GABF Beercation 2016 – Day 1 – Fort Collins

Well, friends, it’s FINALLY happened. After two years of purchasing tickets and not being able to attend the one and only Great American Beer Festival, the year has finally come that I’m able to go!

Ben and our friend, Steve, from the amazing Haw River Farmhouse Ales, and myself flew from NC into Denver yesterday and drove out to Fort Collins to kick off our beercation! And our day was AWESOME. 

Here’s how it went down!

I was getting a little hangry on the hour drive from Denver to Fort Collins, so we hit up my friend, Sam, who we planned to meet later and who’s lived here for a few years now, for some lunch suggestions. 

We landed on grabbing some sandwiches because he said there was a really good beer selection at this particular spot – Choice City Butcher and Deli. I thought to myself, “I’ll just have a nice little sandwich so I have plenty of room for beer after.”

Ha.

No.

These sandwiches were giant and amazing. Here’s what was left of my Italian sandwich that I quite literally destroyed. 

I guess the little side of mashed potatoes that the woman at the deli recommended didn’t help me to not feel full either, but they were totally worth the added 10 minutes extra it took for my food coma to wear off.

And the New Belgium Blackberry Love:Oscar was perfection as my first beer of the day.

With full bellies, we trekked on to Funkwerks (my second time there!) to crush some amazing beers. We sat outside on that gorgeous day. It was probably around 60-65 degrees out, which was super refreshing compared to the 80 degree weather we left in NC. 

Sam and his awesome new wife, Julie, came to meet us. (Our last beercation was to fo to their wedding in Maine in May.) Beer is ALWAYS better with friends and old stories.

It had been two and a half years since I had been to Funkwerks. Their house yeast has evolved incredibly since then with a discernable farmey funk to it. We shared a few flights and a bottle of their 2015 Oud Bruin. Paisley was probably my favorite beer there, and I’m regretting having not grabbed a bottle.

From there, we went to Horse and Dragon Brewing, which was all of a 30 second car ride away. We got a few flights there, and I was pleasantly surprised with everything. They had a great range of styles.

Sam and Julie left after that, and we headed to make what we thought would be a brief pit stop at New Belgium Brewing before we went to check in to our Airbnb. 

We had been talking earlier about how Lauren Salazar of New Belgium, without question the most badass woman in the industry, and one of the most respected people in the industry, apparently was a fan of a Haw River beer.

We sit down at the bar and order a few beers, and just a minute or two later, in walks none other than Lauren fucking Salazar. Steve grabbed some Haw River bottles from the car to give to her, and we all began chatting. 

As if that wasn’t enough to be the highlight of the trip, she asked us if we wanted to come back to the foeders and have a beer with her. 

We and a few cool guys from Austin Beerworks joined her and tasted some Whiskey Fat Back and laughed about the names she’s given to some of the numbered foeders. They’re completely out of chronological order in the first half of the room, and Lauren joked that there’s one number they can never find, so she calls it “Stepchild”. She then apologized to my red-headed husband (red headed stepchild), and we all shared a good laugh about that. 

Other fun foeder names included Old Dirty Bastard and Darth Vader.
I’m still in awe that we got to drink beer and chat with her. She was so gracious. 

After we left New Belgium, we pinched ourselves, realized this was real life, and threw our stuff in our stunning Airbnb before grabbing dinner at The Colorado Room. 

You can almost never go wrong with poutine with a fried egg on top. 

At this point, I was starting to hit the wall, but out old asses decided to move on to one more spot before calling it a night.

We went to The Mayor of Old Town as our last stop for the night. They have 100 beers on tap and were rated one of the top 15 beer bars in America by craftbeer.com. 

Pliny was on tap and that was the perfect beer to finish my night off with!
Here’s to hoping day 2 is even better than day 1!

Colorado Beercation – Part 3 (in Fort Collins, CO)

Last March, Ben and I took an awesome “beercation” to Colorado. I posted part 1 and part 2 after the trip and slacked off on updating brewery visits after that. Better late than never, right? Here is part 3 of 4, to be followed by the rest of the brewery reviews I missed from elsewhere in the U.S.!

#20. Fort Collins Brewery, Fort Collins, CO – Mar. 14, 2014

We hit up Fort Collins Brewery for lunch! (And beer. Duh.) We visited and stayed with some friends the night before, and they came with us to brewery-hop! Baby in tow!

flight at Fort CollinsWe weren’t sure at first if we were going into the right place or not. The sign on the door of the building that, elsewhere, was branded as Fort Collins, read “Gravity 1020 Modern Tavern”. Weird.

But when we walked in, everything was branded as Fort Collins, and we saw the brewery, so we knew we made it to the right place. It looks as if they’ve since re-branded “Gravity 1020” as FCB (Fort Collins Brewery) Modern Tavern. I think that was a good move!

This was a big, wide open space, with plenty of tables and chairs, and some tasty food.

I tasted 5 beers, and my favorite was the Out Of The Ashes Smoked Marzen at 4.5 stars! All of the beers were well done, but I had one complaint. They had a beer called Sweet Tart Pomegranate Stout. It wasn’t a sour beer. Mildly disappointing.

Aside from the 2 identity/naming issues, this was still a solid brewery with solid beer.

#21. New Belgium Brewing, Fort Collins, CO – Mar. 14

New Belgium deserves an entire post to itself! Hands down, this is the most fun brewery I’ve ever been to. Working in the beer industry would be enough to make most people more than happy with their career path, but these people who work there… They have this charisma. It’s almost something you can’t even pin down. Like a sparkle in someone’s eyes. (There’s always aNew Belgium bike chance that was just the beer talking, but follow along with me, people!) These are more than happy people. These are fulfilled people.

