Fort Collins was not on the game plan originally. Sure, I had spent time there during my first trip to Colorado in 1994 as it was a hotbed for Frisbee players and home to a few pioneering craft breweries but I no longer played and was really trying to be selective about what breweries to visit on this return trip in 2008. That was until I met a guy named Peter on the Amphitheater Lake hike in the Grand Tetons. He said one of his favorite stops was New Belgium Brewing and that their tours were not only free but a blast. I had been there on my first trip but couldn't recall much about it. All I knew was their signature Flat Tire was no can't miss beer for me. To be fair, on the 2008 trip I had picked up a few six-packs at various outlets around the western US. It might not be available on the east coast, but New Belgium had gotten quite big since 1994 and seemed to be everywhere we went, even a regular at Walmart!
As chance would have it, we found ourselves shopping at Sierra Trading Company in Cheynne WY on a Saturday morning after camping in a small town en route. We'd go to Rocky Mountain National Park that night and wouldn't you know it, Fort Collins was right in the middle of those two. As the saying goes, sometimes you just gotta go with the flow, of beer that is. We arrived a little after noon to a packed parking lot at New Belgium. It seemed I was not the only one Peter had spoken with. The guy maning the door said we could go in for some taster but the tour was booked for the day. On seeing us frown, he asked where we came from. I offered up South Florida, knowing the great distance might find us a few “unused” tickets but my wife bettered me by saying Germany and that, my friend, pretty much sealed the deal. He said we could go on the 2:00 tour and we nearly danced in for our tasters. (continued below in Fondest Memory)
And what tasters they were: four good sized beers served in goblets, probably around 6 ounces each and many beers to choose from. My wife, who evidently had majored in negotiations failed to push me to drive the rest of the trip to the national park and said I could have most of her samples. With twelve of their beers on tap I was thankful for the sweet gesture.
The bartender was fantastic and animated. She even stood on the bar to take a photo of us and guaranteed it would be a great one. She was right and she was right on in her job. It was not only serving beer, it was selling the concept of New Belgium. The company started in 1991 when a home brewer enamored with Belgian style beers and egged on by friends heralding his beer, started a very much grassroots operation. He was also an avid biker and had traveled around Belgium on bike, hence the name of his first brew: Fat Tire. It has grown immeasurably but has retained a commitment to being green with many innovations to make the brewery run more efficiently and save energy. The one everyone likes most is the company's push to get everyone to ride bikes. Employees that have worked in the company for a full year get one of their retro New Belgium bikes for a bonus. Many of their employees ride to work and it's quite a sight to see all the retro bikes lined up outside the brewery. It looks like a grade school but make no mistake about it, these are fun-loving adults that believe they and you can make a difference in this world. My guess is the world could use more of these kinds of people.
The beers ran the gamut of styles and not a real clunker in the batch and while perhaps only a couple were truly special, what made this a great stop was how much fun it was. They create a real festive atmosphere but in no way seems like a show. I think they are just having that much fun. (continued below in Fondest Memory)
Our tour time came up more quickly then I expected and soon we were being whisked off to the kettles and I lamented leaving our fun bartenders behind but my fears were soon allayed when our tour guide turned out to be equally entertaining. He kept us moving and his banter never became tiresome. I've done many brewery tours and this one is top notch. The highlight were the recently acquired wooden barrels from Rodenbach brewery in Belgium. They were being used to age La Folie, their knockoff of Rodenbach Grand Cru. As it turns out, their new brewer worked at Rodenbach and immediately my expectations for that beer raised. When our guide learned we had been there, he took a real liking to us and later when it turned out that La Folie was not on tap in the upstairs tasting room, he promised to open a bottle for us to try.
At the completion of the tour, he came out with a 750 ml corked bottle of their new masterbrew and popped it right in front of us so we were the first to get a taste. Our tour cohorts were a bit perplexed with the extremely tart flavor and he had wisely given them very small samples. I smiled as none of them wanted another shot and he shared the rest of the bottle with us. It was a marvelous refreshing tart complex beer much like its inspiration. It had been a really fun stop but fun times too must come to an end. Their infectious love for their jobs and the company had rubbed off on us too. We bought a six and of course, a bottle of La Folie. The latter was pricey, actually twice as much as a bottle of Grand Cru would cost here and it's imported from Belgium, but we figured we were kind of getting two for one on that one. Besides, I wanted to contribute what I could to such an admirable company. If I had to drink another bottle of La Folie to do it, that's just what I intended to do.
