A few days before Loveland’s Grimm Brothers Brewhouse was set to open in 2010, owners Aaron Heaton and Don Chapman had good reason to panic: Their keg supplier never showed up. The duo were strapped for cash, and had just 16 keg barrels (i.e. small pickin’s for a brewery opening). They made a few calls to fellow northern Colorado brewers Odell and New Belgium, and offered payment to rent kegs. Both breweries declined to accept payment. Instead, they offered Grimm Brothers some of their own kegs—for free.
That sense of community is what Brea Hoffman, author of Fort Collins Beer: A History of Brewing on the Front Range, pointed to when she was asked about what makes Fort Collins’ brewing culture so special. Her book, which essentially chronicles brewing in Fort Collins, weaves in story after story as she highlights what’s best about breweries in For Collins: the community, collaboration, and (obviously) excellent brews.
But that community, Hoffman writes, was only able to blossom after Fort Collins modified its laws. It wasn’t even until the ’60s that the small college town ended the liquor ban that began in 1896—24 years before the United States instituted its own ban on alcohol.
In 1989, Fort Collins finally changed its laws to allow beer manufacturers to sell directly to customers. Within five years of the laws changing, both Odell and New Belgium had begun commercial operations, and set the stage for many breweries to follow.
“There are breweries would not exist if it weren’t for the help of New Belgium and Odell,” Hoffman says. “Obviously, everyone is scrambling for the same dollars, but in Fort Collins, there’s a real sense of community—and it’s those breweries that shaped the community.”
There are stretches of the book—such as the pages dedicated to Fort Collins’ extremely fresh water from the Poudre River—that get a bit dense and monotonous, but the personal accounts of the Fort Collins brewing community is where the book shines. Backstories behind some of Odell’s and New Belgium’s iconic brews provide plenty of trivia that true beer geeks will likely fawn over.
“I couldn’t believe that no one had written a history on Fort Collins beer before,” says Hoffman, who attended Colorado State University and who’s lived in Colorado for the past 25 years. Arcadia Publishing, which reached out to Hoffman with the idea for this book, has already published historical accounts of brewing in New Jersey and Portland. Fort Collins Beer marks the beginning of what Hoffman hopes will become a series of books that focus on brewing history all over Colorado.
Hoffman will be at the Tattered Cover Book Store in LoDo on August 10, and will be at the BookBar on August 11. Fort Collins Beer: A History of Brewing on the Front Range is available for purchase from multiple locations as well as online.