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Tim Van Schmidt
There are several reasons why Fort Collins, or shall we say northern Colorado in general, has been called “The Napa Valley of Beer.” Those include vision and decades of dedicated hard work.
I did a cover story for The Scene in June 1990 titled “Grin and Beer It” in advance of the first Colorado Brewer’s Festival. In it I covered the craft beer scene in Fort Collins at the time, which amounted to three brewers: Joe Neckel of Old Colorado Brewing Company, Brad Page of Coopersmith’s, and Doug Odell of Odell Brewing.
This was before the success of New Belgium Brewing helped put Fort Collins in the national, even international spotlight with their great beer and progressive business practices.
In 1990, Odell saw the “boom” in beer brewing in Fort Collins then as a “movement” that might entice beer drinkers to try something new.
More than thirty years later, that vision rings true because beer fans now make it a favorite pursuit to try new and different beers. And there are breweries just about everywhere who are constantly working on new ideas — not just in Fort Collins, but everywhere along the Front Range. A “movement” created an industry that thrives today.
“The Napa Valley of Beer” thing didn’t happen overnight, or by accident. I’m sure there were great brewers in the area before the three “pioneers” I interviewed in 1990. You can bet there are some other great brewers out there who are just starting out that, no doubt, we’ll be talking about thirty years from now.
There’s just something about this place that deserves great beer.
OK, so we’re still in a pandemic, but fortunately, there is plenty of regional craft beer available. So here is a 2021 “tour” of some prominent NOCO breweries to see what the current state of brewing is in “The Napa Valley of Beer.”
But instead of visiting the brewery sites, I opted for a taste test of diverse styles of beer from area breweries, take-home style. All of the beers were canned – call it a “NOCO Six-Pack.”
The choices making up my “NOCO Six-Pack” were sampled along with the willing participation of three other “tour group” members. Together, our group represented a diversity of tasters: an Old School beer fan, a New School beer fan, an Average Contemporary Adult beer fan, and a Lightweight Senior beer fan.
Our “tour” was conducted in a private environment, keeping personal safety concerns in mind. We referred to sample “Beer Scoresheets” from the “Beer Judge Certification Program” for guidance in discussing these choices as a group — because beer tasting has become serious business.
Here’s our “NOCO Six-Pack 2021,” in the order we tasted them:
–Sippin’ Pretty, Fruited Sour Ale, Odell Brewing, Fort Collins: “Loaded with our unique blend of acai, guava, and elderberry, and balanced with a delicate addition of Himalayan pink sea salt…” 4.5% ABV.
Two members of our group chose this as the most enjoyable tasting brew in the bunch.
–Silver Lion, Czech Style Pilsner, Horse & Dragon Brewing, Fort Collins: “Share Great Craft Beer…A honey-sweet malt backdrop highlights floral scents from the traditional Saaz hops…” 5.1% ABV.
Crisp and refreshing, we thought this would make a great all around summertime beer.
–Dunkel, German-Style Dark Lager, Prost Brewing, Fort Collins: “Drink like a German.” 5.6% ABV.
It was suggested that this was the best over-all beer for general consumption. I thought so too — this was the one I returned to after our “tour” was over.
–Juicy Bits, India Pale Ale, Weldwerks Brewing, Greeley: “Dialed-in Beer…Brewed with Citra, Mosaic, El Dorado Hops.” 6.7% ABV.
The most experienced taster in the group identified this as “the best done” beer of the “tour,” offering a balanced blend of “sweet and fruity” flavors.
–Colorado Red, American Red Ale, Snowbank Brewing, Fort Collins: “Deep amber, medium body, balanced caramel and crystal malt flavor with a hefty tropical hop bitterness and resiny, citrus aroma…” 6% ABV.
A strong and lingering taste made this one particularly stand out from the rest as one of the most flavorful.
–Killer Boots, Porter Style Ale w/ Caramel, Verboten Brewing, Loveland: “We believe there is a beer out there for everyone…an English-style porter with a pleasing roasty character and nice chocolate notes. We then infuse the porter with house made caramel at the end of fermentation…” 6% ABV.
The roasted malt and addition of caramel gives this porter an engaging and complex taste. It’s been one of my favorite darker brews since trying it at a beer festival a few years ago.
–Peanut Butter Milk Stout, Mash Lab Brewing, Windsor: “Brewed With Horsepower.” 5.5% ABV.
An alluring, strong aroma telegraphs the pleasant experience of tasting this stout. For me, this was the perfect “dessert” and I chose it as my favorite overall tasting experience during the “tour.”
Savvy readers will already have spotted that there are seven choices on the above “tour,” not six. What can I say but we’re living in “The Napa Valley of Beer,” so it’s hard to limit the good tastes to just six. Like a “baker’s dozen,” a “NOCO Six-Pack” just has to go one better.
Tim Van Schmidt is a writer and Photographer based in Fort Collins. Check out his channel on YouTube at “Time Capsules by Tim Van Schmidt.”