Ft. Collins area
About the Region
Fort Collins is the largest city in the region of Northern Colorado, an area brimming with excellent breweries small and large. Other cities and towns in the region include Loveland, Greeley, Berthoud (BURR-thid) and Windsor. If you want to explore the Fort Collins beer scene, do yourself a favor and block out at least a full day. At about 70 miles from Denver, there's too much travel time to come close to hitting all the highlights of both cities in one day. It's not worth the stress--or the DUI.
Happily, the only thing that competes with Fort Collins' love of beer is its fixation with bicycles. With most of the top breweries and bars being within less than a couple miles of each other, this makes it easy to hit the best spots without having to drive and gives you the illusion that you're working off the 4,000 calories in beer and burgers you've consumed. Check out the totally free Bike Library or the hilarious 7-person Septacycle Rentals if you're interested in this option. Several brewery shuttle services have also cropped up recently, such as the Hops Brewery Shuttle, that will cart your drunk ass around for a nominal fee. [Full disclosure: one of the editors of this page is friends with the owner of Septacyle Rentals]. Fair warning: if you're really shithammered, you can be cited for drunk biking which carries the same penalties as a DUI. Don't be an idiot.
Culturally, Fort Collins is an interesting mix of college kids (it's home to Colorado State University and ~23,000 undergrads), hipsters with unfortunate facial hair, local/organic fanatics and honest country folk that wish the other groups would kindly fuck off back to where they came from. But no matter who you talk to, the constant is that they'll almost certainly be friendly and helpful. As a rule, Colorado is chill as hell.
As a final note, keep in mind that alcohol hits you harder at elevation. Fort Collins is at the same mile-high elevation as Denver and it can be quite a shock if you're coming directly from sea level. It's also a very dry climate. Taken together, you will need to drink a LOT more water than you're used to even if you aren't consuming alcohol at all. And if you are drinking, take it easy. Your tolerance will be lower than you're used to.
Beer blog Fermentedly Challenged has an excellent mapof the region's breweries that is updated regularly. Some of the most notable (good and bad) have been highlighted below.
The American Homebrewers Association is headquartered just down the road in Boulder. If you happen to be a member, almost every brewery in town offers discounts so remember to flash your card. Odell in particular has a great half-off beer special for members.
New Belgium Brewing - As the third largest craft brewer in the US and the maker of the ubiquitous Fat Tire, New Belgium needs no introduction. They give one of the most enjoyable, informative and beer-filled brewery tours anywhere and should absolutely be at the top of your itinerary. Just remember to book your tour online well in advance--they tend to fill up weeks ahead of time, especially on the weekends. Their "Liquid Center" (what the rest of the world calls a tap room) has well over a dozen beers on at any given time, including many experimental batches not available anywhere else. Most people rightly figure if you've seen one brewery tour, you've seen them all--but how many tours feature the company climbing wall, let you pour your own samples from the bar or send you down a slide?
Odell Brewing - Odell has been a Fort Collins mainstay for years and is slowly but surely expanding distribution into more states. They produce a solid lineup of year round brews and seasonals, but the real highlight of their taproom is the fruits of their 5 barrel pilot system. They crank out a small batch of something fun and unusual nearly every single day, so there's always something new to try that you can't get outside of the brewery. Go for a taster tray of their Pilot or Co-Pilot brews, as their mainstays are easily available in any liquor store in Colorado. More recently they've gotten into barrel aging with great success, producing beers like Bourbon Barrel Stout, The Meddler, Friek and Amuste.
Funkwerks - The somewhat unfortunately named Funkwerks is a local darling specializing exclusively in saisons. They recently took Small Brewer of the Year at the 2012 Great American Beer Festival. If you like Belgian styles and experimental ingredients like hibiscus or green tea, this is the place for you. Their tap room is a bit out of the way so it tends to get less traffic than most of the other local breweries. Trivia: Funkwerks used to also house Crooked Stave and their outstanding lineup of brett and sour beers, but that brewer has since relocated to his own facility in Denver. The building is also the original home of The Fort Collins Brewery.
