Monday, October 3, 2011

Beer Pilgrimage - Day 1 Recap & Reviews

Ken has decided that we should call this trip “The Hop” since individuals making the Pilgrimage to Mecca call their trip “The Haj.” I am on board with this thought because having a name for what I would like to see become a fairly regular trip adds to the entertainment value!

We arrived in Denver and had decided to go to Fort Collins for an evening to check out that scene. We checked into our hotel room before heading out in search of beer.

Decent location. Great room rate! Nice rooms. Free breakfast in the morning and cookies at night. The staff was very friendly. For Priority Club members you got to try and toss a few ping pong balls into some cups to win various things (like free water, extra points, a candy bar, room upgrade) which I thought was a really cute idea. Apparently I need to work on my beer pong skills though because I didn’t sink either of my 2 balls so I gave the last 2 to Ken and he didn’t either. Oh well!

We headed out to make a stop at the grocery store to pick up a case of water and some pretzels (more explanation on the pretzels later) and then went straight away towards our first stop. Driving through the city of Fort Collins we were struck by how much there seems to be to do there. It’s somewhat quaint but also very happening at the same time. Off to our first stop…

Since this brewery is so well-known and so popular reservations are a must. (Since it was GABF week I made my reservations about a month prior and boy was I glad I did since it was super busy!) Upon arrival you check-in and get a “token” that you can turn in for a beer at the bar while you wait. We enjoyed our beers while wandering the taproom area and taking a look at the various bicycle part furniture and such.  The tour begins with a history of Fat Tire. (As well as a beer sample!) It’s a great story and I’ll give you an abbreviated version – the founder went on a bicycle tour across Belgium on a bike that had a little bit fatter of a tire than the usual road bike. On this trip he decided he wanted to brew Belgian beers and New Belgium Brewery was born. The first beer that was brewed by New Belgium was the Abbey Ale, the second was Fat Tire and the third was the Wedding Wit (brewed for his wedding of course) but the name was later changed to Sunshine because having a beer called wedding in a college town just didn’t seem like it would work so well!

We got a very in-depth tour of the brewery, which is quite a large facility. The brewery was founded on 3 principles
1.     Good Beer
2.     Sustainability
3.     Whimsy
The idea of sustainability is that they are trying to have as little environmental impact as possible and to give back to the community. New Belgium was “Green” before green became the new trend. They have the largest private solar farm in either the state or the country (sorry can’t remember which), they trap their methane off-gassing to re-use, all of their trim and doors are made from beetle killed pine and a whole bunch of other environmentally friendly stuff. Perhaps the neatest is that on your first year anniversary of employment you get a Fat Tire Bike. And you can tell that many (if not most of the employees do ride their bikes to work.

We got to see the bottling line in work and it’s quite an impressive operation. While at the bottling facility they brought out some bottle of freshly bottled “Snow Day” a winter warmer beer that will be replacing “Two Below” for the next few years.  TASTY! I personally enjoy winter type beers so I don’t mind when they are big and heavy but this beer is not overpowering so I think it is one that everyone could enjoy.

Along the way we also got to pour our own beer from the taps and then the last beer of the day was something that has become the new “thing” in craft beers – sours. New Belgium has been experimenting with this new sour beer trend and we all got to try this. I think it’s telling that they offered us all samples of this considering that they make no money on these sour beers even when they sell them – they basically break even on it. The beer is called La Folie. The beer flavor is just like you would think – sour but there is complexity to it and it hits you in different parts of your mouth. Ken was not a fan and I was on the fence on this. (I later found out that this sour was a bit heavier than some other sours so as the weekend progressed I tasted some of the other sours at various places and they are definitely growing on me!)

To finish out the tour we got the chance to partake in the whimsy part of the brewery foundation. The crew at New Belgium believes that you should always have fun and you can see this throughout the brewery. The last stop on our tour was a twisty slide that we were all invited to slide down. Naturally I was all over that!

While I will give you that New Belgium Beers tend to be good beers but rarely outstanding and different I love that they are consistently good beers. And this brewery tour was perhaps the best actual brewery tour I have ever been on so I highly recommend it!

There is certainly no shortage of breweries in Fort Collins but I was in need of some food after our New Belgium tour since I hadn’t had a proper meal all day long and it was already a little past 6pm.  Practically a stone’s throw away was the Fort Collins Brewery and attached restaurant (the restaurant had come highly recommended). We got there a little too late to go into the Fort Collins taproom but luckily the restaurant was more than happy to help me out with a sampler. I can’t remember if I’ve said this before but in case I haven’t… I love beer samplers! I love to be able to try a variety of beers to see what each place has come up with!
I ordered the beer cheese soup that comes with some beer bread and butter. The soup was delicious – very cheesy with hints of ale and the addition of a little bacon on top was a great touch! The bread was phenomenal but not as phenomenal as the stout butter that it came with. This butter was so delicious that it almost tasted liked ice cream!! DELISH! Ken got a Cuban and I had a taste for a burger so that’s what I got. Both were very good. Beer-wise… I would not rank Fort Collins beers near the top of the pack but they were average. I had the Red Banshee (Red Ale), Z Lager (Smoked Lager) – this also happens to be what the beer cheese soup was made with, Chocolate Stout (Dry Stout) and the Doppel Bock.  Bottom line is DEFINITELY go for the food. If you are pressed for time and are trying to figure out which breweries to go to and can’t hit them all don’t put this brewery to the top of your list. (But if you’re eating there anyway then try the beers out!)

We had asked around at New Belgium and also asked our server at dinner where we should consider going for our last stop of the night since by the time we were done the brewery tap rooms were obviously closed. The suggestion from everyone was a new bar called The Mayor where they have 100 beers on tap. We went in for just 1 beer and were quite impressed with their selection. They have the taps organized by style and there is a computer projection on the wall above to tell you all the beers available. Didn’t check out any food but I have the feeling we will be back sometime!

So ends day 1…..

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