‘Drinking with thinking’ at the Colorado Brewers’ Festival

Jake Schwebach

Jonathan Jauregui throws a bean bag in front of the Verboten Brewing Tent. He first came to the Brewers' Festival 2 years ago with friends at the Sigma Lambda Beta chapter at CSU. He graduated from UNC.
Jonathan Jauregui throws a bean bag in front of the Verboten Brewing Tent. He first came to the Colorado Brewers’ Festival 2 years ago with friends from the Sigma Lambda Beta chapter at Colorado State University. He graduated from the University of Northern Colorado. (Photo credit: Jake Schwebach)

Editor’s note: A previous version of this article misstated that Adam Glaser is the head brewer of Fort Collins Brewery. The Collegian regrets its error.

People buzzed with excitement as the smell of beer overtook the summer air in downtown Fort Collins.

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The 26th annual Colorado Brewers’ Festival June 27 and 28 featured over 50 Colorado breweries and 100 beers.

Fort Collins is home to 14 breweries, making it the largest beer producer in Colorado.

Local restaurants, food trucks, retailers and breweries scattered the festival grounds. Live music was audible from nearly every corner. People walked between tents, stood in tasting lines or perched on the lawn in front of the stage.

Pat Fahey, one of the presenters at the Beer School tent, said tasting is “drinking with thinking,” a notion that helps breweries thrive and helps consumers engage with their drinks.

While Beer School was in session, Fahey said people swirl beer because it kicks up aromatic compounds which enhance the taste. Carbonation, bitter and sweet are all things you can taste but not smell. One might hear someone in the brewing industry describe a flavor as catty (cat pee), dank (marijuana), onion, garlic or diesel – notably enjoyable flavors to many.

Pat Fahey professes beer knowledge during "Beer School" at the Brewers' Festival. Fahey is from Chicago, IL.
Pat Fahey professes beer knowledge during Beer School at the Colorado Brewers’ Festival. Fahey is from Chicago, Illinois. (Photo credit: Jake Schwebach)

Spencer Branson, planning technician for the City of Fort Collins, noted the benefits that beer entrepreneurs bring to the community.

“The breweries are really ingrained in the fabric of the community,” Branson said. “It’s a really cool, hip place to live because of that. You get a lot of innovative people that come into town and (Fort Collins) is desirable for people to live because of this culture that the breweries have helped to create.”

Craft beer is part of Fort Collins’ genetic makeup, Branson said.

Jagged Mountain Brewer Adam Glaser said starting and managing a brewery is not an easy endeavor, despite its popularity.

“It’s just like any other small business out there,” Glaser said. “You’re putting your life and soul on the line. It’s a really neat industry to be a part of because we make happiness and enjoyment and excitement for everybody. How can you not love doing that? But we’re still risking everything.”

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One challenge for new entrepreneurs is finding a niche within a town that already has 14 breweries, Branson said.

“The most important thing is to be really good right now,” Branson said. “I’ve thought for a while, at different benchmarks, that the (brewery) market would be pretty close to saturated. And that’s proven to not (be true). Maybe we’re just getting there. The capacity for breweries to come in has been very impressive.”

In order to thrive, an impressive business model, unique atmosphere and outstanding beer are a must, Branson said.

Fahey said breweries must develop a knowledge base more extensive than its enthusiasts.

Kevin Figurski serves beer to festival-goers as a volunteer at the Brewers' Festival.
Kevin Figurski serves beer to festival-goers as a volunteer at the Colorado Brewers’ Festival. (Photo credit: Jake Schwebach)

Fahey works as a content manager for the Cicerone Certification Program. The program works to ensure proper handling and educate those within the beer industry so they can talk knowledgeably about the beer they sell, he said.

“What we’ve seen is that consumers are really enthusiastic about craft beer right now, and a lot of them are going out and getting educated,” Fahey said. “Where the problems came about was that you had people that were working in the beer industry who knew less than the people they were trying to serve and sell to.”

Branson said some in the community worry about the growing number of restaurants and bars compared to retail stores in downtown Fort Collins. The city is examining how to balance that ratio.

“There’s this area – we have the river district – that kind of is a link in a lot of ways to breweries. That’s an up-and-coming area,” Branson said. “It’s a new kind of district and area that is being developed heavily right now, and so we’re trying to establish that character and the way this historic corridor links to the downtown (and) to the breweries that are in the downtown area but kind of on the fringe.”

Branson said the city will continue to support the growing brewing community.

“We have a lot of people that support and embrace (the brewing) culture,” he said. “People want to see breweries succeed.”

Collegian Reporter Jake Schwebach can be reached at entertainment@collegian.com or on Twitter @jschway.