Equinox Brewing - Equinox is a relative newcomer to the Fort Collins scene, but they've wasted no time making a name for themselves winning several medals at the GABF and drawing maximum capacity crowds every weekend night. It started when the owner of the homebrew shop next door (Hops and Berries) decided his recipes were good enough to sell commercially. True to their homebrew roots, their tap lineup changes almost daily and they do lots of firkins dosed with things like mushrooms, chili peppers, peanut butter or chai. Their darker beers in particular are consistently top-notch.
Excellent but far from the main hub
Grimm Brothers Brew House - Grimm Brothers is a wonderful little brewery in Loveland--the town just south of Fort Collins--specializing in traditional German styles. As you no doubt guessed from the name, their marketing schtick is based on classic fairy tales. If you have time to stop in, they brew some of the best beer in the region. It's also a great opportunity to try some hard to come-by styles, like Alt, Gratzer, German porter, Köttbusser, and brett-aged Bock.
City Star Brewing - City Star is a great new brewery in the small town of Berthoud, a bit over halfway from Denver to Fort Collins. It's 20-30 minutes away from anything at all, so you could be forgiven for skipping it. But if you do stop in you'll find some well-crafted beers served by some truly friendly and knowledgeable folks. Their pale ale in particular is a standout. Berthoud also has a very cute Main Street USA downtown which may appeal to your significant other while you guzzle beer at the bar.
If you really gotta tick 'em all
The Fort Collins Brewery - There's nothing wrong with the Fort Collins Brewery, per se. They have a respectable lineup of beers that wanders between forgettable and pretty awesome. But with so many other outstanding spots to hit, being slightly above average doesn't cut it. They are located directly between Odell and Funkwerks in Fort Collins, so if you have time to kill, it's worth a stop. A few of their beers like Double Chocoloate Stout and their Doppelbock are truly great, and Z Lager is interesting as a readily available smoked session beer. Perhaps their best feature is the attached restaurant, Gravity 1020, which does a really nice job with their food and (naturally) serves the full lineup of Fort Collins Brewing beers.
Black Bottle Brewery - Fort Collins' newest brewery (as of early 2013). Black Bottle is interesting in that they're as much a beer bar as they are a brewery. They generally have 5 or so of their own beers on at any given time, with the other 45 taps being given over to guest beers. Their house beers tend to be experimental and honestly kind of ridiculous, rarely weighing in under 8% and climbing to over 20% ABV. Their food and guest taps may be worth a visit, but their actual beer is completely skippable unless BrewDog is your favorite brewery of all time; in which case you will feel right at home.
Pateros Creek Brewing - For my money it's the worst beer in the region and arguably the state. With so many other good options within walking distance, it's not worth rolling the dice.
Big Beaver Brewing - Just click on the web site, you'll get it.
CooperSmith's - At some point, a well-meaning local will tell you to hit up CooperSmith's. Don't listen, it's a trap. The food is actually quite good, but the beer--and I mean all of it--sucks. There's a Green Chili ale that borders on acceptable, but that's about the best I can say. There are much better beer-centric dining options right down the block.
CB & Potts - See CooperSmith's. Nothing special beerwise, overpriced food.
Beer Bars and Gastropubs
The Mayor of Old Town - The name's a lame in-joke. Old Town is the name for Downtown Fort Collins, and the bar is owned by a gregarious guy who started a very successful property management company that owns much of the local real estate--hence, The Mayor. Anyway. The Mayor is pretty much a must-see, with 100 taps that turn over quickly and always feature fresh, high-quality beers from around the world as well as all of the local players. It has a reputation locally as being expensive and hoity-toity, but visitors from either coast will probably find it shockingly cheap. Beer from the likes of New Belgium and Odell is available elsewhere in town for as little as $2 a pint, so we're a bit spoiled when it comes to prices. They also serve a full menu of appetizers and entrees, making it a good stop for lunch or dinner.
Choice City Butcher and Deli - Truly a hidden gem. Choice City gets lots of interesting and limited releases--up to and including things like Pliny the Younger and Firestone Walker Anniversary--is located right in Old Town, yet is relatively unknown outside of the local beer geeks. They have in the neighborhood of 30 taps as well as a large bottle cellar, with a good mix of regional, national and imported brews. Further, the food is every bit as good as the beer. As the name implies they specialize in premium and exotic meats (ranging from bison pastrami and burgers to rattlesnake-and-rabbit sausage to Turduckens), but they have multiple A+ vegetarian entrees as well if that's a concern for your group. They frequently host beer dinners with the likes of Goose Island, Firestone Walker, Lost Abbey and Green Flash so check their website and Facebook page before your trip if that interests you.
