October 8, 2013

Colorado Drinking September 2013 -- Part 5

In this final installment of this series of posts I'll discuss my two trips to Fort Collins. We went to Fort Collins twice and visited the same breweries each time. I don't feel bad about missing the other breweries. These are among my favorite breweries and outside of New Belgium, I can't get any at home. I know there are some new brewers popping up in Fort Collins that I'd like to try but it's hard to fade on some of the best beer in the state (at least in my opinion). We were also fairly busy each time. On the first trip we had a beer novice with us so we figured we would introduce him to places we knew to be solid. On the second trip we scored tickets to the New Belgium tour and that's a long tour. We also drove back down that evening to Boulder and had dinner and visited Avery. So that didn't leave a huge amount of time to crawl around Fort Collins to try new places. I still need to get into Mayor of Old Town (their largest and best known bar) one of these trips.

If you ever make the drive from Denver to Fort Collins, you will notice that Budweiser shows up on the name of a few items along the highway (I-25) such as an athletic complex. Bud has a sizeable presence in Fort Collins. If you miss your exit for all the breweries you have to drive a few minutes before you can turn around. There at the next exit is the Budweiser plant. I missed the exit on the first drive and ended up in Budweiser territory. I snapped the below picture while driving so it's not a great picture. However, you can see that it's a large facility (squarely in the middle of the photo). It's larger than the Budweiser and Miller breweries in Dallas and Fort Worth, respectively, but I don't think it's as large as AB-InBev's site in St. Louis or Coors in Golden, Colorado. But after the picture we'll move on to discussing good beer.


The Fort Collins Brewery

I can't say enough good things about The Fort Collins Brewery (FCB). FCB is probably the most undervalued brewery in the state. If I had to guess a reason why they are undervalued then I'd say it's probably due to a heavy reliance on distributing their core package of beers, which mostly revolve around the typical craft beer styles that built craft brewing for decades before breweries could live off of a core lineup of an IPA, imperial stout and some Belgian-style beer. These beers might be boring to people who didn't start their craft beer journey on these more pedestrian styles but FCB makes them very well and they are solid representations of sessionable (or at least session-ish) styles. However, what gets overlooked about FCB is their seasonal and one off beers. I believe outside of their standard seasonal line up most of these other beers are either on-premises only or draft-only. FCB makes a whole line of hoppy beers that compete soundly with any other IPA/DIPAs. Their smoked beers are among some of the best I've ever had, including some of the German beers considered standards for the style.

I also can't say enough good things about the on-site restaurant (which is separate from the taproom). The fantastic food and service are worth stopping in but don't overlook the beer list. For whatever reason, you can often find a different selection of beers in the restaurant than you find in the taproom. The restaurant selection usually includes one off beers that the taproom may not have. The taproom also frequently has beers the restaurant doesn't have so it's worth checking out both to find the full selection available. To the right is a picture of the seasonal and specialty brews available on the first day I ate in the restaurant.

I really need to hit their Saturday tours, which are free and come with a food and beer pairing.

My only gripe about FCB is that they do not distribute to Texas. We have terrible distribution laws and it's a massive state to try to distribute to (which is why most breweries start off in one or two major markets before expanding to the rest of the state) so it's not entirely their fault. But I would love to see even their standards in this area.

Before I discuss the beers I loved most at FCB this trip, let me give you a couple pictures of their brewhouse.



Delicious beers:

  • Sour Doppelbock:When I first saw this beer I was skeptical whether it would be dry and tart like a non-backsweetened Flanders red or have too much residual sugar to give it that balsamic vinegar taste. I should have had more faith. This beer was probably the best or among the best beers of the whole trip. It was dry and tart while keeping the malt flavors alive, much like a big Flanders red. However, the malt character was very different from a Flanders red. While Flanders red relies on the German caramel malts, doppelbocks tend to rely more heavily on the lighter Munich malts, which are bready and less caramel-sweet than caramunich and caravienne. There was still some of the chocolate, caramel, cherry, stonefruit and toffee flavors present in a Flanders red but much more of a bready, toasty character that I preferred over the typical character of a Flanders red. I might have to try my hand at souring a doppelbock.
  • Mesquite Chile Lime: I was intrigued by this beer but not entirely sure what to expect. It was exactly what is was called. There was citrusy mesquite smoke flavor, some chile flavor and heat and some lime flavor and acidity. It was a very unique and interesting beer. It was very food-like and could easily be used as a marinade on almost any kind of meat. It's the kind of beer that could easily be justified in a 4-8 ounce pour because it has a big, bold flavor that can overwhelm your taste buds. It went extremely well with the nachos we had as an appetizer so I didn't feel overwhelmed. It did a good job of adding an interesting dynamic to the nachos.
I didn't get much further into the beers on either stop because the sour doppelbock was that good but I am sure the 2011 doppelbock they have brought out for sale is excellent and the double chocolate stout is a great sort-of imperial chocolate stout. It's not quite as big as most imperial stouts but packs a lot of quality flavor.

Odell Brewing

Odell is doing very well for itself. It is expanding both the taproom and production facilities, so we should see some of the basic lineup in Texas in late spring 2014. Odell Brewing is best known for 90 Shilling, their flagship beer, and their variety of hoppy beers. However, Odell has a wide range of beers and it is no wider than the one off and test batches that get released in the taproom. One of those beers won us over as a fantastic beer: Wooden Cow. Wooden Cow is a bourbon barrel aged chocolate stout. Fantastically rich with chocolate flavor and mouthfeel. The barrel character was well balanced and added vanilla undertones. These days it's not hard to find bourbon barrel aged stouts but it is harder to find bourbon barrel aged stouts that adds something interesting to the marketplace. I don't know if Wooden Cow is going to be produced more than once but they are doing themselves a disservice not to share this beer with more customers.

