Whether you’re coming to Denver as a visitor or you’re a tried and true local, it would be a mistake to miss out on the New Belgium Brewery tour. New Belgium is the maker of such popular brews as Trippel, 1554, Sunshine Wheat, and Fat Tire, which are sold on tap or in bottles (and now cans!) in 25 states nationwide, as of 2009. The state of Colorado boasts at least 100 craft brewers, three of which (including New Belgium) are located in Fort Collins, an hour and a half north of Denver. Though you may be more familiar with the larger brew tours such as Coors or Anheuser Busch, the trip to Fort Collins is, for many reasons, well worth the drive.
Before your trip, you’ll want to start online or on the phone. The guided tour is open to anyone, and it’s free – you just need to sign up for the popular excursion in advance to guarantee a spot, especially on weekends. Contact one of the extremely friendly folk there, and you’re on your way.
If you’re leaving from Denver, enjoy the scenery along Interstate 25 up to Fort Collins. You can take the time to appreciate how you’re paralleling the majestic Rocky Mountains, at the very point where the West gives way to the wide plains and farmland of middle America. You’ll notice the many up-and-coming communities along the road, which have grown in size and popularity as the outskirts of Denver have begun to expand over recent years.
Once you reach Fort Collins, the New Belgium Brewery is not far from the highway. On the way, you’ll pass the smaller Odell brewery, another local favorite. The town is also home to the Colorado State University, which is worth a drive around campus if you want to see what makes the Buffs’ blood boil.
Upon arrival, take in the stately, wood and glass construction that is the New Belgium Brewery. Their familiar red-and-orange circular logo stands at the entrance, as also do many signature bikes, hanging whimsically from the beams inside or lined up outside in gleaming rows. This is your first indication of the good time that awaits.
You’ll want to arrive earlier than your tour time so that you can fully enjoy the New Belgium atmosphere and complimentary samples, which you receive tokens for upon arrival. Ask any one of the bartenders which draft they recommend, and their eyes may well up as they explain what each one means to them personally. You may be unfamiliar with this kind of fierce devotion to beer at the beginning, but by the end of the tour, you begin to understand.
Once your group gets called up and whisked off by your amiable guide…well, the rest is for you to discover. Here are just a few Dos and Don’ts that should help you make the most out of your time at one of the coolest breweries in Colorado:
Designate a driver. Samples are generous and alcohol-rich. Since you can do the tour as many times as you want in your lifetime, promise your driver a return trip in the near future. Or, better yet…
Make sure to go home with a growler. After your tour ends, this is the best and most economical way to keep the New Belgium times rolling even after you leave. For $4.00, you can walk out the door with a really cool souvenir from the brewery, and for another $6.00, you can fill that up with 64 ounces of your favorite taste from the day.
Bone up on the company’s history. The guides – all stock-holding employees themselves – could not be happier with their jobs or believe more passionately in what they are a part of. They do an excellent job of conveying that pride along with a thorough history of the company, but once the samples start flowing, some of these facts may be lost on you. If you’re already a big fan of the brand and each of their quirky brews, having a little more previous knowledge walking into the tour will help you appreciate founder Jeff Lebesch’s story and vision even more.
Go down the slide. Haven’t gone down a slide since grade school? Leave your adult fear of heights at the door. Allow your inner child to go squealing down the tight turns, and wonder what your job would be like with an aluminum slide in the middle of operations.
Don’t plan on walking it off. The brewery is not exactly within ambling distance of local haunts and shops. It’s set back a bit from the action, to ensure plenty of space for their eco-friendly brewing magic. This is another reason why a designated driver is naturally a must (unless you plan on kowtowing to New Belgium philosophy and riding a bike there). The waiting area/bar is a bustling and fun place to be, so you can always plan on hanging out for awhile.
Don’t show up to the tour already drunk. Trust me on this – it’s not attractive. Not only that, but your fellow tour-takers are not likely to appreciate the irony and you will automatically become the butt of all jokes for the next 90 minutes.
Undoubtedly, as you leave with a smile on your face and a full growler in your hand, you’ll be glad you went. As it says on the state of Colorado’s official website, “If you like beer, you’ll love Colorado.”
Check out these sites for more info:
http://coloradobeer.org/index.html (Colorado Brewers Guild)