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Monday, August 14, 2006

Beer Trip II: Day Four Recap

Day Four of Beer Trip II was a really, really good day. We started up later than usual, because we had a 11:30 AM VIP tour at the New Belgium Brewing Company. To be honest, I wasn’t really sure what to expect from a “VIP Tour” at New Belgium. You see, a while back, I was at a liquor store where I was buying some New Belgium 1554 (because we were brewing a clone of it). I was looking to see what else was at the liquor store when I overheard a couple of guys talking about New Belgium. I looked up, and one was an employee of the liquor store and the other guy was wearing a New Belgium jacket. The employee walked away, and I went up to the New Belgium guy and said, “Sorry, but I overheard you talking. Do you work for New Belgium?” He said he did and told me his name was Scott. We were talking about their beer “Two Below,” because I wondered if they were going to bottle it. He said it was just on draft only for now, and then we proceeded to talk about beer for a few minutes. At the end of the conversation, he said, “If you ever go to Fort Collins, you’ll need to stop by the brewery for a tour.” I responded, “Actually, I’ll be going there in August on a beer trip with some friends, and we are definitely going to be going there.” He seemed kinda surprised, in a good way, we talked for a few more minutes about Beer Trip II. Then he said, “Here’s my card. Send me an email when you know when you’ll be there, and I’ll set you up with a VIP tour.” And we went on our ways. A couple days later I emailed him thanking him for taking the time to just talk beer with me for a few minutes. Back in April, when we locked down the time when we’d be in Fort Collins, I emailed him again, and he told me he’d work on setting up a VIP tour for us. He emailed me later that same day with a day and time. That was about the extent of it. A couple weeks before we left on Beer Trip II, I emailed him again, just to make sure everything was set, and he said it was fine, just to show up there a little before 11:30 AM to check in.

So we get up to the brewery about 11:10 AM and go to check in. One thing we weren’t expecting though: the place was packed. I mean, really packed. We had to park on the street because the parking lot was full. I waited in line to tell the bartender we were there, and the line took forever. And you could see that there was a huge tour (probably 40 people) in progress already, so I was a little concerned that we’d get the same deal. Eventually, I got to the bar, told the lady why we were there, and she seemed really excited about it and went to the back. She came out a few seconds later, told us to wait at the side of the bar, and that Matt would be coming out to give us our tour. Matt came out, and we (just the four of us and Matt) started the tour.

Let me start out the tour portion of this entry by telling you that this wasn’t a typical tour at all. This was a genuine VIP tour. Many of the things we did are not allowed on most tours, for safety reasons. The tour started out like most tours with the history of the company. In New Belgium’s case, it wasn’t too different than other companies’ beginnings (the founder liked the beer he had when he was on vacation in Belgium and decided to make his own beer because he couldn’t get that style of beer here in the States). Matt explained the history more in depth because the tour ahead of us was still in the main room, but it was pretty interesting still. We eventually went into that room, and Matt showed us their first equipment. Standard tour information, really, yet it was still kinda cool. We walked to the main room of the tour, and Matt showed us the tanks where they brew a batch occasionally, but they weren’t at that time. As the other tour went ahead, Matt pulled us over to a bar on the side and said that since we were homebrewers and knew our stuff, he was going to give us some samples earlier than they normally do of stuff you can’t get get or outside of the brewery, as well as their flagship beer, Fat Tire. The first beer was their Saison, and while I’m not a fan of the style, I did like theirs. Next was the Fat Tire, which I’ve had plenty of times before and think is pretty good. The last was a sample of their Abbey Grand Cru, and it was awesome. One of the best beers I ever had. I wish they sold it, but unfortunately, they don’t. Awesome stuff. We went on the tour a bit further, seeing and talking about typical tour things. Then Matt told us to put on our safety goggles. We did, and then he led us up a staircase to the roof. On the roof, he told us to start climbing, as we had to go up about four more flights of stairs to the very top of the brewery. Up there, you could see a beautiful view of Fort Collins and the Rocky Mountains. You could also see the Anheuser Busch brewery up the road, but who gives a shit? Up there we saw all of their brewing vessels, which contained about 12 million bottles of beer in them. We also got to see their water treatment plant from the roof, which they built themselves for themselves to not take a burden on the city’s treatment plant. The whole thing was really impressive, and not something you get on the standard tour.

We came down and back in, and next went through the bottling area, something that is a no-no on most other tours due to safety reasons. It was pretty interesting, for me. We walked around some more, and we went to their ten 500-gallon oak barrels where New Belgium makes their La Folie, a rare and expensive beer that is famous among the beer dork community. Matt told us not to tell anyone that we did it (so don’t tell anyone), but he let us drink some of the La Folie from the spicket of one of the barrels, and it was pretty yummy. He showed us around a lot of the normally “off-limits areas” to tours places, and even let Cruiser and I go down the employee slide. At the end of the tour, Matt said, “Well, Scott wanted me to treat you well, so we’re giving you guys six samples of our beer instead of the normal four that other tours get.” We thanked him, and then he said, “Also, we’re giving you guys each one free six-pack of your choice.” We were all pretty shocked about that, and thanked him again. Then he said, “And finally, we’re giving you guys 40% off of whatever you want, beer included.” We were really shocked. I was dumbfounded. Not only did they just give us by far the best brewery tour that I ever had been on with the coolest tour guide (although not as hot as the Boulder chick), but they were giving us free beer and a huge discount. Needless to say, I was in love with the place. I really want to move to Fort Collins and work for New Belgium. It was awesome.

After we left the brewery (where we probably spent about $250 combined as a group), we went to a liquor store on the way out of town. I only spent about $10, but the others got several boxes worth of beer. Then we were on our way to Cheyenne, where we went to the Snake River Pub and Grill, where the Shadows Brewing Company is located. The place was really cool, although they only had one beer of theirs on tap. Apparently they had a big festival a few days prior, and that was all they had. The one they did have was really good, as was the food, and soon we were on our way to North Platte, Nebraska where we were calling it a night. We did go to the hotel bar for a couple of beers (including a Fat Tire), and we called it a night. And so goes a long entry for Day Four.

I will be out of town for work the next three days, but I will try to post something (including Day Five) sometime soon for you. Later.

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