How Fort Collins Became the Mecca of Breweries
The "Choice City" is the official nickname of the city of Fort Collins, and although there's no real definitive history as to why that was chosen or when it stuck, it certainly applies today when you're talking about the plethora of local beers and Fort Collins, Colorado, breweries to choose from. Of course, you could always refer to Fort Collins by its other unofficial nickname: "The Napa Valley of beer."
The city, ironically enough, was one of the last in the United States with an alcohol prohibition law on the books until 1969, almost 40 years past the point the law was repealed nationally. The '70s brought economic incentives and a shift in public attitude toward alcohol and beer in general, ultimately leading to the thriving Fort Collins brewery industry we know today.
In 1980, when Anheuser-Busch made a bid to open a brewery in Fort Collins, it was met with trepidation by residents, to say the least. Environmental concerns, not to mention a fear of the brewer using up too much water, were top of the list as to why people thought it was a bad idea. After a long PR campaign to win hearts and minds, Anheuser-Busch in 1988 opened its Fort Collins brewery north of town, where it still brews 33 of its beers today.
At the same time Anheuser-Busch was wooing the residents of Fort Collins with pro-beer propaganda, the home brewing boom of the '80s was taking off. People around the city, and in fact, across America, were doing their best Back to the Future Doc Brown-esque science experiments to make what was probably some really awful tasting beers in their kitchens, basements, or garages.
Add to that interest of DIY beer a pristine and pure source of water coming from the Rocky Mountains via the Cache la Poudre River and people started to figure out the city was the perfect spot for Fort Collins brewery bliss that ultimately could prove big business.
And so the Fort Collins, Colorado, breweries boom began.
Fort Collins brewery history
November 1989 is when it all started to come together as Fort Collins' first local brew pub opened. That honor belongs to CooperSmith's, named after founder Scott Smith's son Cooper. US Sen. John Hickenlooper, then just a Denver beer guy himself, helped Smith launch the Old Town Fort Collins staple.
Just two weeks later, Doug, Wynn and Corkie Odell opened their own namesake, Odell Brewing Co. They have the honor of being the first Fort Collins brewery to package and sell their beers elsewhere, not just offer them in a pub setting.
And two years after that came arguably Fort Collins' most successful craft brewery of them all, now the fourth largest in the US, according to some sources, New Belgium Brewing Co. Others actually consider New Belgium too big and successful to any longer be considered a "craft brewery," after expansion to Asheville, North Carolina, in 2016 and being sold to Little World Beverages in 2019.
Soon after the first local breweries started popping up, the Fort Collins Downtown Development Authority saw the opportunity and embraced the industry, offering incentives and promotion for breweries as tourist attractions. It even established what's referred to as the "Brewmuda Triangle," which is a geographic area that used to be the Great Western Sugar Factory with the three tips of the triangle being New Beligum, Odell and the now-defunct Fort Collins Brewery.
Such friendly business conditions, an abundance of pure Rocky Mountain water and a couple of generations of local beer fans living in the city, Fort Collins has truly become a craft brew fan's dream. Boasting the ninth most breweries per 100,000 residents in the United States, and the fourth highest number of beers per establishment nationally, it is truly considered the Mecca of Breweries, rivaling any other city in the United States.