Twenty-five years ago Doug Odell of Odell Brewing Company, Scott Smith & Brad Page of CooperSmith’s Pub & Brewing and Maggie Kunze of the Fort Collins’ Downtown Business Association put their collective heads together to form the humble beginnings of the Colorado Brewers’ Festival (COBF). When the COBF started in 1990, there were only 11 breweries operating statewide in Colorado: Odell Brewing, CooperSmith's, Boulder Beer, Walnut Brewery, Wynkoop, Old Colorado Brewing Co., Breckenridge Brewery, Durango Brewery, Carver Brewing Co., Coors Brewing Company, and Anheuser-Busch. All eleven of these breweries were present for the inaugural festival in 1990, and would eventually help put Fort Collins on the map as a destination for craft beer. The COBF started with simple goals: to promote Colorado breweries, encourage togetherness and cooperation amongst fellow brewers, and to teach the populace what craft beer was all about. It’s fair to say that the results of these efforts have far exceeded what anyone imagined.
Today, there are hundreds of breweries in Colorado, and this year’s event brings more than 50 Colorado Breweries to Fort Collins for two days on the 28th and 29th of June. The COBF used to occur directly inside Old Town Fort Collins, but as the festival grew it was moved to its current location in Civic Center Park area near the intersection of Howes and LaPorte streets. Much has changed over the years with the COBF, but it’s important to point out that the focus of educating the populace about craft beer hasn’t changed.
To celebrate its silver anniversary, the COBF decided to give free admission into the festival grounds (you still need to pay for the beer though), while having plenty of other activities as well. Attendees can listen to music played by a host of Colorado bands in Civic Center Park, a section at the festival labeled the “wilderness area” that hosts a zipline, rock climbing, mechanical bull riding and a bungee trampoline. On Friday June 27th the COBF offers the “All Brewers’ Eve” from 6pm to 9pm. This pre-festival treat brings the education of craft beer to those who thirst for more knowledge. For $60 per person one can sample rare limited craft beers, partake of a beer dinner, and visit with brewers and master brewers from all over Colorado. If that’s not enough, you can go to “The Summit” area of the festival grounds where the industry experts from High Hops Brewery, Colorado State University’s Beer Brewing Institute, and New Belgium Brewing will expound on subjects like: How to grow your own hops plants, how higher education is getting involved with the brewing industry, and ancient brewing styles. All this and plenty of food from local food vendors, too. Everything the COBF brings to the table illustrates the importance of craft beer culture for not only Fort Collins, but also the surrounding area, and the state of Colorado as well.
Since the COBF started a quarter century ago, you can track not only the growth of the COBF but also the growth of Fort Collins’ beer culture, how this spilled over into other neighboring towns, and how this contributed to the local economy. As stated earlier, the COBF started out with 11 breweries and now will have over 50 breweries from all over Colorado participating this year. In comparison, Fort Collins started out with just several breweries in the 1980s where now it has 13 breweries (with a 14th coming this summer called Zwei Bruder Brewing), and even more in close-by townships. At the heart of this is a variety of choices in breweries to visit, but also a variety of beers to choose from. This lies at the heart of the local craft beer culture which has introduced beers to people who might have never thought beer was a choice for them or introduced new styles of beer to those thirsty for more. Also, this craft beer culture has put Fort Collins on the map as a destination for great beer, and has brought people to the area from all over United States. Thus, the local economy has grown with this craft beer culture and the COBF has been there growing right along with it. In 2010, the breweries in this area contributed to 2,488 jobs, supported almost $310 million in output locally, and added almost $142 million to local payrolls. Moreover, local breweries like New Belgium Brewing and Odell Brewing Company have expanded their reach outside the state of Colorado. New Belgium currently has a brewery planned in Asheville, North Carolina in 2015 to feed the East Coast thirst for Fat Tire Ale, and Odell Brewing already has a brewery built in Arizona and recently expanded their output to supply Austin, Texas. All this, and the COBF has been along for ride with the craft beer growth from the beginning.
By itself, twenty five years alone says a lot about the COBF, but the growth of the COBF, the local beer culture, the local economy, and the breweries themselves says a whole lot more about the importance of the COBF to Fort Collins. That’s not to say that the COBF has caused all this to happen over the years, but it’s been there the whole stretch bringing brewers together in collaborative ways, showcasing new Colorado beers for beer enthusiasts, and most importantly showing that Fort Collins has a craft beer culture worth discovering. For those who haven’t been to the COBF or visited any of our local breweries yet, this is truly the time to get here and do just that. Coming from its humble beginnings, the COBF has proven to be one of the biggest attractions in Fort Collins where, on average, it brings in around 30,000 attendees every year now. Now that’s worth raising a pint of your favorite craft beer to. Here’s to the next twenty five years of the COBF! Cheers!