BLACK BOTTLE BREWERY
Black Bottle has a nice underdog feeling about it, perhaps due to it being located in a shitty strip mall on the outskirts (almost suburbs) of cool Fort Collins. Or perhaps it’s because it has no pretensions about itself. Despite brewing some pretty solid beer, they have a full bar that includes a dozen or so competing breweries beers on tap.
The name is a bit of an enigma and seemingly doesn’t fit this cool little brewery / bar / brewpub. We prefer drinking a beer out of a can; or rather, pouring into a nice glass beer from a (relatively) environmentally friendly can versus any color of bottle.
Despite the full bar and the bottles, Black Bottle is a cool little brewery. The place was packed on a Thursday late afternoon. The bartenders were courteous, knowledgable and enthusiastic about the beer, and the beer was good. They constantly rotate what they are brewing and keep a chalk board to alert their patrons as to what is fermenting, in addition to what is currently on tap. The tap list included a “Karate Ale” that was brewed with rice and sake. Their fermenting list included a Captain Crunch Peanut Butter Milk Stout that required the brewer and staff to drive around all to all of the grocery stores in town to collect the Crunch.
They like to experiment at Black Bottle almost to the point of frivolousness, but you can’t argue with the results. Seek this place out.
FUNKWERKS BREWING COMPANY
Funkwerks is a brewery largely devoted to saisons and Belgian sours. While I generally have to be in a certain mood for the former and dislike the latter, I found this place pretty impressive.
The tasting room is a pure brewery (no food) in a fairly small place dominated by an L-shaped bar and then a handful of tall tables. It was crowded when we were there on a late Saturday afternoon, both with people and a couple of well-behaved dogs, but had a great feel about it, with a laid-back staff that let our group of 4 taste almost every beer before we finally all settled on a pint.
I was happy enough with their Tropic King, their hoppiest saison. My friends all had a mix of saisons and sours and were quite enthusiastic about them.
Funkwerks bottles its four staple beers, three of which are saisons, including Tropic King, and one a Belgian fruit sour.
HORSE & DRAGON BREWING COMPANY
Our visit to Horse & Dragon was cut a bit short as we arrived shortly before they were closing for the evening for a private party – at 6pm on a Saturday(!). Still, we got a feel for what seems to be a special place, despite their playing with their customers’ hearts by inexplicably closing to the public on a Saturday night.
The brewery sits in barn-like building in a warehouse district of Fort Collins. The interior has that big, open industrial feel that we favor as well. While the bar is a bit small, there are a number of standing-only tables that give this pure brewery a nice bar-like feel.
Our party of four had time for just a half beer each. We were impressed, but needed to drink more – and longer – to be sure.
Horse & Dragon distributes their beers at a number of restaurants in the Fort Collins and Denver areas, but does not currently bottle or can for mass distribution.
JESSUP FARM BARREL HOUSE
Jessup Farm’s brewery and tasting room is housed in an immaculately restored 133 year old barn that was originally part of a farm complex of the same name. The brewing operations are located on the ground floor and customers walk upstairs to taste the beers in a cool, exposed wooden beam serving room. It’s a small place that is dominated by a grand wooden bar and a handful of tables behind.
They serve up 16 beers at Jessup Farm, a number of which are barrel aged, not just in traditional scotch or bourbon barrels, but also in tequila (an IPA and a pale) and red wine barrels (a red ale).
We liked the beer and loved the tasting room.
NEW BELGIUM BREWING COMPANY
New Belgium Brewing is one of the most successful craft brewers in the U.S. and their massive Fort Collins headquarters brewery (they have a second brewery in Asheville, NC for east coast distribution) reflects this. While they are best known for their original 25-year-old Flat Tire Amber Ale, I have long preferred their outstanding session IPA Slow Ride and recently discovered their equally strong tangerine IPA Citradelic.
Despite the immense size of the brewery, the tasting room is well proportioned – with a number of different bars – and still had a cool feel to it; I expect it helps quite a bit that they don’t serve food there (there was a mac ‘n’ cheese (!) food truck outside) and that we were there at around noon on a Sunday, so it wasn’t too crowded.
New Belgium is 100% employee owned and the passion for the beer and the company was clear in the staff. Lauren and I shared a tasting of the five IPAs they had on tap at the time, but our beertender poured us another several tastings that he wanted us to try. There is a reason this brewery has been so successful – they know how to make great beer.
ODELL BREWING CO
Odell Brewing Company has massive distribution throughout the western part of the U.S. I hadn’t seen the beer on the East Coast, but on a couple of occasions in Texas, Arizona, and southern Colorado considered myself really fortunate to have found their IPA on tap.
Their tasting room / brewery was equally massive, if a bit smaller than nearby New Belgium‘s. They don’t serve food, but had a cool Asian-fusion food truck on location, except the “truck” was actually a vintage Airstream, which made it cool.
We went on a Thursday afternoon and forwent the live music (and busier scene) outside on the large patio to sit near the tasting room bar inside in order to get some work done courtesy of their superior-to-campground internet.
The tasting experience at Odell can seem a bit corporate. You don’t flag a bartender for a beer; rather you queue at one of the two registers to put in your order and they pass said order to the bartenders. And, you don’t make your own flight (e.g., all your hoppy beers); they have three pre-set flights from which you can choose.
Anyway, despite some qualms with the corporate nature of the experience, the beer (and a pretty decent atmosphere) wins out. Their IPAs are just good. In addition to their flagship, they had a seasonal session IPA that was compelling enough to buy a six-pack of on the spot.