When Odell Brewing Co. opened in Fort Collins in 1989, few envisioned this Northern Colorado college town would become a beer destination of national stature. For beer tourists, this young, progressive community of 150,000 has few rivals among cities its size.
At some point in its history, Fort Collins acquired the nickname “Choice City,” though the origin is obscure. Today, it could easily refer to the myriad options available to beer enthusiasts. At last count, breweries numbered in the upper teens. A half-dozen tap houses further complement Fort Collins’ liquid assets. Not surprisingly, beer is deeply embedded in the local lifestyle. Most of the top beer stops are concentrated within two miles of the pedestrian-friendly downtown district, simplifying logistics for travelers.
You’ll need nourishment for your afternoon endeavors, and Choice City Butcher & Deli (104 W. Olive St.), in downtown Fort Collins, will provide the proper sustenance. The signature sandwich is the Colorado Buffalo Reuben, prepared from locally sourced bison. Pair your meal with a beer from the kid-in-a-candy-store selection of seldom-seen local, national and international selections. Choice City has one of the best beer lists in the state.
Travel a mile east to New Belgium Brewing (500 Linden St.), the city’s largest brewery. Tours of the showpiece facility are among the best anywhere and include ample sampling. Be sure to book well in advance (up to two months) as reservations are required and they fill up fast. Conclude your New Belgium experience with a session in the Liquid Center sampling unique and exotic concoctions from the brewery’s seasonally rotating Lips of Faith series.
Return to downtown for a visit to Equinox Brewing (133 Remington St.) for its welcoming vibe and extensive selection of well-crafted beers. There are no full-time beers among the frequently changing 20-plus taps, so let your mood dictate your selection.
It’s a short stroll to your dinner stop at one of Colorado’s oldest brewpubs. Coopersmith’s Pub & Brewing (#5 Old Town Square), in Old Town Square, features American and British pub standards along with Mexican entrees and great people-watching from the patio. After a meal at the Pubside section of this split-personality brewpub, head across the pedestrian walkway to the Poolside section for a few games of billiards at one of a dozen tournament-size tables.
Amble a few blocks south for a late-night pint at the Tap and Handle (307 S College Ave.). Half of the 74 taps at this unpretentious beer bar are reserved for in-state offerings.
Burn off the previous day’s indulgences with a morning hike at Horsetooth Mountain Open Space, a short drive from town. If you’re feeling fit, join the parade of locals on the popular 2.5-mile climb to the summit of Horsetooth Rock. Your thighs may burn, but the views are a just reward. A network of easier trails is situated close by and also at neighboring Lory State Park.
Back in town, check out a bicycle from the city’s bike library (reserve in advance at fcbikelibrary.org) and head east on Lincoln Avenue. Just minutes from downtown, some of the city’s best breweries are easily accessed by bike. By now you’ll be ravenous, so stop for brunch at Fort Collins Brewery & Tavern (1020 E. Lincoln Ave.). The attractive modern brewery and restaurant houses an on-site greenhouse that grows produce used by the kitchen. Awaken your palate with a seasonal fruit beer alongside your brunch plate.
Meander just down the street to Odell Brewing’s (800 E. Lincoln Ave.) bustling tap room and best-in-town beer garden. Order a flight of time-tested brewery standards such as the easy-drinking 90 Shilling Scottish Ale or former Great American Beer Festival (GABF) gold medal-winning IPA. If you’re feeling more adventurous, opt for a flight of specialty beers from the pilot system.
For fans of Belgian-inspired Ales, Funkwerks (1900 E. Lincoln Ave.) is a mandatory stop on the Fort Collins Ale Trail. The one-time GABF Small Brewery of the Year specializes in saisons, and the flagship saison is exceptional. Round out your sampling session with imperial, fruited, barrel-aged and soured variations of the classic farmhouse ale.
Roll over to the nearby Horse & Dragon Brewing (124 Racquette Drive), which opened in the spring of 2014. In contrast to the area’s stark industrial environs, the tasting room offers a relaxed and inviting ambience. Head brewer Linsey Cornish garners frequent praise from other local brewers for the unwavering quality of her beers, such as the Picnic Rock Pale Ale and Sad Panda Coffee Stout.
Return to downtown for a dinner of down-to-earth comfort food at The Mainline (125 S. College Ave.). A large selection of Colorado-brewed beers is available to pair with entrees such as bacon-wrapped meatloaf or fried chicken and waffles.
You’ll likely want to linger at your last stop of the day, The Mayor of Old Town (632 S. Mason St.). With a constantly changing lineup of 100 taps, The Mayor believes that too much of a good thing can be a good problem to have.
Fuel up with a power breakfast at Lucile’s Creole Café (400 South Meldrum St.). As the name implies, the menu features Southern fare in all its decadent deliciousness. Arrive early to beat the crowds.
Walk off your meal with a stroll through the one-of-a-kind Swetsville Zoo (4801 E. Harmony Road). It’s not a zoo in the traditional sense in that there are no enclosures or live animals. Rather, this zoo houses a large and whimsical collection of folk art sculpture constructed of scrap metal. Trust me, this will be your favorite Fort Collins experience that doesn’t involve malt and hops. Admission is free.
South of downtown, amid the jungle of strip malls and retail complexes, three breweries have found their niche in the local beer scene. Kick off the day’s liquid adventures at German-accented Zwei Brewing (4612 S. Mason St.). Brothers Kirk & Eric Lombardi were brewing award-winning German-style beers at a local brewpub for over a dozen years before opening Zwei in the summer of 2014. Enjoy the simple satisfaction of a clean quaffable Pils or tangy weissbier in the no-frills tasting room.
Navigate a half-mile to 1933 Brewing Co. (4025 S. Mason St.). This amiable low-key nanobrewery serves up a dozen unfiltered, yet brilliantly clear, house beers. Familiar styles, including pale ales, IPAs and stouts, are dispensed alongside more audacious sour, barrel-aged and hybrid creations.
Kick back over lunch and a brew on the patio of Black Bottle Brewery (1611 S. College Ave.), a brewpub and tap house located near the campus of Colorado State University. At least 10 house beers are offered among the 40 drafts and three dozen bottled selections. The offbeat nature of the brewpub is typified by the beer named Ginger, which has no herbs or spices, but is categorized as a Red (get it?) IPA.
Conclude your Fort Collins weekend with some serious souvenir hunting at the Craft Beer Cellar (122 S. Mason St.). Be prepared to put a dent in your credit limit as the new downtown bottle shop maintains an inventory of hundreds of beer brands.