Frank Boon flashed a knowing smile last fall in Denver, as he sampled beers at the Great American Beer Festival. That’s not to say he loved everything he came across. Boon, who owns Belgium’s popular Brewery Boon, does not casually pass out compliments. Perhaps the brewer could have used fresher malt, he suggested of one beer. “Too much yeast still in the beer,” he said of another.
Fort Collins provides a unique opportunity to visit four diverse breweries only minutes apart.
What he tasted, though, reminded him that he knows something that many from the world’s traditional brewing centers continue to discount.
“Europeans will tell you Americans water down their beer, that they put ice in it,” he said. “They don’t know what has occurred in the last 20 years. They need to come here and see how much has changed.”
Boon was in Colorado to announce a joint project with New Belgium Brewing Co., located in Fort Collins. A visitor from the other side of the Atlantic, or an American, for that matter, couldn’t do much better than starting in Fort Collins to get a “big picture” look at the American brewing industry in four quick stops. You could easily walk from the first to second and the second to the third.
Stop 1: Coopersmith’s Pub & Brewery, one of the first brewpubs in Colorado. There are plenty of smaller breweries around the country, but the brew house here will seem tiny by the end of the day.
Stop 2: Odell Brewing Co., still small enough to be classified as a microbrewery but big enough to have a bottling line and cases of beer stacked to the ceiling. (Although bottling occurs long after beer is brewed, the line is a popular stop on any tour, and not only because it happens shortly before tasting begins.)
Stop 3: New Belgium Brewing, which dwarfed Odell’s even before completing a major addition this fall (installing a new 200-barrel brew house to go with its 100-barrel system). In just minutes, you can see brewers control the mashing process via computer, then walk among giant wooden vats, where funky microorganisms are doing something entirely different to beer than goes on in the massive stainless steel fermentation tanks two rooms over.
Stop 4: Anheuser-Busch, one of its five breweries open for tours. So big it makes New Belgium look like HO scale, though the Coors brewery in Golden is even bigger. (Coors is Colorado’s No. 1 unpaid tourist attraction and uses 3 million gallons of water per day.) The tour is first-rate, lasting about 75 minutes, and includes everything from the always-popular bottling lines to a historical hallway with early advertising to a trip to the barn where the Clydesdales live.