“They poured strychnine in his cup
And shook to see him drink it up:
They shook, they stared as white’s their shirt:
Them it was their poison hurt.
–I tell the tale that I heard told.
Mithridates, he died old.”
“Terence this is Stupid Stuff” by A.E. Housman
The next morning we hung out in the woods for a few hours, eventually packing up, hiking back down to the car, and heading into Estes. Paul wanted to show me around downtown. It’s designed like one of those mock old timey towns with extravagant street lights and roads made of brick. We roamed around for a bit, got some burgers, and returned to the car a few hours later (I honestly can’t remember one highlight from our little stroll through tourist town, so I’ll spare you the details).
Next up breweries (now that’s more like it!). We headed west toward For Collins, a virtual Mecca of brewing with a whopping six breweries to choose from, including: Odell’s, Coors, Fort Collins Brewing, and the birthplace of Fat Tire (my all-time favorite brew): New Belgium. As we drove I became giddy. Sure, we already visited 17 breweries during our trip, but New Belgium was the Holy Grail (or pint), the Beer-topia, the Oz at the end of our beer soaked brick road.
Unlike me, Paul’s enthusiasm for New Belgium was less than thrilled. In fact, he suggested several times that we skip the brewery altogether in order to visit some of the lesser known breweries in town. I stuck to my guns; we had to visit what I imagined to be a Charlie and the Chocolate Factory type of wonderland with rivers of Fat Tire and little midget workers called Hoppa Loppas (I know, I’m reaching).
After driving around Fort Collins for about 30 minutes trying to locate the mystical brewery, we finally found 500 Linden Street, the address I’ve read many a night while staring lovingly at a Fat Tire box. The brewery was impossible to miss; the large New Belgium emblem emblazon on the sign out front, the enormous steeple of glass, the log cabiny wood siding, and the parking lot filled with cars, bumper to bumper. Even the bike rack out front was filled, reminding me of the bike rack area in front of the middle school I attended as a kid.
The only thing missing was an angry Vice Principal Bish shuffling around and yelling at people.
When we finally found a parking spot, Paul turned off the car and looked at me. “I’m telling you this is going to suck…” I didn’t really understand his hatred for New Belgium: maybe the popularity? I still think he hates Vampire Weekend due simply to their popularity. Or was it Paul’s penchant for disagreeing? I didn’t care; we were going to the promise land, whether Paul liked it or not.
Instead of acknowledging his negativity, I handed him the camera and commanded, “Take a picture of me in front of the New Belgium sign douche.”
I'm all smiles, sitting on the bike like a giddy 12-year-old. The guy behind the camera is a different story. .
After our photo session we finally entered the tasting room, which was more like a tasting hall: the walls were adorned with moving sculptures constructed of bike parts, Warhol-esque paintings stretching to the top of the vaulted glass ceiling, and pristine wooden tables stretching the length of the extensive room. Pushing our way through the crowd, I noticed that the patrons were much different than what we’d seen at most breweries. Instead of middle-aged beer connoisseurs with curly moustaches and bald spots, we were surrounded by a combination of touristy rich old people and young naïve couples.
I hadn’t seen more than a couple women at the other 17 breweries we’d been to, yet inside New Belgium the females outnumbered the men, all of them clinging tightly to their male counter part’s arms as they daintily took sips of their beers, usually grimacing in anguish at a beer that didn’t taste like Bud Light. We took a seat at the bar, and after surveying the scene, Paul turned to me and mumbled, “Fucking terrorists.” He was right about the crowd, but I wasn’t going to let it ruin my New Belgium experience. I convinced myself that the crowd was due to the popularity of their beer.
We waited around for about 10 minutes to be served – I can’t blame the bartenders, the place was packed. Eventually, a flustered server brought us over a piece of paper with a checklist of beers on tap. He told us to pick the four beers we’d like to try and left us to our decision making.
