August 21, 2012

Colorado Beer Adventures 2 -- Part 3

So I saved the final leg of the journey for the last: Fort Collins. I actually have enough to write about Fort Collins I'll have to break this up into a couple of posts.

Fort Collins is definitely a town steeped in great beer culture and although it's a bit of a drive from our usual base camp just outside Denver, it's completely worth the drive. The only downside is that there is so much good beer and new beer to try it's impossible to make it through everything and equally impossible to not come back completely wasted by the end. Sorry, liver.

The Fort Collins Brewery

I started by beer adventures at Fort Collins Brewery. FCB is a nice facility on the same block of Lincoln Avenue as Odell. It features the brewery (obviously) along with a taproom and a separate restaurant, Gravity 1020. Yes, gravity 1020 like a hydrometer reading. My wife had a business lunch in a nearby town so she dropped me off to have a nice lunch by myself. The restaurant is very nice. Very modern and clean with floor to ceiling windows that face the brewery's bottling line, some of the bright tanks and what I believe was some of the kegging or keg washing equipment. The food was excellent. I had chicken and waffles with maple ghost pepper butter. The waffles are made with spent grain from their amber lager. Delicious. I also had a couple beers, an oak-aged black IPA and their double chocolate stout on nitro. Both were great. The black IPA managed to keep some of the freshness to the hop profile while also having that good oak-aging flavor. I suspect the beer is aged for a very short amount of time in newer barrels to accomplish the balance. The double chocolate stout was smooth and creamy with a good balance of chocolate and stout flavor. The service was also incredible, too. I highly recommend stopping in the restaurant, even for a quick bite as you stop to sample beers. You can also check out their automated growler filler, which is the only one in all of Colorado. Check out my crappy picture of it below. You can't really tell from the picture but you put a growler in the middle part and on the left you just push a button that corresponds to the beer you want and it fills. Apparently it does a better job of keeping the CO2 in suspension than filling a growler off a regular beer tap. The middle part has a beer gun-like spear that fills the growler like a Blichmann Beer Gun or a bottling wand, so it fills quietly from the bottom up.

Automated Growler Filler in Gravity 1020 at The Fort Collins Brewery
I made a pit stop with at Odell before returning to FCB with my wife, but we came back to the taproom because FCB actually serves a few different beers in the taproom and restaurant. We had a flight of the seasonal beers, which for summer include a line up focusing on, but not exclusively, IPAs. After the flight we went back to the restaurant and sat at the bar and had some more of the oak-aged black IPA and split an appetizer. They also had a beer called "Bambostic" that was a smoked lager. My waitress at lunch, who was very knowledgeable about the beers, explained that it, "smells and tastes like a honey ham." She was 100% correct. It did taste and smell just like a honey ham. It was delicious, just like it sounds.

If you find yourself in Fort Collins, you would be wise to stop in at FCB. Check out both the taproom and restaurant if you can but at a minimum try both the seasonal flight and the standard flight. The seasonal beers are well constructed but so are the standard, year-round beers. The Z Lager is a nice smoked lager and 1900 is a nice amber lager that competes soundly with Fat Tire. I would still like to take a tour of FCB but they have a limited schedule.

Odell Brewing Company

Since I finished lunch with a nice buzz before my wife finished her work, I decided to make the five minute walk to Odell. Odell does a lot of tours, so I figured I could take a tour, have a free beer and wait for my wife. What's really cool is the American Homebrewer Association membership has all kinds of great discounts and Odell gives members a free tasting tray. It's only $4 but free awesome beer is hard to pass up.

While I waited for the tour I drank some water (and wherever they get that water, it is some tasty water) and checked out the patio where they grow hops that go in the beer. So that's cool. I forget which beer(s) they go into. I seem to think it's a late summer or early fall seasonal. This tour was different from the last tour for a couple reasons. First, since the tour was during the week, the brewery was functional. It's very different to see a brewery in full operation instead of sitting silently on a Saturday afternoon like the tour last time. Second, the tour guide was a homebrewer and really liked to talk about details so I got a bit more in depth information this time around.

I'll try to leave out the standard info since I covered it last time. A new piece of information shared is that Odell is expanding the brew house to greatly increase production volume (I believe he said up to 400 BBL, but I might be making that up). They are also going to reach a scale where it starts being economical to purchase equipment to automate more of the process. As he was explaining this, a couple brewers were manually adding a drum of peach puree to a fall seasonal beer. He said in the new system they will be able to load the puree or dry hops or anything they want to add at the ground level and the machine will shoot it up to the top and dump it in.

The guide also said they are looking at potentially expanding into other markets, including north Texas, but right now they can't fill all the demand in the ten states that receive their beer and they won't expand distribution until they can fill the demand in their current market. Even though that's bad for me, since I don't live in one of those ten states, I have a lot of respect for their concern for their customers and unwillingness to sell out the people who have been loyal customers to open up new markets. (Maybe Dogfish Head, who has undercut many existing markets to expand into new ones, could give Odell a call and learn something about customer loyalty.)