I think it’s truly rare to find a company that encompasses such a passion, a compassion and willingness to give, and vested interest in its people, like New Belgium does.

For employees one year anniversaries, they get a coveted New Belgium bike! (You can’t purchase these bikes. They’re really only given to distributors and employees!) Stick around for 5 years, and you get an all-expense paid TRIP TO BELGIUM.

They have fun things all over the grounds of the brewery for employees to use in their spare time, like a foosball table, pool table, ping pong table, and rock climbing wall.

They even occasionally get some paid time off if they take a vacation to volunteer or do something charitable.

You can see why these people would be happy. But on top of that they’re ultra-geeky beer geeks. (My favorite kind!)

The grounds of the brewery are amazing, and you really get the vibe walking around that it’s such a fun place to be. They don’t seem to take things too seriously, and I think that’s really what makes craft beer what it is. New Belgium does at great job at making work fun to these people, and they do a great job in making the brewery a fun place to visit.

The grounds are full of different buildings housing different parts, and the grounds are sprinkled with bike racks and beautiful bikes from the employees who ride to work every day.

We took the tour, which was about 2 hours long. There are many breweries where I would advise you to skip the tour. This is definitely not one of them. Our tour guide was great! I wish I could remember his name. He brought so much excitement to the a few of New Belgium's foederstour.

One of my favorite parts of the tour was walking into the foeder storage room! It was like a jungle of foeders! (A foeder, pronounced “food-er” is basically a giant wooden barrel that was previously used at a winery. Foeders are used by brewers to create sour beers or wild beers! These are truly things of beauty!) In the fooder storage area was a little bar where our guide poured us some NBB Love Oscar! I could have stayed in there all day to drink that beer.

My second favorite part of the brewery was the slide at the end on the way out! You could also opt to use the staircase to get downstairs. But why would you do that when there’s a perfectly good corkscrew slide there for you to use?

You really can’t go wrong with any New Belgium beer. They just don’t put out bad stuff. They have amazing sours like La Folie and Le Terroir, which are my favorites from them.

Other fun fact: New Belgium’s flagship beer, Fat Tire, is my favorite beer to recommend a newbie. It’s a solid, approachable amber ale, and I always get great feedback when I get someone to venture away from those light, fizzy, yellow beers and try it!

#22. O’Dell Brewing, Fort Collins, CO – Mar. 14

Another great stop and another solid brewery. We took the tour here. I had the Mountain Standard Double Black IPA (3.5 stars) and the Tree Shaker Imperial Peach IPA (4 stars).

Many brewers practice sustainability and try to recycle and reuse as much as possible, but this is the only brewery I know of where they named a beer after the farmer who comes to the brewery with his truck to pick up the spent grains for his cows. The Chocolate Milk Stout is named after Lugene, who for many years has been helping the brewery unload their spent grains. Out tour guide said he’s a humble guy who is a little on the reserved side. When he comes into the brewery to get a growler, he never asks for a Lugene, but instead calls it the Chocolate Milk Stout.

#23. Funkwerks, Fort Collins, CO – Mar. 14

It’s nearly impossible to pick a favorite from the Colorado visit, but this ranks in the top chunk! With a name like Funkwerks, you know they produce some “funky beer”. “Funky beers” are typically American Wild Ales inspired by Belgian beers like Lambics and Flemish Reds. When a beer geek describes something as having a “funky” taste, it’s usually a wild, sour, Brett, or farmhouse beer. Wild beers are made utilizing wild yeast. Sour beers are made by introducing certain bacteria (either Lactobacillus or Pediococcus). “Brett” beers are made using the wild yeast, Brettanomyces. Farmhouse beers are saisions that contain wild yeast. (There’s a quiz on this later…)

The brewery and tap room aren’t that big, but there was a fun grassy patio area outside with picnic benches and corn hole! It was a beautiful March day, so we played corn hole in t-shirts and tank tops and had a blast.Ben holding Baby BaneBen & Seth playing corn hole

The Saison De Mars was my favorite, at 5 stars! (I wish I had more notes on the aromas and flavors of the actual beers, but I was really putting the miles on my liver, and for some reason my liver just tells my brain to shut up and have more beers sometimes.)

I also had the Session Saison (3.5 stars), the Raspberry Provincial (4), the Saison (3.5), and Solenna (4.5).

I also had to pick up a shirt from the brewery before we left. It has an arrow with the word “enjoy” written inside it, pointing to this cute little tulip glass with a smiley face on it and an “x” over one eye. It’s the little things that make me happy!

#24. Equinox Brewing, Fort Collins, CO – Mar. 14

It was past time to refuel with some food, but we had one brewery to go for the night before we binged on burritos and stuffed ourselves too full to drink.

This was a fun place. It was packed, but somehow, we snagged a decent-sized round table to sit at and enjoy some beers. Our friends and their baby were still along for the ride. There were board games on a little bookshelf, and I remember this Mr. Potato Head that was sitting there. We played with him a bit.

I was apparently pretty thirsty. I had a flight and checked into 5 beers there. I rated 3 of them. Sudden Valley (4 stars), Haver Scottish Ale (3.5), and Eclipse Brown (3.5).

And that was it for the night (after we hit up an amazing little burrito spot nearby). The next day was my birthday, and I needed to rest up!