Our History with Craft Beer

Beer has come a long way here in Fort Collins, and the history with craft beer is a story of trials and tribulations. You may be surprised to know that Fort Collins was a dry town until 1969 when students of Colorado State University fought to end alcohol prohibition. As Fort Collins slowly became accustomed to bars and pubs opening around town, locals began to experiment with brewing beer from their very own basements and garages. This created a rich home-brewing scene that soon blossomed into the craft brewing culture that Fort Collins is home to today.

History with Craft Beer

In 1988, the opening of Anheuser Busch in Fort Collins and a change to Colorado law allowing for the production and sale of beer in one facility gave way to the beginning of Fort Collins’ history with craft beer and its culture. In 1989, Old Colorado Brewing Co. opened in the Northern Hotel. Although Old Colorado Brewing Co. is no longer in business, both CooperSmith’s Pub and Brewery and Odell Brewing Co. opened in the same year, within two weeks of one another, and are still two of Fort Collins’ most popular breweries to this day. Along with the opening of Fort Collins’ first microbreweries, Doug Odell and Scott Smith (owners of Odell Brewing Co. and CooperSmith’s) created the annual Colorado Brewer’s Festival, designed to celebrate Colorado craft beer. Meanwhile in 1989, Jeff Lebesch, founder of New Belgium Brewing Co. returned from a trip biking around Belgium on his “Fat Tire” mountain bike. During his stay, Jeff discovered European villages famous for their craft beer and returned to Fort Collins with “an imagination full of recipes and a handful of ingredients ready to embark on a whole new journey” (NewBelgium.com). Brewing the first two beers, Abbey and Fat Tire, in his garage, Jeff and his wife Kim teamed up to sell the craft beer locally beginning in 1991. Local artist Anne Fitch became the designer for the traditional watercolor labels that were part of the New Belgium brand for more than 23 years. The first keg of the famous Fat Tire amber ale was served at Fort Collins’ oldest bar, The Town Pump, which is still serving New Belgium craft beer today! Now New Belgium is the fourth largest craft brewer in the United States and offers daily brewery tours at the “Mothership” brewery, located just 3 blocks from Old Town. For the next 20 years, the craft brewing industry began to boom in Fort Collins and now 16+ craft breweries call this town home. The question is often asked, “Why does Fort Collins draw such an expansive craft brewing culture?” The answer is not always the same, but it lies somewhere within, Fort Collins’ great water, a culture that fits the industry, and more importantly, great people.    

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