bar which features of a list of every beer that’s available and is updated in real time. The selection is a breathtaking mix of local and not so local craft delights but in a true open minded step they cater for those of us that don’t have a hop addiction with more common beers such as Bud Light, Stella Artois, Guinness and even Strongbow for those seeking sweet, spiky refreshment. ‘Real ale’ fans will be pleased to know that there is even a selection of British beers such as Morland Old Speckled Hen and Wychwood Hobgoblin, all on keg of course, there’s not a cask in sight.

Trivial things such as dispense method have never bothered me however, especially when there are so many delights to choose from, but where to start? I decide on something not too crazy to begin with and after Dad and I have taken a seat at the bar I order a Firestone Walker Pale 31. You know you’re in for a treat when the servers reply is to simply exclaim ‘DELICIOUS’ and he wasn’t wrong, I’ve never been remotely underwhelmed by a Firestone Walker beer before and Pale 31 is simply about as perfect as a pale ale can get. It was the colour of golden straw and had a wonderful aroma of lemon and pine, it cured my bad head in mere moments as its sharp grapefruit notes whizzed across my tongue. It had a wonderful refreshing dryness and try as I might to make it last the glass was soon empty.

The bar staff were beyond excellent, no sooner than you had drained the last dregs of your glass than you were being quizzed about what you wanted to fill it with. I’d being eyeballing the extensive menu for the entire duration of my last pint and was about to plump for a Saison Dupont when I spied another farmhouse style ale; Collette from Great Divide Brewing. I’m a big fan of Great Divide, Titan IPA is one of my favourite beers and for me they are one of the most consistent breweries out there. Collette is a wonderful take on this Belgian style, in fact my tasting notes read that if no one had told me it was from Great Divide I would have assumed it was Belgian. Delving into the yeasty aroma also gives you a hint of the tart, raspberry flavours that lie within. The fruit is wrapped in a wonderful blanket of funky Belgian yeast that manages to be fulfilling but never overpowering, it’s another really refreshing beer and not surprisingly it’s the Great Divide summer seasonal, well worth a punt if you can find some in the UK. Another nice touch was that the beer was served to me in a Belgian style ale glass which really helped me get the aroma and enhance the all around drinking experience, a nice touch and something that I would expect from a bar of this calibre.

I was having a whale of a time already and it wasn’t too long before my glass was emptied once again only this time I was ready for some hops. I ordered a glass of Oskar Blues Deviant Dales IPA which is a relatively new IPA from this awesome Colorado brewery, it arrived in a large snifter and my server asked me ‘I hope you are ready for this’. It seems only fair that I refer to my tasting notes here which read; ‘this is an IPA you could paint your house with.’ Deviant Dales IPA is without a doubt the most oily, most resinous brew I have ever consumed. The hop aromas of pink grapefruit and a blooming pine forest dig their claws into your face and slam it down into the bar. The hop oils literally coat your mouth as your drink, it’s not unpleasant, it’s a very good IPA, the citrus and pine flavours combining with a nice malt backbone but it’s one of those beers that for me, has taken it a step too far. I love hops, I love ridiculous double IPAs but I found even this to be a little bit too much, when my Dad tried some he chose to add a little water just to calm it down, it’s one crazy beer.

Later that week I did try some more Deviant Dales and enjoyed it but not as much as I enjoy their regular Dales Pale Ale which is a beer that I often gush about. Still I would like to hear from anyone else that’s tried it, I’m sure a beer like this has a lot of fans!

An IPA you could paint your house with
It was around this time and after a Bushmills chaser (The Bar Manager didn’t give us much choice about this, but you didn’t hear me complaining) that I struck up a conversation with the guy sat next to me, or maybe it was the other way around, it’s hard to remember these things when you’re quaffing strong beer at 5000 feet. His name was Dave and he was the head chef at a local restaurant and a fellow beer nut. He had been in The Mayor longer than I had and the signs were all there; slurred speech, drooping head, big smile, you get the picture. He turned to the bar staff and uttered the immortal words ‘What’s the most expensive beer you have here?’ While we waited for their answer my Dad ordered the three of us more Bushmills, not necessary but not unwanted nor wasted. The barman returned with two bottles because as it happens they were the same price (Twenty five dollars each, not cheap but for what we were about to consume I don’t think it was excessive and besides, Dave was paying) and from the same brewery, Firestone Walker.

The beers were both in presentation boxes, the first was the excellent §ucaba Barley wine. I had expected Dave who had asked for all of us to be given a glass to just give us a little taste but when he gave me a third of the bottle, I was honoured. Sadly I mixed the tasting notes up between the §ucaba and the equally awe inspiring XV Anniversary ale (because I was drunk, duh) but I was throwing words like amazing, boozy, port-like and wonderment around with reckless abandon. It was an honour to share and savour those two excellent beers with you Dave and if you ever read this, I thank you dearly.

Despite imbibing a large amount of alcohol already my Dad and I weren’t done yet and we ordered ourselves a cheese stuffed pretzel with Jalapeno jam to boost our resolve. It’s worth noting that as well as a simply ridiculous amount of beer that the Mayor has a full menu and the food is top notch. My Dad was getting itchy feet and wanted to head to another bar in Old Town which was fine for him, he lives in Fort Collins but I wasn’t going to get the chance to drink here again for a long time so I insisted we stay for one more. Despite wanting to sample the output of as many breweries as I could I had been hankering after some Great Divide Chocolate Oak Aged Yeti for as long as I had been staring it on the beer list, which was all night.

I’ve had Yeti in the bottle before, it’s one of those brews that made me want to start writing about beer in the first place and it’s no surprise that among imperial stouts it’s got a bit of a cult following. I really liked the standard Yeti from the bottle and despite enjoying it immensely it didn’t quite rise to the massive hype that I’d read online but this could have been due to the way the beer travelled or simply that my palate wasn’t ready for it yet as it was one of the first ever big stouts I tried.

I had expected by now that my palate would have been shot to pieces and that I wouldn’t be able to enjoy this beer to its utmost but thankfully the truth was far from this. The aroma held notes of cocoa, oak, espresso and subtle bitterness from the finishing hops, it was like velvet in the mouth, full of deep rich bitter coffee and warm, boozy flavours that had been absorbed from the barrel. The chocolate added a pleasant sweetness that was wonderfully balanced with a sharp hint of lingering grapefruit as you swallowed. It was so good that my Dad, who is not a big stout drinker also found many charms in its complexity, it was a thoroughly impressive beer and it’s easy to see why it’s so popular.

It was only when we wrapped up our tab that I realised something important, the price of each beer was absent from the giant projected display on the board. Now not all of these beers were expensive but there were several that you would not call cheap. Personally I didn’t have a problem with this as I drink beer for enjoyment, life is too short to worry about the price of a pint when you can get beer this good however judging by some of the beer blogs I read which seem to obsess over these prices you wouldn’t get away with this in the UK. Besides I stand by my previous statement that breweries, pubs and bars all have the basic right to make a decent profit from their living. The last thing a small independent business needs is people moaning about their prices.

The tab was inconsequential (it was my Dads round) and so was the rest of the night (which continued hazily into the early hours) but what was not was the Mayor of Old Town. Fort Collins is famous for its breweries and mountain vistas but visitors should not overlook the great nightlife the city offers and the Mayor is by far one of my favourite haunts and I can’t wait until I can go back.

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