Tap and Handle - Tap and Handle is a well-run beer bar with 50 taps. They feature a solid mix of local, national and international brews that rarely overlaps much with other bars in town. They serve well-made bar food, although perhaps not up to the quality of Choice City or The Mayor. Despite being open for more than a year, it's not well known and therefore can be a good place to sneak into even when other venues have a line down the block.
The Forge Publick House - The Forge is a nice, homey place to have a beer. If dark wood, leather furniture and a maximum capacity of about 50 people is more your speed, stop here. They "only" have about 10 taps, but the selection is always rare or new stuff (recent examples: Goose Island BCBS Coffee, The Bruery Sour in the Rye, Russian River Sanctification, 50/50 Eclipse) and they have a very extensive bottle cellar. NOTE: The Forge is cash only but they have an ATM on premise. Prices are on the high end locally but totally reasonable compared to any major city.
Steakout Saloon - Worth mentioning as "best bang for the buck". The Steakout is a bit of a dive, but they have a pretty spectacular tap lineup and almost everything is $3.50 or less--much less if you catch a special. They also serve totally serviceable bar food; burgers, wings, fried everything, etc. Perfect place to camp out all day to watch sports and enjoy cheap, quality beer.
Wilbur's Total Beverage - Wilbur's is the most complete bottle shop in town, but that cuts both ways. It's heavily trafficked so anything interesting flies off the shelves, and it's generally priced a bit higher than other options. If you want pure variety or a very limited release, this is the first place to check. If strictly one shop in town gets a particular release, it's always Wilbur's.
Supermarket Liquors - Supermarket is an interesting place. Their beer selection rivals Wilbur's, but it's on the edge of town as opposed to right in the middle next to Whole Foods so it flies under the radar. It's also outside of the city sales tax, which means lower prices. The clientele is by and large hardened alcoholics buying plastic jugs of vodka and 30 racks of Keystone Lite which makes their incredible craft beer selection even more perplexing. I've found some real gems here long after it should have been possible, like 3 Fonteinen Geuze, Firestone Walker's barrel aged stuff and Deschutes Abyss. Worth hitting up, and it's right on the way out of town to the interstate.
Annual Beer Events
New Belgium's Tour de Fat - With no hint of exaggeration I say that Tour de Fat is my favorite day of the year in Fort Collins. It's our own personal Mardi Gras. I look forward to it more than Christmas or Thanksgiving. The entire city shuts down so that thousands of people can start drinking at 8AM, dress up in completely ridiculous costumes, and conduct a massive bike parade through the heart of the city. This is followed up by a giant carnival and multiple stages featuring musical acts of all stripes. For free. New Belgium is expanding the Tour to more cities every year, but nothing can compare to the hometown version. If it sounds like New Belgium and this town as a whole has a problem with adults living an extended adolescence... you are correct. And it's pretty awesome.
Colorado Brewers Festival - A large beer festival right in the heart of Old Town Fort Collins.
Colorado Beer Week - Lots of special tappings, dinners and events throughout the week.
Great American Beer Festival - Local breweries often have special tappings and events during the week of GABF.
New West Fest - A large music festival in Fort Collins that draws over a hundred local and national acts. A bunch of beer events and dinners tend to coincide with this.
I Only Have One Day!
Pre-book a tour at New Belgium online. Pick up bikes for your crew at the Bike Library in Old Town, or rent a Septacycle. Do the New Belgium tour, then proceed down to Odell and Funkwerks. Circle back downtown, have lunch and a beer at Choice City Butcher. Proceed to the Mayor of Old Town. Return your bikes, finish the day at Equinox which is within spitting distance of the Bike Library. Stop into Grimm Brothers in Loveland on your way back to Denver. Or just never leave, as seems to happen to many people.
Disclaimer: The above is best spread across two days, unless you want to finish blackout drunk, but it hits all of the highlights in a reasonable amount of time!