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Worldwide Ace » The Endless Celebration

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The Endless Celebration

13 May, 2014 (06:45) | Beer

A crowd huddles around the phone, eyes glued to the glowing screen as pictures from a brag book float by. In any other venue, it’d be a gaggle of grandmas sharing pics of their kids and grandkids. “How cute,” they would coo at each other.

“Look at how big that one is,” I hear one of the onlookers say. It easily could’ve been said by a grandma, but his gruff voice and thick auburn beard make it easy to see that this isn’t your average brag book.

Lit up by the glow of the phone are a half-dozen young and middle-aged men, each craning to see the screen as images of home-brew set-ups float by. Each of the men gathered around the phone are active members of Fort Collins’s deep and varied beer scene. With twelve open breweries and tap rooms as of the first of the month, there’s seemingly no end to the number of people coming and going, playing with recipes, and brewing on a commercial level.

“I’ve been at C.B. & Potts for nine months now,” says Joe Bowden, head brewer at the Fort Collins C.B. & Potts. “Before that, I spent two and a half years at Equinox.”

Each brewer and brewery has a similar story to tell, whether they leaped straight from the home-brew scene to a commercial brewery or spent time toiling in the ranks of another brewery.

Tonight, at the opening bash for Fort Collins Beer Week, as familiar faces wander through the crowd enjoying one of the seven local beers featured on tap for the event, it’s clear this is a tight-knit community. Brewers from Funkwerks, Fort Collins Brewing Company, and Equinox laugh and trade barbs by the bar. The owners of Horse & Dragon Brewing Company pal around with employees of family run Freedom’s Edge and employee shareholders of New Belgium, Fort Collins’s crowning jewel and the third largest American-owned brewery. And each and every one of them shares smiles of familiarity and respect.

The rest of the crowd is made up of beer aficionados and locals in the know. Some glom like wallflowers to the side, wondering what’s really going on. Others talk beer as they taste the different brews and watch the underground celebrities of the Brewery District wander by. Still more, like myself, are trying to catch a few choice people and rub the right elbows to gain access to an amazing corner of Colorado beer culture.

“This is much more a Fort Collins scene,” Tim Cochran, who with his wife owns Horse & Dragon Brewing, tells me. “More than just a beer scene, it’s a lot of locals, people on the inside of the industry.” He says it was a proud smile.

As Fort Collins’s most recently opened brewery, the Horse & Dragon is already making a name for itself. Their Sad Panda Stout, a coffee stout that tastes richly of vanilla and cream, almost demanding to be made into beer floats, was by far the best beer I tried over the weekend. Though they’re off the beaten path, they found a way to get their brewmaster Linsey Cornish in on some of the ten Beer Week collaboration brews and to have her captain their Brewer’s Olympics team.

Other breweries, far more storied and large, seem under-represented. Odell Brewing Company, which recently expanded, the marble floor of their brewing room designed to add even more capacity in the near future, boasts several brewers and members in attendance. New Belgium, which offers shares to all its employees after a year’s tenure, has only one or two party-goers. Smaller breweries, like Black Bottle Brewing and Equinox, seem to have their entire workforce out.

Throughout Fort Collins Beer Week, which was planned to coincide with American Craft Beer Week, specials and events will bring beer lovers, brewers, and locals together all across the city at numerous locales. While many of the specials are simply slight deviations from the standard menu, the hope is that by bringing these businesses together, Fort Collins can stand stronger and shine brighter than ever before.

“It’s a real surprise that visitors tend to know more about the breweries than the people who live here,” says Kristina Cash, Creative Director for Fortified Collaborations, the Fort Collins based community matchmakers. “[With Fort Collins Beer Week,] we wanted to foster relationships, draw traffic, and help build knowledge in the community.”

There are 13 breweries in the Fort Collins area, including the yet-to-open Zwei Bruden, and each has brought their beers, their taps, and their knowledge to a variety of events and special Beer Week collaboration brews.

“It’s amazing the variety of different breweries and business models,” Cochran explained. “I mean, you’ve got brew pubs like C.B. & Potts, Coopersmith’s and Black Bottle Brewing. Small tap rooms like ours, Equinox and Pateros Creek. And then the big fellas like Odell and New Belgium. And each has its own different business model. And they’re all working.”

It’s a wonder that Colorado can sustain so many breweries. The Brewers’ Association reported 154 breweries in Colorado in 2012. The Beer Institute reported that number at 217 at the end of 2013 (though it counts individual facilities, like Dry Dock which opened its second, in addition to brewing companies).

Despite the oncoming glut of breweries, Colorado seems in no need to dispel beer fatigue. Just since January, Fort Collins welcomed 1933 and Horse & Dragon Brewing to its ranks. Soon Zwei Bruden, Snowbank and Hardihood will join them. And there are a slew of other breweries intended for Colorado’s fourth largest city and its surrounding areas.

Tonight, however, no one is worried about oncoming competition. “We love craft beers,” says Carol Cochran, co-owner and self-proclaimed Chief Glass Washer of Horse & Dragon Brewing, “so if every week would be craft beer week, we’d love it!”

In any other venue, I could see grandmas having this level of excitement over kids and grandkids. Here though, it’s all about beer.

“It just shows how the brewing culture is part of Fort Collins culture,” says Cash.

Here in Colorado, beer is our baby.

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  • Mitch

    Great post, and jealous about the beer, though the coffee stout doesn’t seem amiable with the summer season.

  • Ben

    Thanks! It was a cold, snowy Mother’s Day I was at that event, and I visited the Horse & Dragon that afternoon, so a stout actually worked well. It’s not every Spring you get a winter storm.

    On the other hand, most of my friends were off skiing, so what could I do but drink my sorrows away?

  • Jess Newman

    It’s Odell Brewing, not O’Dell’s.
    You’re in the big time now, kid.

  • Ben

    Thanks for the correction! Fixed!