Bike and beer lovers haven’t lived until they’ve experienced this Northern Colorado town.
Story by Emily Hutto // Photography by Nick Stevens
Bikes in Fort Collins are like the beer: omnipresent. Known among Coloradans as Fort Fun, the city of Fort Collins produces 70 percent of Colorado’s craft beer and is home to the most micro-breweries per capita in the state. So what do you do in a city that’s almost always sunny, known for its bike culture, and overflowing with craft beer? Take yourself on a bike ‘n’ brew tour, of course.
Because this town is best explored by two-wheeled transportation, the first thing anyone should do upon arriving in Fort Collins, Colorado is check out a bike from the city’s downtown bike library. The library will outfit you with a cruiser, a mountain bike, or even a tandem bike, for free. It’s no wonder Fort Collins is known as one of the most bike-friendly cities in the United States. It was ranked #3 on the League of American Bicyclists’ 2011 Best Bike Cities List, beating Portland, Oregon (#8) and Berkeley, California (#4). And, nearly 10 percent of the population commutes by bike.
Begin the tour at New Belgium Brewing, a craft brewery inspired by Europe’s bike culture. Former co-founder Jeff Lebesch fell in love with beer and bikes as he rode his fat-tire bike all over Belgium. In 1991, upon returning to the United States, Lebesch began brewing in his basement and that operation has evolved into one of the largest craft breweries in the nation. And since day one, the brewery has practiced a unique commitment to sustainable transportation. There are on-site electric-car charging stations for the 35 percent of employees who use hybrid or electric cars. Another 30 percent regularly bike to work. The greener the vehicle, the higher priority they get in the employee parking lot.
During the New Belgium tour, climb stairs alongside multi-story fermentation tanks to the employee bar where you’ll learn about the brewery’s annual traveling multi-city bike festival, Tour de Fat. Outside of the canning facility, sip the company’s flagship beer, Fat Tire Amber Ale, and learn about the 3,000 baby blue cruiser bikes that New Belgium gives away annually to winners of photo, video, and other various contests. By the time you’re riding the spiral slide that dumps you into yet another tasting room, you’ll wonder if you’ve finally stumbled upon the adult version of Disneyland.
You’re sure to work up an appetite after multiple beer samplings and shenanigans at New Belgium. Next, head to Fort Collins Brewery, a short bike ride away, and be sure to try the smoky beer cheese soup garnished with popcorn. If soup isn’t your thing, the menu is packed with a solid combination of standard pub grub and eclectic fusions like Thai sweet potato noodles and a lobster BLT.
From here, take a slight detour to Funkwerks, the newest and most, well, funky brewery in town. Pedal east for one mile to this brightly colored saison station in the old Fort Collins Brewery location. Funkwerks owners Brad Lincoln and Gordon Schuck met in brewing school at the Siebel Institute of Technology in Chicago, and like New Belgium, the idea for a Colorado brewery formed when the two were traveling through Europe. They decided to brew saisons exclusively because it’s a style of beer that has a ton of versatility—it can be light, dark, hoppy, or sour, and lends itself to the inclusion of unique ingredients. Try the Hibiscus Resistance, and the Brett Dream, named for the funny dreams that Brettanomyces yeast tends to evoke.
Before you think of turning in for the day, backpedal past Fort Collins Brewing to Colorado’s second oldest microbrewery, Odell Brewing Company. Owners Doug Odell, his wife Wynne, and his sister Corkie started the brewery in 1989, and their original beers, 90 Shilling Ale and Easy Street Wheat, quickly became two of the company’s flagship recipes. They now brew a huge variety of beers and are producing one barrel per square foot in their brewery each year—45,000 barrels to be exact.
Like New Belgium, Odell is also famed for its sustainability, with a #1 rating from the Colorado Sustainable Design Awards and a designation from 5280 Magazine as the 2010 Brewery of the Year. What it’s most known for, though, are the experimental batches like Footprint, an American strong ale brewed with ingredients from numerous regions in the United States. And if you can get your hands on a bottle, try Friek, a refreshing sour beer barrel-aged with cherries and raspberries. At the tasting bar, you’ll find locals like Tyler Mork, who raves about Odell’s Cherry Stout and Cranberry Oatmeal Porter; the brewery has influenced some of his most inventive homebrews. He says Odell has inspired some of the local homebrew club’s finest as well. “The homebrew club has put breakfast cereal in their beer and used an entire two-liter bottle of soda in a batch,” he says, “They are liquid poets.”
Odell’s bizarre beers and fanatic followers could keep you occupied all afternoon, so after you promise to return, jump back on your cruiser and head into Old Town, where you’ll experience the mother of all bike and beer meccas.
Cranknstein on College Avenue is part craft beer bar, part coffee roaster, and part bike-repair shop. Roll your bike directly into the shop through the large garage door and head to the taps. Just as crafty as the beer it serves, the bar is constructed from repurposed barn wood, and much of the furniture and decorations are made out of recycled bike parts. Relax into one of the mismatched couches to the eclectic playlists that bar manager and bike shop designer Zach Yendra compiles, and enjoy a pint of one of Fort Collins’ finest. Before you leave, you might want to grab a cup of handcrafted joe to fuel up for the rest of your ride.
From Cranknstein, you have a ton of options for your next stop. Aim yourself directly across the street to the Pateros Creek Brewing tasting room for a SnowMelt India Wheat Ale, or venture down Old Firehouse Alley to The Forge Publick House, a groovy tavern with exposed brick and dim lighting, and a hard-to-beat draft list featuring local brews and rare international selections.
Next stop: Equinox Brewing. Post up at the beer garden, find the walk-up window, and grab a pint. Peek through the window into the brewery and you’ll see that Yendra from Cranknstein gets around… via bike, that is. He’s responsible for the design of the Equinox’s keg trike that’s parked between fermentation tanks when it’s not being used to deliver beer. The farthest Equinox beer gets out of town is about six miles, unless you’re an out-of-towner filling a growler to take home.
All of the sampling and biking has probably induced hunger pains, so after enjoying a Colorado sunset in the Equinox beer garden, pop over to CooperSmith’s Pub and Brewery in Old Town Square for dinner and, of course, more beer. Don’t leave without at least sampling the Punjabi Pale Ale, a perfect beer for pairing with food.
Wrap up the day with the oldest and newest of Fort Collins’ craft beer venues: Town Pump, the 102-year old beer bar that served the first commercial Fat Tire Amber Ale, and The Mayor of Old Town, one of the more contemporary and most celebrated beer venues around. Open in summer of 2011, this 100-tap bar has quickly established itself as the “King of Taps.”
Though you’ll likely want to stay forever, given that every beer venue in Fort Collins is within a five-mile radius, you can easily hit all of them in one day. It will take even less time to realize that this town puts the rad in Colorado.
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