Fort Collins Brewery
Fort Collins Brewery (FCB) has a nice brewhouse/taphouse with a restaurant attached. In the taphouse you can watch the brewing process while you enjoy the beers. The staff was really friendly and gave us some pointers on the New Belgium tour and what to look for in the tap house. That shows what a great environment those breweries have all developed amongst each other. I was led to believe that the beers from FCB were average but they were actually really good beers. We had a sampler of both the regular offerings and the seasonals/specials. There were many we really enjoyed. The Red Hot Chili Porter was excellently balanced. I'm used to chile beers being based on a lager or blonde ale so it was cool to see it in a richer, chocolatey beer (although that night I went on to try the Mexican chocolate stout at Wynnkoop that had chile as well). The 1900 Amber Lager was crisp and my wife really liked the pomegranate wheat. The double chocolate stout was delicious. The smoked amber was really interesting and not at all overpowering with smoke flavor. Our favorite beer was an espresso amber. The espresso really came through with all the unique flavors of espresso, not just a coffee flavor. The espresso, which is an easily overpowering flavor, was well balanced. I feel like there were some other beers we really liked. There wasn't a single beer we felt needed work; even the hoppy beers were well made although they were not our favorites.
I really appreciated that FCB took a style -- amber -- and had really worked it over into multiple iterations of the same beer, each subtly related but distinctly different at the same time. It's especially bold that they chose amber lager as their flagship even though the massive New Belgium brewery in town has its amber lager as its flagship beer (Fat Tire).
Funkwerks is a tiny brewery sitting in an industrial part of town just on the edge of where Fort Collins starts to turn a little more modern. It is brightly painted, which either represents its "funk" or acts as a way to let people know where the brewery is (or both?). Funkwerks is an all-saison brewery. What's especially interesting is that within Funkwerks is another brewery, Crooked Stave, which sells through the Funkwerks taphouse. I neglected to ask whether Crooked Stave borrows space for its barrels and taps at Funkwerks or if Crooked Stave also brews and bottles off Funkwerks's brewhouse. I suspect Crooked Stave's entire physical presence is located within Funkwerks although the Crooked Stave website indicates they are going to build a separate tap house. I wonder if they will also move into a brewhouse there as well. Since I sampled beers from both breweries I'll discuss both.
Crooked Stave focuses on beers on the wilder side, barrel aged beers and brett beers. They use a lot of barrels for having such tiny production. The beers were also considerably more expensive than any others we tried; I don't know if that's because of the cost of aging and the barrels or simply because the owner thinks the beers are worth more because they are fashionably barrel aged. I forget the names of the beers we drank from Crooked Stave, I know one was Surette and the other might have been the Surette Reserve or Wild Wild Brett Orange. The beer I believe was Surette was a crisp, saison-like beer with a slight tartness but big brett character. It reminded me a lot of my brett saison. No oak or acetic character from the barrels. The other beer, which I think was W.W.B.O. was definitely more complex with a distinct apricot-like flavor. While more complex, the beer seemed too complex for its own good. There was a lot going on and it seemed like each flavor was fighting for dominance. Maybe an adjustment would allow one or two flavors to emerge and the rest can add complexity to those flavors.
Other than this barrel room, the taps and merchandise for sale in the taproom, I didn't see any other Crooked Stave activity in the building (although it's possible they have a separate brewhouse in the back that wasn't visible to us.
Crooked Stave is coming up on its one year anniversary and they are set to release some new beers next year. I believe they only distribute in Colorado (we did find both Crooked Stave and Funkwerks in the Denver area) so try to snag some of these beers at Total Beverage or your local bottle shop. If you live in Colorado (since they cannot/will not mail beer) Crooked Stave is offering a membership where you get a bottle or two of each new beer released next year plus opportunities to buy up the first releases of each new beer before it goes to the distributor. It's $300 for the year but I've seen more money spent on less interesting beer...
Ok, on to Funkwerks itself. Funkwerks, as I said before, is all saison. They do a lot with saison. A sessionable saisons (Casper), to a more mainstream saison (Saison), to a very spelty saison (Helter Spelter), to some interesting munich-y saisons (I forget the names) and some other saisons I don't remember (I drank a lot, sorry). One slight departure is that they make a wit (White), but they ferment with saison yeast so it has a really different flavor and body. It's hard to say which saison I liked the best. I know my wife really liked Casper. I think my favorites were Helter Spelter and White. One of the darker saisons was our least favorite but I have had less desirable saisons for sure. It's hard to pick out favorites because all the beers were really well made and it is obvious Funkwerks has taken the time to explore and develop the saison style. I'm a big, big fan of saison so I couldn't be happier to sit in an all-saison brewery and sip on beer. (My only complaint is that they need cooler shirts. I wanted to buy one but they were all pretty boring. I ended up buying a church key to replace the crappy wallet-style bottle opener I got for free from Marlboro a long time ago that does a terrible job at opening bottles.)
On our second trip, after New Belgium, we drank some beer and I asked if we could duck into the brewhouse for a quick picture if I promised not to touch anything. The bartender was kind enough to go back and ask the lone brewhouse worker if we could take pictures. Not only did he agree to let us come back but he took pictures and let us climb up on the actual brew system and took our picture. It was cool climbing up into the brew system with the mash tun on one side and the boil kettle on the other. (Sorry, I don't want to put up the pictures out of caution for my future legal career. People find everything on the internet these days and I don't want somebody to get the idea that my passion for beer equates to a passion for being wasted frat boy-style.)
I highly recommend a stop by Funkwerks if you are in Fort Collins (it's on Lincoln, on the way to all the other breweries) and if you can find their beers, give them a go. They run around $10-13 for a 750ml, which is kind of pricey (to me) but I think the beer is worth it. Plus, the champagne style bottles are incredibly easy to reuse for saison/sours/Belgians/mead/cider with some plastic champage corks and wire cages. Hopefully as production increases the beers will drop in price. It was definitely cheaper to drink off the tap and I do know that they produce plenty of kegs of their beer (we have pictures with them) so you might be able to score some delicious saison on tap in Colorado.