Vail Daily travel feature: Fort Collins’ craft culture
If you go …
Fort Collins is around 160 miles from Vail, or about a 2-hour-and-40-minute drive, if the weather isn’t bad and you don’t hit Denver traffic.
Where to stay: The Armstrong Hotel, located at 259 South College Avenue, is in the center of Old Town. While it’s not the quietest hotel due to its proximity to a vibrant bar and restaurant scene in a college town, its location is ideal. It’s within walking distance of the best shops, restaurants, breweries and bars in the town and a short drive from a few other bigger breweries, like Odells, New Belgium and Fort Collins Brewery. The hotel is also a historic landmark — it dates back to 1923, though it was redone in 2004 when the new owners acquired it. Be sure to say hello to the hotel’s resident cat, Oreo. Rooms start at $150/night during the winter months. Visit www.thearmstronghotel.com to learn more.
FORT COLLINS — With 15 breweries (and three more on the way), Fort Collins has long been synonymous with craft beer. That reputation still stands, and it has also paved the way for a larger craft culture that’s flourishing. You can find small batch chocolate, hard cider made from apple trees growing in residents’ backyards, wine from nearby vineyards and even terrific locally-made hot sauce. In short, there’s a lot to eat, drink, experience and enjoy in this charming college town, making it a worthwhile destination for a weekend getaway and Christmas shopping destination.
SASSY (HOT) SAUCE
Start off your day with breakfast at Choice City Butcher & Deli (104 W. Olive St.) in Old Town. Opt for corned buffalo instead of the usual beef on the Choice City Hash, served atop potato cakes with two eggs any style. Just a few blocks down the street, the Opera Galleria (123 N. College Ave.) building is home to the Fort Collins Winter Market, held twice a month. The town’s dedication to all things homemade is overwhelmingly evident at the market, which takes place from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on various Saturdays during the winter (Dec. 13 and 20; Jan. 10 and 24; Feb. 14 and 28; March 7 and 28; April 11). Along with tables full of beautiful produce, like fresh greens, root veggies, onions, squash and more, we sampled cranberry lavender kombucha from Denver-based Happy Leaf Kombucha, gawked at beautiful fungi from Hazel Dell Mushroom Farms, sampled soft cheeses from the Fort Collins-based MouCo Cheese Co. (the Trufello, a truffled camembert, was our favorite), and admired beautiful hand-knit hats made by Jen Atchison, of LPCrochet. Even though it wasn’t quite noon, we were easily persuaded to sample wine from Blue Mountain Vineyards, a winery based in Berthoud. I’m not generally a fan of Rieslings, but theirs was delicious: slightly sweet with hints of apple and pear. At the Horsetooth Hot Sauce booth, I picked up a few bottles of the Melt Your Face, made with ghost peppers, and the sassy Naughty #4, a spicy-sweet blend of scotch bonnet peppers and mango. At the last second, I added a bottle of the company’s spicy bloody Mary mix, “The Wake Up Call,” as a gift for my brother, who loves a good bloody.
Don’t forget to stop by Branch Out Cider and try the dry sparkling cider. Made from apples grown on trees throughout the community, the “apple wine,” as owners Matt Fater and Aaron Fodge refer to it, is the epitome of collaborative agriculture and is very tasty. Locals can join Branch Out Cider’s community orchard by registering their tree online. Participating tree owners get a chance to purchase discounted bottles of the apple wine before it’s made available to the public.
If you find yourself in Fort Collins before the holidays, this market is a great place to pick up Christmas gifts, and if you don’t find what you’re looking for there, the surrounding shops have a ton of options. Stop by The Perennial Gardener (154 N. College Ave.) and the adjoining store, A Sense of Place, for holiday decorations, flower bulbs, home decor and even Fort Collins-centric signs and gift items. Across the street, the Clothes Pony & Dandelion Toys (111 N. College Ave.) is super eclectic, with everything from puppets and great children’s books to a large selection of children’s clothing, educational toys and even cloth diaper supplies. What’s best is how kid-friendly it is, with tons of toys out for little ones to test. There’s even a long-haired black bunny rabbit for kids to visit at the store. In Mugs Coffee Lounge, located in the same building as the Armstrong Hotel, order a delicious latte and be sure to check out the photo cards featuring the work of talented photographer Erin Thames.
For lunch, head to Gravity 1020, a modern eatery inside the Fort Collins Brewery (1020 East Lincoln Ave.). There’s house-brewed ciders and root beer along with a large selection of beers. Try a taster flight of the full-time beers for $5 or the seasonal selection for $7. Or opt for a 10-ounce beer for $3. Dark Side of Pumpkin stout is a dark and tasty beer with a subtler pumpkin flavor than most. To start, order the bacon-wrapped pretzels, served with two dipping sauces: Haus Brew Black IPA cheese soup and IPA stone-ground mustard. Keep the bacon theme going with The Speakeasy sandwich — turkey, pecan-smoked bacon, arugula, red onion, dill Havarti cheese and honey mustard piled on a croissant.
If there’s still room in your tummy for dessert, AKA another beer, stop in at Odell Brewing Co. (800 E. Lincoln Ave.) next door. The brewery completed its expansion in 2013 and now has an outdoor fire pit perfect for sipping a beer on those cold weather days.
If it does happen to be snowing on a day you visit and you need a break from the cold, consider stopping in at the Fort Collins Museum of Discovery (408 Mason Court). This year marks Fort Collins’ 150-year anniversary and the museum has a special exhibit called Fort Collins 150 on display now. The museum solicited stories from residents about what they thought made Fort Collins the city it is today and built the exhibit around those stories.
For more about what to eat, drink, see and do while you’re in Fort Collins, visit http://www.visitftcollins.com.
High Life Editor Caramie Schnell can be reached at email@example.com and 970-748-2984.