The other real new piece of information the guide shared was about the oud bruin they were about to start blending and bottling. The blending process is fairly standard, they pull down the barrels, sample individually, then start tasting blends to reach a final product. I wish I had been there to see (and maybe taste) the blending process personally. Odell definitely puts a lot of work into their Woodcut series, the barrel-aged beers. I hope they are taking back a large profit; I saw 750ml bottles of one of the Woodcut beers for sale at a bottle shop for a hefty $25 price tag (but easily outdone by the $40 750ml of 3 Fonteinen Kriek and $50 bottle of Scaldis Premium).

Odell offers a nice, free beer during the tour. This time it was the summer seasonal, St. Lupulin, and "extra pale ale". I'm not entirely sure what an extra pale ale is but as I can gather from trying a few, it's a pale ale in the pale ale range for bitterness but with more hops added in the flavor and aroma additions. Lots of good floral and citrus notes in the hops without being beat down by bitterness.

After the tour my wife was in the taproom, so we opted to pick up our free tasting tray. We actually went with the pilot tray, which was $8 but they gave it to us half off in lieu of the free regular tasting tray. There were a few really interesting beers in the tray. There was a double Flanders red, which had a good sourness with a little sweetness in the back that balanced without turning into that balsamic vinegar-like sweet-sour flavor of Duchess or Monk's Cafe. There was "Belgian Style Old Ale" which is exactly what it sounds like. Sort of a Piraat or Scaldis-style Belgian strong ale, too malty to be like Duvel or a tripel, but with some musty brett character working with the Belgian esters. I liked it a lot. The winner by far was Xocolatl (pronounced SHO-Ko-Lot-ul) a chocolate milk stout (may have been imperial, I forget). Excellent beer. Thick, rich dark chocolate, plus lactose creaminess, plus stout roast created a thick stout that had a really thick, in a good way, mouthfeel and the flavor you would expect in a really decadent chocolate milkshake you would pay way too much for in a high end restaurant. Like a milkshake made out of dark chocolate truffles. We probably would have stayed longer to drink more Xocolatl but we had places to go...

New Belgium Brewing Company

I still maintain that New Belgium is a must-stop in Fort Collins, even if you don't like their regular beer line up. It's a cool environment and there's always something interesting to try on tap. The taproom always has an amazingly strong smell of fermenting yeast. It's a delicious smell. We didn't get to do the tour this trip but we had a good time in the tap room nonetheless. You can fill out messages on their postcard-sized coasters and they will pay postage to mail them for free. So I sent myself one, our friends in Colorado, and in my buzzed state I wrote my younger brother several post cards of questionable content.

My goal at NB is always to try out the beers I can't find locally. Some of the Lips of Faith and other non-standard line up beers are either only served locally (or even just in the tap room) or the bottles are impossible to find locally. So I opted to pass on some of my favorites like Abbey and Grand Cru for some other offerings. I did have a small pour of the Biere de Mars, a Marzen-like beer with brett, that I haven't had in a couple years. We also tried Ken's Hefe, which as the name suggests, is a hefeweizen. It had good flavor but was lacking a little of the body a hefeweizen needs. It suffered from the same problem as Left Hand's hefeweizen.

We also shared a pint of the New Belgium-Lost Abbey collaboration Brett Beer. It's a nice pale malt-based beer fermented only with a Lost Abbey brett strain. The beer is nice and light with some hop flavor but the flavor and aroma is driven by fruity notes from brett. The fruit flavors are interesting; they range from citrus to melon to almost a light fruit punch combination that New Belgium refers to as, "like a Flintstone's vitamin." The typical brett earthy notes are absent. The brett flavors are also well-seated and even a little less prominent than the esters and phenols off a Belgian ale strain. So if you're looking for a real in-your-face brett beer, that's not this one.

We also sampled Billy's Beer, which is only available on tap in the Fort Collins area. It is an interesting beer. Again, a beer just built on pale malt. There's Amarillo and Centennial hops adding some orange and grapefruit notes to the beer. It's also brewed with kiwi and thai ginger, which adds up to a very complex and peculiar beer. It's the first ginger beer I have liked and the first anything with kiwi in it I can remember liking. The ginger and kiwi play nicely with the citrus notes from the hops. It's 9.5% ABV so it's designed to be sipped and contemplated. There's a lot going on and a lot of different flavors taking over your palate. Those flavors would be lost on an easier-drinking beer. The flavors don't meld into a jumbled fruit salad but they also don't clash, so each sip allows you to enjoy different flavors without feeling like you're trying to put something together (like the graham cracker porter at Denver Beer Co.) or tasting flavors that don't belong together. It's intentionally complex. It reminded me of some of the Crooked Stave brett beers but the flavors melded a little better here.


In the final post I'll tackle Equinox Brewing and my misadventures at Funkwerks in Fort Collins.



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