Being a big New Belgium fan, I had already tasted most of the brews they had to offer: Sunshine’s citrus zest, Trippel’s fruity hops, 1554’s version of stout light, and Abbey, a malty journey that challenges the crown that Fat Tire holds in the kingdom of New Belgium (Mothership Whit, Skinny Dip, and Blue Paddle are like the red headed step-children I don’t acknowledge). I decided to try the three unfamiliar flavors (Old Cherry, Loose Lips, and Mighty Arrow) and chose Fat Tire for my final taster. I figured when you’re on Mount Olympus, you have to try the ambrosia.
When we handed in our slips the bartender glanced at them, grimaced, and handed them back. “You guys need to answer the question of the day.”
“What?” I asked in confusion.
“The question of the day: what super power would you have if you could have any?” He pointed to the bottom of the checklist as I pondered a question that sounded reminiscent of an 8th grade journal topic. I thought back to when my brothers and I would visit my grandparent’s farmhouse and wear dishtowels as capes. We decorated them with markers: I was Lightning Boy, Alex was Fire Man, and my brother Nick was Everything Man (basically, he had every power you could imagine, which in hindsight was pretty much bullshit). I contemplated jotting down Everything-Man, but decided upon the power of reading minds, simply because Matt Parkman is easily my favorite character on “Heroes” (You know, that super heroe show that was good for a season and a half?). Sure, there’s the goofy Hiro, the cute Cheerleader, and the brooding Peter Petrelli, but Parkman is just some dude. Not a complex character, not funny, not adorable: just an everyday guy who just so happens to read minds.
The bartender picked up our slips again, and didn’t seem too impressed with my choice of “reading minds”. After another 10 minute wait, four small glasses were placed in front of us containing a rainbow of brew colors, from gold to brown.
First up, Old Cherry made me wince in a cough syrup kind of way. But then again, I wasn’t expecting much. I love eating cherries, yet I don’t think I’ve ever tasted something cherry flavored that I’ve enjoyed. I followed this up with Mighty Arrow, New Belgium’s version of a pale ale, and after all the amazing pales I tasted in Montana and Idaho, it paled in comparison. Strike 2. I didn’t know what to expect with the Loose Lips, and it’s a good thing I wasn’t expecting much, because it was pitiful…just plain pitiful. I should have known; loose lips are never, never a good thing.
Finally, after this series of brutal disappointments, I came to my saving grace: Fat Tire. I sniffed the frothy head, cherishing every moment, looking for one last beacon of hope amidst my day of disenchantment at New Belgium. But for some reason, after an hour surrounded by terrorists, gaudy decorations, and a series of ever worsening brews, the Fat Tire didn’t taste quite right. Maybe it was in my head, but the nutty undertones were gone, the refreshing finish vanished, the chocolaty aftertaste unrecognizable. Maybe the poison’s I drank moments before deadened my taste buds, or maybe my anticipation guaranteed disappointment. Whatever the case, my visit to New Belgium ended up being a bust. The curtain had been pulled back by little Toto (or Paul), and the money making tourist machine of New Belgium had been exposed.
Behind Curtain #1: Comercialism
As I dragged my feet back to the car, Paul mocked my discontent, “I told you it would suck. New Belgium are sellouts.” I ignored his taunting, got in the car, and put the key in the ignition.
“Where to next,” I mumbled.
“O’Dell’s my friend. You will not be disappointed in them.” I scoffed at his confidence and drove around the block toward O’Dells. You have to love a town with four breweries located within a block of each other.
Remember when Mr. Roger's could drive a block one way and be on Broadway and drive a block the other way and be at a hotdog factory? Fort Collins except it's beer both ways.
Like New Belgium, O’Dell’s had all the trappings of a widely distributed brewery but lacked the packed parking lot. Inside the walls were decorated with beautiful oil paintings depicting the labels of the various beers on tap. We walked to the register and were greeted by a skinny hippie chick with shoulder length blond hair.
“Hey boys, can I get you a sampler or a pint?”
Paul and I shared smiles and told her a sampler sounded perfect. She left to fill our beers as we looked around in awe at the spectacular surroundings. When she returned she held a thick 2 X 4 with holes cut in it to hold six large sampler glasses filled with beer of gold, brown, and amber.
