Whether you like or dislike NB's beers, you should appreciate that they have a solid vision of their business strategy and care about running business ethically, rather than just based on making more money than everybody else. After a year of employment, all employees obtain partial ownership in the business. That's really cool. I have spent several years working with employee benefits and I can say it's almost unheard of to vest benefits after only a year. They also spend a lot of time and money charitably operating bike runs for charity across the nation. Instead of dumping the waste water from brewing -- it takes eight gallons of water to produce one gallon of beer, according to them -- they have an on-site water treatment plant that treats the water before it goes to Fort Collins's sewer system and they also take methane from the waste and use it to power generators that help power the plant. They are also incredibly generous with their time and beer for the tours.
We started our tour in the tap room. It smelled strongly of yeast hard at work, which is always a delicious smell. We drank some Old Cherry, which is a winter seasonal made with...cherries. It's very good. It's not a sour so it's a good cherry beer for people who love cherries but don't like sour. It's just a hint tart from the natural acids in the cherries. It's also not cloyingly sweet like the Lindeman's kriek (or similar backsweetened lambics). Sadly, it's only kegged and as far as we could see, didn't make it out of Fort Collins. I was told that Clutch was out, which also made me sad because I had really been looking forward to trying it. I also tried the Prickly Pear-Passion fruit saison, which was tasty although like many of NB's beer sort of stripped down for the sake of shelf life. I wish it had a little more rustic character. It wasn't as good as what we had at Funkwerks but it was good enough I walked to the very end of the B terminal of the Denver airport to drink more at the NB taphouse at the airport.
While at the taproom I overheard some other people asking the bartenders about some future NB plans, so I want to share those here. First, NB is considering a taproom in Old Town Fort Collins (sort of the old school main street) but it's not definitive. Second, NB intends on building a second brewery to improve distribution but they have not chosen a location so anybody who tells you they know where is wrong because not even NB employees know. (There are probably multiple sites being considered and various levels of work being done to see how feasible/profitable it would be. My guess is it would be somewhere on the eastern seaboard since there is a lot of beer culture out that way -- so a large market -- and that's the area furthest from Colorado so it would make distribution easier to distribute to the east.)
Ok, so on with the tour. The tour starts with a sampler of Abbey, which was the first beer produced by NB. They tell the story of how the owner biked around Europe drinking beer and learning about beer and was prodded to start a Belgian-style brewery in the US. The couple who own the brewery converted their basement and kitchen into the first NB location before building the current brewery, referred to as "the mothership". I suspect it's probably more difficult to start a brewery in your house in Fort Collins, let alone most other cities. After story time we were given a sampler of Snow Day. I'm not as much a fan of Snow Day as I was 2 Below. However, it's a good beer (I just don't like the hoppiness) and it's good in a sampler volume. Anymore and my taste buds get burned out.
After they showed us the bottom of the brew house we went upstairs where you can see things going on and receive more beer. Upstairs was another bar where instead of serving us beer we were taught how to pour from a tap and allowed to pour our own beer. I zeroed in on the Abbey Grand Cru because I had never had it before. It was really good. I was expecting it to be over the top and boozy like many beers labelled "grand cru" but it was smooth and easy to sip. It was like Abbey but with strong fruity notes of cherries and apricots. I might have to try to snag a bottle or two.
After having a drink with the vessels we were taken the the separate building where the bottling occurs. They are currently replacing the canning line so we were shown the bottling line. Before we got to the bottling, the tour guide stopped to offer us some Fat Tire. This isn't just Fat Tire, it was Fat Tire that had been bottled about thirty minutes before they opened the bottles to serve us. It was a different beer than what we usually get. The hop flavor and aroma was much more distinct than the regular bottle of Fat Tire. For me it was a real eye opener about how much of the quality of beer is lost in transport, sitting in warehouses, more transport and sitting at a retailer before it makes its way to my glass. As a homebrewer, that relates to how we store our own beer. Jamail and some others really preach about homebrew not sitting at ambient temperatures but I had usually disregarded that as dated misconceptions about the stability of beer but I think that might be one area where I should rethink my beliefs. My beer usually sits in my guest bathroom/fermentation room at ambient temperatures. It's out of the light but generally sits anywhere from the high 60s to high 70s, depending upon the time of year. Those are really warmer temperatures than beer should be kept. If I had a basement I'd keep it down there but it's rare to find a basement in Texas. I wish I had space to keep all my beer at cellar temperatures once it conditions to an optimum flavor profile but I just don't.
So my tour guide and previous tap room bartender had told me Clutch was out, but here I was standing in front of a Clutch tap next to the La Folie tap. I asked if there was any Clutch left and my wife added that I had been desperate to try it and talked about it nonstop. The tour guide was generous enough to pour a sample which killed the keg. So it is possible I got the last distribution of Clutch, ever. (Although there are probably kegs kept aside for employees, the owners, tasting against future versions, etc.) Clutch is really smooth and not at all sour. The beer is a blend of stout and dark sour. The stout is probably more like the Belgian stouts, which lack the Roasted Barley/black malt acridness and sharp coffee flavors of British and Irish stouts. It was smooth and chocolate-y with some coffee flavors. There was only a slight tartness at the end of the taste. It wasn't green apple-tasting so the "dark sour" is either something entirely different from La Folie or one component of La Folie, if La Folie is a blend of multiple beers.
At the end of the tour you get to go down a windy slide. It's a lot of fun. You must go down the slide to complete your experience (unless you are wearing a skirt -- that might be too revealing). Then you return to the tap room to enjoy more beer. When we returned to the tap room we tasted some more beers. We tried Frambozen fresh, which had a much brighter raspberry flavor than we've found in the bottles. Like the fresh Fat Tire, probably a function of storage conditions and age. We also tried a stout which was brewed as a small batch served only in the tap room of a prize-winning homebrew recipe from either an employee or a friend of the brewery (I forget which they said). It was an excellent stout. We also tried a beer that I believe was listed as a Lips of Faith beer (although it does not appear on the website) which was Jared's Smoked Porter -- a smoked peach porter. When I saw that I was like, "hey, I brewed a smoked peach porter two years ago," and it was somewhat similar to this NB beer, except admittedly the NB version did a much better job of bringing out the peach flavor. I'd like to think they nicked the idea from my blog but I'm probably not the only person who has ever thought of a smoked peach porter. It was at least cool that I came up with something unique that a brewery is now producing in a very similar form. After another round of Old Cherry we decided to leave.