Words & Photos - Matthew Curtis. Read part one before reading on... if you like.
The Mayor's 100 taps were a sight for sore eyes
So I've arrived in Fort Collins once again and now I have a mere twenty four hours to try and adjust to the time difference before my Dad and I jet off on another beer adventure in Portland, Oregon. As we have an early flight the following morning we decide that taking it easy is the best course of action and so we'll only visit the Mayor for a few lunchtime beers, hit just the one brewery and then have a relaxing evening at his house enjoying a few bottles, too easy.
It's a fantastic feeling returning to my favourite bar, the Mayor of Old Town, which feels like my local despite it being over 5000 miles away from where I live. We are welcomed with open arms by bar manager Michelle and owner Kevin and no sooner than we're seated at the bar we are handed a taster of 'Fat Old Sun' a delicious, bitter-sweet double IPA that the Mayor brewed in collaboration with Odell Brewing. I immediately see about thirty or forty beers out of their huge range of 100 draught beers that I've wanted to try for ages and I plump for a Lagunitas Sucks double IPA while my Dad plumps for an Avery Maharajah because we're taking it easy and following one double IPA with another seems like a pretty sensible idea.
The Lagunitas sucks has all the qualities I LOVE about west coast IPA, its huge, rich malty base is smothered with bitter lemon, orange rind and pithy grapefruit, it's a zingy, fruity hop bomb and the best beer I've had from this San Francisco based brewery to date, I can't wait for them to start exporting to the UK later on this year. My Dad and I swap glasses, by contrast the Maharajah has much more malt character, like a pancake covered in maple syrup with a big hit of pine resin on the side, it's another stunner of a beer but I prefer the Lagunitas so we swap back and my Dad pours a little water in his Maharajah which actually subdues the resinous quality and brings out the citrus flavours but is still sacrilege in my mind.
We order some lunch and some more beers, I've only time for one more and the decision is tough as there is so much good stuff on tap. A photographer is snapping away in the background, Michelle tells us he's from Beer Advocate and that she's going to be on the cover of the latest issue of their magazine (which is out now, by the by, but is not available to us lowly Britons) while she serves me my Breckenridge 471 small batch IPA, another double IPA because I'm being sensible. The 471 has a lovely herbal, grassy quality along with hints of lemongrass and pine but I'm left wanting another Lagunitas, a beer that most definitely does not suck and is going to take some beating on this trip I tell's ya.
Before we depart Michelle says she's got a few special bottles she'd like to share with us that evening when she clocks off, how could we refuse, so plans were altered and we decided to return to the Mayor that evening but just for a couple because we're taking it easy, right? We jump in the car and head south down College Avenue to Fort Collins newest brewery, Black Bottle which I believe brings the total City brewery count to a mere twelve. The branding on the outside of the building is strong and enticing and I can already see that the place is still busy with a lunchtime crowd despite it being well past lunchtime. The bar is smart, modern and yet warm and inviting and as we take our seats at the bar I wonder to myself what Black Bottle are doing differently to try and stand out in a town that already has a huge beer scene.
Enjoying a tasting flight at Black Bottle Brewery
The most obvious difference here is that of the forty taps behind the bar only seven of them are pouring their own beer while the rest of them have a selection of local and not so local American craft beers as well as a few classic Belgian draughts on tap. However tempted I am by those Belgian brews it's against my rules for me to drink them when I'm in the States but this time it was easy to resist their wily charms as I'm here to try Black Bottles beers exclusively and so we order a tasting flight so that we can try all seven of their current draught offerings.
First up is Liquid Metal, an imperial oatmeal stout which is rich with molasses, cane sugar and vanilla flavours backed up by a burnt toast bitterness, it's lovely stuff. The next beer, their 'Hipster' IPA is a solid brew but for me needed a little more fruit on the palate rather than just bitterness to balance it properly but it's tough being a young IPA in a town that brews some of the best old heavyweights around and besides, every beer that afternoon was now being compared to that sublime glass of Lagunitas Sucks... A pleasant enough Belgian Blonde named Social Security followed the IPA but it was their Black IPA, Aviation Cocktail which really took my breath away and was the pick of the Black Bottle beers for me. Delicious pine and grapefruit mingled beautifully with just a hint of burnt toast and the tiniest amount of black treacle creating a near perfect balance between the malt and hops, I could've ordered a whole pint right there and then but we still had three more tasters to work through and they weren't small servings.
Dad and I both really enjoyed I'm Barely Wine Barley Wine but felt that it didn't really fall into the Barley Wine category and was more like a double IPA. Instead of the rich fruit cake and alcohol laden hit I look for in this style we were greeted with a bouquet of floral, grassy hops, perhaps it needs a little longer to mature so that it may reach it's barley wine potential but it was still a great beer. I'll quickly skim over the Holy Shit Double Wit as it just wasn't for me but the final beer in the flight, There goes the Neighbourhood was an excellent take on a Belgian Saison with fresh, grassy hops dancing around with funky yeast esters, delightful stuff.
So the verdict on Black Bottle? Well Fort Collins can proudly add yet another excellent brewery to its portfolio, seriously though where do these excellent North Colorado breweries keep coming from!? I became rather enamoured with their branding whilst supping away so came away with a tee shirt which I can tell you is currently a bit of a nipple chafer but like a good imperial stout, I'm expecting it to mellow with age.
So Dad and I have made it half way through our day of taking it easy, we headed home for a rest and a change before we decided to head out for a bite to eat and then a couple of quiet pints before an early night... but you already know that's not quite how it happened, right?