If you go
What: 25th Colorado Brewers' Festival
When: 11 a.m.-5 p.m. June 28-29
Where: Civic Center Park, Laporte Avenue and North Howes Street, downtown Fort Collins
Tickets: Admission is free. Festival Buck tickets for beer tasting are for sale; packages available in advance online and at the event
Info: 970-484-6500 or downtownfortcollins.com
Craft beer had an identity crisis in the late 1980s — mainly that it had no identity.
There was a groundswell of activity in the Pacific Northwest and other pockets of the country, but for the most part, craft beer was a novelty, if consumers knew what "craft beer" was at all.
"When we started, people thought beer was light American lager and that was it," said Doug Odell, who founded Odell Brewing Co. in 1989 in Fort Collins. "We needed to help people understand what we were trying to do."
Brad Page, one of the original brewers at Denver's Wynkoop Brewing Co., opened CooperSmith's Pub & Brewing in downtown Fort Collins, along with partner Scott Smith, within two weeks of Odell. After attending the Oregon Brewers Festival and seeing how the event helped bring together regional brewers and promote the budding industry, Page proposed hosting a similar festival in Fort Collins.
Odell Brewing and CooperSmith's partnered with the Downtown Fort Collins Business Association to put on the first Colorado Brewers' Festival in Fort Collins in 1990.
Today, Fort Collins is a craft-beer hotbed in a state known for great beer, and hardly a summer weekend goes by when there aren't at least a few beer festivals happening somewhere in Colorado. But in 1990, there were only 11 breweries operating statewide, and the Colorado Brewers' Festival was instrumental in fostering community among the brewers and in promoting craft beer.
"That was in the days when craft beer was looked at as an oddity and not really a legitimate industry," Page said. "It was also the first time all the microbreweries got together in one place, and I think (the festival) really did help encourage camaraderie among all of us."
In addition to Odell Brewing and CooperSmith's, Old Colorado Brewing Co., Boulder Beer, Walnut Brewery, Wynkoop, Breckenridge Brewery, Durango Brewery, Carver Brewing Co., Coors and Budweiser all were represented at the inaugural Colorado Brewers' Festival.
Said Odell: "We thought it was pretty good that we were able to get all 11 breweries in the state together."
There are currently more than 230 breweries and brewpubs in Colorado, more than 50 of which will be represented at the 25th Colorado Brewers' Festival, scheduled for June 28-29 in downtown Fort Collins.
Kickoff events include COBF Beer Week, which leads up to the festival with beer tours, dining and beer specials around town, as well as an All Brewers' Eve beer dinner from 6 to 9 p.m. June 27, and a COBF Breakfast and Brews event at 9 a.m. June 28.
There's no cost to enter the festival, which includes themed areas such as "The Wilderness" with a zip-line and climbing wall, "The Backcountry," which features Colorado-made products, and "The Summit," sponsored by the Colorado Brewers Guild and featuring educational presentations as well as specialty beers throughout the weekend.
Patrons 21 and older can purchase beer tickets individually or a Beer Package ($20 in advance online or at the event) that includes 10 tasting tickets. Buyers of the online Beer Package also receive a commemorative tasting glass and entry in a drawing to win a Year of Beer from Odell.
Proceeds from the Colorado Brewers' Festival help fund activities and programs in downtown Fort Collins.
For the first time, this year's festival will feature different beers from each brewery on each day of the two-day event, as well as ciders and a special anniversary ale.
Odell and Page recently collaborated to brew the official 25th anniversary beer.
"It was fun brewing with Doug on his old pilot system in the midst of all the giant brewery madness that was going on around us," said Page, who has since founded Colorado Cider Co. in Denver.
The anniversary beer is brewed with 50 gallons of the apple juice Page uses in making his ciders for a lightly hopped, tart-apple ale that's designed to be a refreshing summer drink.
Looking back on the past 25 years and the ensuing growth, Odell sees a correlation between early awareness-raising efforts such as the Colorado Brewers' Festival and the current state of Colorado's multimillion-dollar beer industry.
"There's been a symbiotic relationship between the festival and growth of craft beer in Colorado," Odell said. "Some of the early interest can be attributed to the fest and other fests like it, and the intense interest in craft beer is what drives these festivals and events today. It's worked both ways."
Contact Tom Wilmes at firstname.lastname@example.org.