- The Washington Times - Monday, January 26, 2015

If Denver is the Shangri-La for microbreweries, then nearby Fort Collins may as well be the official gates of paradise.

Founded by 19th century French-Canadian fur traders, the hovel against brutal Rocky Mountain winters by the 1870s boasted a hotel, a mill and shops. According to the town’s official website, the railroad arrived in 1877 and helped the area explode thanks to agriculture and mining operations.

Now a tourist mecca for all seasons, Fort Collins, like the rest of Colorado, is wholly embracing the craft beer craze thanks to such players as New Belgium — makers of Fat Tire — and other high-altitude makers of brewed beverages. In a state that prides itself on its variety and number of craft beers (never mind that the Coors empire is based in nearby Golden), Fort Collins offers a rare concentration of specialty and American ales for the choosy connoisseur.

Remember to sample responsibly and at a leisurely pace, especially in a high-altitude burg like Fort Collins (elevation 4,982 feet), where thinning blood, lesser oxygen plus alcohol can mean trouble for your Rocky Mountain high that even Joe Walsh couldn’t sing his way out of.

(Better yet, do what this reporter and his cronies did: Hire a limo.)

NEW BELGIUM

The name more or less says it all. Brewer Jeff Lebesch toured Europe’s “buffer” country in 1989 with only a bike and a map — plus a nose for sniffing out quality beers.

Upon returning home to Colorado, Mr. Lebesch began churning out his own brews, many in the style of Belgian ales he had sampled overseas. His flagship beer would be named in remembrance of that peripatetic European tour and his bike, with its “fat tires.”

Although best known for Fat Tire Amber Ale, New Belgium churns out a bevy of other selections at its massive Fort Collins facility, such as the Ranger IPA and the Sunshine wheat — many of which are available only inside the brewery.

After taking a tour of the operation, be sure to pop by the taproom to see what seasonals are a-brewin’.

A word of advice: Don’t even think about tipping the barkeeps. While it seems counterintuitive in a bar setting, New Belgium prides itself on paying its workers a living wage and not having its pourers having to live off tips. (In fact, barkeeps can be fired for accepting tips, so if they forcefully refuse your offering, don’t take it personally.)

While enjoying a cold one, walk into the adjoining gift shop that offers swag and free postcards printed on the backs of old coasters. Just fill out one with a message and the recipient’s address, and the good folks at New Belgium will pick up the postage for your delightfully old-fashioned missive.

IF YOU GO

WHAT:New Belgium Brewing Co.

WHERE: 500 Linden St.

Fort Collins, CO 80524

INFO: 888/NBB-4044

NewBelgium.com

THE FORT COLLINS BREWERY AND TAVERN

Naming your brewery after a city famous for beer is a bold move, but in the case of The Fort Collins Brewery, it is certainly no misnomer (and, of course, it’s located in its namesake town).

Hoppiness is certainly en vogue in Colorado, and Fort Collins takes that notion to heart by doling out a wide variety of IPAs such as the Black Sheep Black IPA and the appropriately named Hopitude.

For more oopmh in your suds, try the Dopplebock, the Malt Monster or the Double Chocolate Stout. Soak up the alcohol with traditional pub grub such as chicken wings or choice fare like the duck confit poutine or the braised ribs. The outdoor patio is perfect for enjoying a brew and a snack under the Rocky Mountain sun during the warmer months.

IF YOU GO

WHAT: Fort Collins Brewery & Tavern

WHERE: 1020 E. Lincoln Ave.

Fort Collins, CO 80524

INFO: 970/682-2260

FortCollinsBrewery.com

SNOWBANK BREWING CO.

Truth in advertising can sometimes work, as this beer house’s name hints at the ample whiteness that descends during the winter months.

Tucked into a cozy industrial park is Snowbank, whose beers are rather creative — though not often with the best results. A standout is the Colorado Red, a staple recipe that, thankfully, the brewers didn’t much tinker with.

Experimentation with beer flavoring is a capital idea. If Snowbank were in any other town, it might rate higher, but Fort Collins requires brewers to bring their A-games to the table.

Still, it’s worth popping by for the Colorado red (use this stop as your “rest”).

IF YOU GO

WHAT: Snowbank Brewing Co.

WHERE: 225 N. Lemay Ave., Suite 1

Fort Collins, CO 80524

INFO: 970/999-5658

Snowbank.Beer

FREEDOM’S EDGE

A little brewery that could in Cheyenne, Wyoming, opened a secondary outpost 46 miles south in Fort Collins. The Freedom’s Edge local outpost has been in the historic Antlers Hotel on Linden Street since it was converted into mixed-use commercial and residential units.

Situated in the former lobby of the Antlers, Freedom’s Edge serves up rotating Colorado beers of various hoppy varieties. The brewery is family-owned and -operated, keeping in mind quality control of small batches rather than mass production.

The Fort Collins location will be shutting its doors soon as the owners have opted to scale back closer to their Cheyenne home base, but fortunately for you — and Fort Collins — that means just a short jaunt up Interstate 25.

Cheers, and don’t forget to tell ‘em who sent you.

IF YOU GO

WHAT: Freedom’s Edge

WHERE: 224 Linden St.

Fort Collins, CO 80524

INFO: 970/493-1494

FreedomsEdgeBrewing.com/

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