Fort Collins, CO is a beautiful town, home to Colorado State University and, more importantly, New Belgium Brewing. At the time of my visit there, I really wasn't even aware of New Belgium, though I had seen and heard a bit about Fat Tire. This is probably the experience that launched my foray into craft beer, if I'm really trying to pin the tail on the donkey.
I had flown out to Denver with some friends to meet up with my best friend and some other buddies who lived in Kansas and Gillette, WY, respectively. After a couple days in the Mile High City, we headed north to Fort Collins before eventually ending up in Laramie.
While it's really incidental to this tale, we were in Laramie for the express purpose of getting tattooed. You see, a few of these guys had attended WyoTech there in Laramie and had developed a friendship with Jeff Everett, the proprietor of The Underground. So I got some work done and the group of us ran up an incredibly large bar tab, particularly when you consider that it's in a small, rural college town.
But while the weather had finally realized that it was mid-November by the time we were shipping out of Fort Collins, it had been nothing but perfect when we arrived there. Not much can compare to the beauty of a sunny high plains day, a fact that was abundantly clear as our group strolled down the main drag near campus.
It was mid-70s and sunny as we walked through town over to New Belgium for a tour and tasting. This was to be my first (but not last) tour of a brewery that isn't currently sponsoring the Cubs to the tune of $140 million. I was blown away by the processes and culture there; it truly was a way of life for these people. I also got the chance to sample several beers that were then outside of my macro sensibilities.
What an amazing day that was, never mind the fact that later that evening I would watch Jay Cutler implode, throwing 5 INTs in a Thursday night game vs. the 49ers. This was Cutty's first year in Chicago and the folks in CO were still pretty salty about his departure, so you can imagine that I wasn't looked upon too kindly as I sat there in my Bears gear.
We drank with college kids and flocked around a large Chinese man, who was reportedly a prof at CSU, to answer the endless stream of random trivia questions he spat forth. Just an epically fun day. The association of memories can certainly alter our opinion of a product, and that's the case for me when it comes to New Belgium.
But in the years since that trip, I've come to appreciate their consistently great beers, particularly their Winter seasonals. NB has been willing to really step outside the box with uncharacteristic brews like Snow Day, and they've even stepped into the DIPA ring with Rampant, which is an infinitely drinkable option among imperials.
Ranger is still probably my single favorite IPA; it's just such a clean, crisp beer with a wonderful citrus aroma. Others are bigger, hoppier, and more true to style, but Ranger just hits the spot for me. And I love Fat Tire as well, with its roasted, biscuity flavors and amber-brown color. A word of warning though: don't drink an IPA and then follow it with a Fat Tire; it'll leave the latter tasting flat and tinny.
I learned that the hard way after sending back what I was sure had to be a bad beer. But a repeat offense taught me that my taste buds had simply been calibrated by the IPA and were unable to accept the FT afterwards. As for new offerings, they've got a Snapshot Wheat that I've heard great things about.
There's also Accumulation, a white IPA that should be out of circulation by now. But it's light color and funky hop aroma make this an unlikely winter warmer that's equally refreshing even as the temperatures rise. You can usually find a decent selection of Lips of Faith series 220z bomber bottles at decent liquor stores, but be sure to check the label.
LoF falls into the experimental/out-there category in some cases, so the options aren't necessarily fit for the timid beer drinker. For instance, they have a collabo with Cigar City Brewing that uses Anaheim and Marash chiles. For hop-heads, the Hop Kitchen series is nice though; Rewind and Fresh Hop are both quite nice.
Perhaps my all-time favorite New Belgium beer though was Mothership, a certified USDA organic brew. As an unfiltered wheat, it had sediment in the bottom of the bottles and the label even gave instructions on how to pour it properly. True to the Belgian wit style, Mothership had a burst of carbonation, with noticeable esters and phenols (think banana and clove flavors) from the yeast. Add in coriander and orange peel and you got a wonderfully complex, yet perfectly balanced beverage.
And because you can find NB in pretty much any liquor or grocery store at this point, you don't have to spend much time searching for options. And just in case you need more reason to check out New Belgium, consider that it landed #1 on a recent list of the top 10 craft breweries in Colorado.
Rampant, Ranger, Trippel, Lips of Faith bombers
Nationwide, though many beers are seasonal
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Filed under: Craft Beer