Fondest memory: One of the best times I have had in Colorado, was here in Rawah. I cannot describe the experience in the proper words. But, one of the best parts of that experience was listening to a few of the guys working at Rawah singing 'cowboy' songs. I don't remember the words, or even the tune, but the feeling and memory remain strong. The picture is where we sat to listen...
Fondest memory: Sitting in a cafe in downtown Fort Collins with some friends. Have a hot chocolate and watch the people passing by - that´s my fondest memory of Fort Collins. The pedestrian zone almost has European flair and for me a trip to Fort Collins was always something to look for while I was living in nearby Laramie, Wyoming.
Favorite thing: Horsetooth Reservoir is part of the excellent Latimer County Park System. It's also right up the road from my brother's house in Ft. Collins. Lots of recreational opportunities are available here, ranging from boating and waterskiing on the lake to hiking, biking and rock climbing in the surrounding hills.
The Environmental Learning Center is operated by Colorado State University as a plac to educate the public about the complex issues regarding the climate, geography, flora and fauna of the Colorado Front Range. Yearround, a variety of programs are offered here, both for school groups and for adults through a variety of "continuing education" classes. The Center is conveniently located just a few minutes off I-25, and also is quite close to the center of Ft. Collins.
My younger brother volunteers at the Raptor Recovery Center here. It's a program that provides assistance (free health care, really) to our avian friends when they become injured or ill, whether through accidents or through human intervention. Some of the eagles or hawks are able to become fully "rehabilitated," and are eventually returned to the natural environment. However, some of the birds are not able to make a complete recovery, in which case the Raptor Recovery Center either provides them with long-term lodging, or makes a placement for them with various refuges around the state. It's a good place to come to learn about birds!
Fondest memory: 3745 E. Prospect, Ft. Collins
Colorado State University is a "Research I" institution with about 27,000 students, originally founded in 1870. Although it is generally considered to be "in the shadow" of its more prestigious neighbor rival, the University of Colorado at Boulder, CSU does have some outstanding programs, particularly in agriculture and veterinary science.
In the summer 2007, I spent a week on the Colorado State campus, working as a reader for the Advanced Placement exams. It worked out very nicely for me, because my brother and sister-in-law live just a couple of miles from the university. And I very much enjoy being out on the Front Range, which was clearly visable from the Student Union building where I was working.
Apparently, June 2007 was a fairly wet month, and so the CSU campus was unusually "green" for this time of year!
The Danforth Chapel at Colorado State is one of the most interesting buildings in Fort Collins. It was designed by James M. Hunter (1908-1993), the general architect and planner for the entire CSU campus. Hunter was born in the Midwest and trained as an engineer/architect in Illinois, and brought his "prairie" sensibility out with him to the Front Range of the Rockies, where he was active for almost 45 years, from the 1940s through the 1980s. Many of his structures can be seen in Denver and Boulder as well.
William Danforth, creator of the Ralston Purina empire, was responsible for financing a series of more than 20 Danforth Chapels across the United States. James M. Hunter must have been pleased with the way that the Danforth Chapel here turned out, because he chose it to be his own burial site.
Another interesting building on the Colorado State U. campus is the attractive Guggenheim Hall. Originally used as a center for teaching Domestic and Fine Arts, the hall is now home to the Department of Construction Management.
Yes, Guggenheim Hall is named after one of "those" Guggenheims, the prominent Philadelphia/New York German/Jewish business and philanthropy family of the 19th/20 centuries. Simon Guggenheim (1867-1941) moved to Colorado and made a fortune here in smelting and refining. He also served as U.S. Senator from Colorado between 1907 and 1913, which is when this building was constructed. Simon was a middle child; his older brother Solomon was the billionaire whose art collection forms the core of the great Museum of Modern Art in New York City. A younger brother, Benjamin, went down on the "Titanic" in 1912. And his niece Peggy was the rather eccentric patron and art-lover who was a patron of Jackson Pollock and who created her own modern art museum in Venice.
My favorite thing about Fort Collins is the fact that I am going there to meet over 5,000 of my co-laborers and get refreshed and renewed.
Fondest memory: My fondist memory of Fort Collins was back in 1997 when my wife and I were told we were assigned to Germany.
Favorite thing: Colorado State has done a good job of preserving, restoring, and retooling its historic buildings. I'm a little envious!
Makers of the legendary Fat Tire
New Belgium has awesome beer tours and at the end they give you a sampler of all their different beers!