After paying she commented, “By the way, I love the shirt.” I looked down to see I was wearing my worn out, stinky Built to Spill t-shirt.
“Oh…thanks,” I sheepishly answered.
“Yeah, I almost got Doug Marsh to perform at my wedding.”
“Whoah, that would rule,” Paul commented.
“Yeah, unfortunately the band was touring out east at the time…anyways, enjoy your beers. The IPA is amazing.” A girl who appreciates a hoppy IPA and Built to Spill? I envied the man who found a girl with such great taste.
We took a seat near the back and prepared for our trip down O’Dell lane. I sat staring at our wide array of choices, trying to decide which would be the perfect choice for beginning our drinking journey.
I tried the IPA first, and Built to Spill girl couldn’t have been more right. All of the beers on our wooden platter were as amazing as the Built to Spill music catalog, but if the IPA were a song it would be “Carry the Zero”, a notch above the rest.
If only this song had come out when I was 10, I would have been good at math:
While Paul and I conversed over some of the best beer we had the entire trip, I noticed a couple guys next to us sitting with a tall brunette. One of them was wearing a No Fear cap backwards and chomped away at his gum as he sipped on the Cut-Throat Porter. This irritated me to no end. “Paul, look at that douche over their chewing his Juicy Fruit while drinking these beers.”
Paul began to laugh, saying, “Dude, you’re just like the guy from ‘Sideways’, freaking out about his buddy chewing gum while drinking wine.” I joined in on the laughter, realizing I’d transformed into a beer snob during our brewery tour, a road trip that originally spawned from the classic Alexander Payne film.
I continued watching the douchey group of two red necks and a hot brunette, occasionally making eye contact with the towering vixen. Like I’d done many times before on the trip, I wondered if one of the dudes was a boyfriend. If they were, I didn’t think they would have appreciated her glancing at me once every minute. Was she checking me out, or was I creeping her out? If only I were Matt Parkman…
Finishing up our tour, feeling hopped up from the welcoming atmosphere and stupendous brews, we noticed a nearby table with a different sampler that contained only four beers. Once finished, feeling quite accomplished, we returned to the counter and asked Built to Spill girl about the four beer sampler. She informed us of the Specialty Sampler comprised of all their recent seasonals and cask brews. We ordered up a round of specialties, had a little more small talk about Built to Spill with her, and returned to our table to continue our path to Shit-Faced Town.
The new four beers were surprisingly even better than the original six, although our inebriation may have been overpowering our taste buds at that point. The stout was especially potent packing a powerful burst of flavor to our palettes, mixing the hints of espresso, chocolate, and malts into a creamy poison fit for King Mithridates. Paul fell in love with the stout proclaiming it his favorite of the trip (I don’t get Paul’s love of stouts considering he despises the taste of coffee). He decided to approach the counter to buy a growler of the stouty goodness so he could enjoy the brew while back home in Nebraska. A few minutes later he returned, not with a growler of black gold, but two pints of the coffee black liquid.
“The guy at the counter rules. He said they don’t sell the stout in growler because it’s a limited edition special reserve, so I just started going on and on about how it’s the best stout we’ve had on our brewery tour and that we really wanted to take some to appreciate back home. I think he might be the brew master or something because he talked about how proud he was of this batch and said we could have a couple free pints to appreciate the stout one more time.” Overflowing samplers, flavorful brews abound, and free pints of the greatest stout in the United States? Our O’Dell experience was possibly the best yet brewery-wise. After the disappointment that was New Belgium, O’Dell’s totally redeemed our day. We sipped our brews slowly, savoring each drop, while talking endlessly about our incredible road trip.
As I watched the pint slowly evaporate the next half hour, I knew that just like that pint of heavenly goodness, our road trip would soon be finished, and all we would be left with were the memories. I knew I’d have many more tasty stouts in my future and that more summer road trips laid in the years ahead, but none would be quite like the one I’d just experienced. As I sipped the last drops of the stout, I let it sit upon my tongue just a little bit longer, letting the flavor soak deep into the recesses of my memory.
Savoring the last bit of our trip.