We were short a day for the official release date of Odell's new barrel beer, a Fernet barrel aged porter. Fernet is an Italian herbal spirit which is commonly compared to Jagermeister but less sweet. It's not a widely consumed spirit but I seem to recall from the tour guide's explanation that somebody local to Colorado produces it and that is where they sourced the barrels.

It's an interesting concept, adding strong herbal notes to a porter. It's not a terribly unusual concept from a historical perspective. Stout, which is closely related to porter (if there is even a legitimate difference between the two), was sold with dandelion as a flavor addition in parts of England as late as the early twentieth century. However, from a modern brewing perspective, the addition of herbs is not widespread beyond a handful of spices. The use of herbal spirit barrels is also fairly unusual, with the occasional gin barrel aged beer being the most common approach. I am interested to read reviews of this beer and see how beer snobs are loving or hating this beer.

New Belgium Brewing Co.

Kettle getting filled with wort
New Belgium has a constantly growing portfolio of beers, not all of them seeing production beyond their initial production. The Lips of Faith Series has a string of beers that usually only get produced once or twice and then never see reproduction. New Belgium also has an evolving line of seasonal beers. Every two years they put new seasonals in the mix. That's sort of disappointing because some of the past seasonals have been extremely popular. On the tour, our guide explained that the Folly mixed pack is now including prior seasonals, so that's something to look for (especially the beloved Two Below winter seasonal). And the tour is a must, if you can manage to score tickets. They sell out very, very quickly.

New Belgium is also moving forward on their east coast facility, which will allow them to distribute further into the east and they will run a second Lips of Faith program out of the Asheville site that will have it's own beers independent of the Fort Collins facility. I'm curious to see if the Ashville site will produce a La Folie of its own or an entirely different sour beer as the flagship of its own Lips of Faith series.

Below are a couple pictures of the second brewhouse. You can see the two fellers at the desk are running the whole system by computer controls. It's a long way from the manual systems most of us homebrewers use or even the digital controls of multi-barrel systems at most craft breweries.



Among sour beer fans, New Belgium's barrel project is legendary, if for no other reason than the size of its program. Below is a picture of the massive foeders that comprise New Belgium's barrel program.


In the barrel room we were given samples of both 1554 and La Folie. Our tour guide repeatedly claimed that 1554 becomes La Folie. Later on she corrected herself that La Folie is brewed off of the same recipe as 1554 but minus one ingredient, but according to NB's website 1554 has black patent and La Folie has crystal 80 and the other beer lacks that ingredient.

I didn't gather any other significant details on the tour so let's get into mentioning a few beers:

  • La Folie: How can you not name La Folie among New Belgium's best beers? I liked this release more than the last one I tried, which was either 2012 or 2011. This year seemed to have a little more of the chocolate-cherry soda character that I really like in La Folie. 
  • Smores Porter: This taproom-only release was the best smore-like porter I've had. I haven't been much of a fan of the few porters I've had in this variant but this one really did it right. New Belgium did a perfect job of capturing the toasted marshmellow character with a smooth, creamy mouthfeel. Lots of toasted marshmellow and chocolate in the flavor with a hint of graham cracker. 
  • Fresh Fat Tire: I know lots of people are not huge fans of Fat Tire because it's a simple amber and it isn't complex or interesting compared to all the IPAs and stouts on the market. Ambers are generally not well regarded for this reason. However, the extremely fresh Fat Tire given on the tour is notably different from the Fat Tire that reaches most consumers. The malt character is more complex and the hop character is more vibrant and complex. I'm not sure why Fat Tire loses so much of the flavor over time but I would buy Fat Tire more often if it showed up in Texas the way it tastes in Fort Collins.

 Funkwerks

For me, no trip to Fort Collins is complete without stopping into Funkwerks. Their saisons are among my favorite, especially of those brewed domestically. I was disappointed to see that Casper, their low gravity saison, seems to have gone out of their rotation of regular beers. I'm not sure if it is permanently retired but it is among my favorite of their beers. That said, I found plenty of other delicious beers to enjoy. Both White and Saison, two of their regular beers, are excellent beers but I found a couple intriguing saisons in addition to those two that were worth mentioning:

  • Farmhouse: A saison similar to their flagship Saison but instead of relying on Opal hops, Farmhouse is driven by fruity southern hemisphere hops. I'm still trying to find a beer style that isn't made better with New Zealand/Australian hops. The citrus and tropical fruit flavors from the hops play very well with saison yeast. I need to try my hand at a southern hemisphere saison.
  • Nelson Sauvin: This saison is driven by nelson sauvin hops and muscat grape juice, giving the beer a dry, white wine character. There's a few beers floating around with muscat juice and nelson sauvin hops but this one was my favorite. The saison yeast played well with the wine flavors, adding lemon, pepper and other intriguing flavors into the mix. 
A great trip all the way around. Had lots of fun and drank great beer, which is about all you can ask for. Here's a picture of the beers I brought home:


From left to right: two unlabeled bottles of Fat Tire fresh off the bottling line (they gave them to us on the tour), Crooked Stave Surette batch 4, Funkwerks Saison with Asian tea, Funkwerks Dark Prophet, Funkwerks Deceit, The Bruery Tart of Darkness and Jolly Pumpkin Luciernaga.

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