I feel like I blinked, and suddenly it was less than two weeks away from Christmas. Please tell me, where did the year go?
I had grand plans to attempt and blog three days a week for the bulk of this year, but life (and work) happened and here I’ve gone radio silent for 10 days. There’s so much to update you on over on the work front, which I promise to do soon. Admittedly, work aside, 2016 has been a bit of a rough one over in our neck of the woods for myriad reasons, so when I realized SVV and I had a chunk of Southwest credit—enough to fly us each somewhere close-ish (within three hours) and back for free—expiring on Dec. 6, I called up my friend Layne and asked if we could come to Colorado and see her and her husband Brian from Dec. 1 to 5.
She’s a hospitable kind of gal, and as you could probably guess based on the title of this post, she said “yes!” and I booked our flights that night. It might have been the most spontaneous trip planning I’ve ever done!
I also did absolutely no research about Fort Collins before we arrived—well, other than a quick Google of “breweries in Fort Collins” on my phone the night before our departure, which returned more than two dozen and a disclaimer that FoCo is one of the best beer towns in America. If I wasn’t already sold before that, I was now.
We decided to take Ella on this trip since we’d be staying with friends for a change and not in a hotel or an Airbnb. This wound up being a wise decision on our part as Fort Collins turned out to be a very pet-friendly city, particularly when it came to breweries, and Ella would not have wanted to miss out on the fun.
That girl loves her some beer!
When we landed mid-afternoon on a Thursday, we quickly retrieved our rental car from Enterprise—which cost us just $160 total for five days, I should add, since it wasn’t snowing and we didn’t need 4WD; Colorado road trips are pretty darn affordable, particularly when your lodging and airfare are free and you’re cooking some meals from home—and pulled into town not more than an hour later. Since it was just 3pm and Layne and Brian were still at work for another couple hours, we didn’t even bother stopping at their place; we went straight for the beer. (Duh.)
Normally, I’d have no desire to go to a big-name brewery, but I had heard New Belgium rocks, and I now agree with everyone who told me to go there. Even though it’s a big name brewery, it’s employee-owned (how cool is that?), super welcoming and has a craft brewery feel nonetheless. Not to mention, they have so many seasonal products like the Terroir (SVV’s favorite) and the Ben & Jerry’s Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Ale (need I tell you I bought two six-packs of these after a mere tasting?) that you can’t get elsewhere outside of Colorado (tl;dr go there if in Colorado).
After Layne got off work, we went to her cute house right on the Colorado State campus, then headed to The Colorado Room—where you can get every kind of slider imaginable—for dinner.
The next morning, we had planned to go to Estes Park, but a text from a friend over that way revealed that it was icy and the canyon socked in with fog, so we decided to hold off for a day. In the meantime, we went to the movies to see Arrival (where they served craft beer!) then headed to Maxline Brewery for a round afterward.
After I had a flight, we moved onto our next location, The Mayor of Old Town, which has more than 100 brews on tap. From there, we continued onto a local staple, Beau Jo’s, where we had Colorado-style pizza with a few of our Semester at Sea pals before continuing the party back at Layne and Brian’s place. It was a laid-back boozy day with no concrete plans, surrounded by friends, and I loved every second of it.
On Saturday morning, we got up and out of the house early on Saturday to go into Estes Park, which is about an hour and 15 minutes from Fort Collins, after a donut run for the road, of course (guys, if you ever go on a road trip with SVV and me, just know that donuts are a prerequisite).
It was bitterly windy out, and I’d say we dressed all wrong, particularly Ella who was just wearing her fleece lumberjack vest and little else.
Estes Park is situated in one of the prettiest valleys I’ve seen in Colorado, and there are viewpoints from every angle.
Do you recognize that brief glimpse of the Stanley Hotel, which served as Stephen King’s inspiration for The Shining?
Plus, it bears mentioning that it’s also the jumping off point for Rocky Mountain National Park.
This national park is steadily becoming more and more popular; a friend told us that Estes Park alone is seeing an increase in a million visitors annually who are coming to check out the scenery.
We did wind up going into the park ever so briefly, and instead of paying the $20 entry fee, Layne and Brian splurged on the annual national parks pass, which is just $80 and pays for itself if you visit a national park even once a quarter. SVV and I had one of these during our RV days, and I loved it—too bad we don’t live too close to many national parks, or we’d also invest.
It was, however, deceptively cold at just 20 degrees with a whipping wind and a frozen river, so SVV had some fun doing some ice skating sans skates.
If you’re heading into this park, be sure and check for road closures as there were many while we were there, despite the lack of snow.
After driving around town and through the park, we had a stop to make. A friend of mine from way back during my Sewanee years moved out to Estes two years ago to open the town’s first distillery, which debuted on the 4th of July.
We arrived just as they were opening, so we had the place to ourselves as McShan gave us the backstory as to why they chose Colorado—he’s from Alabama and went to school with me in Tennessee—and how they came to open Elkins Distilling Co. in Colorado after realizing the liquor laws in other states were too restrictive.
The Elkins team makes only white whiskey—because of the various zoning restrictions in Estes Park, they’re not able to barrel it at the moment—which they dress up with a bunch of spices and wood like French oak or applewood to mimic the aging process. The result is a number of different blends available for sample, as well as an awesome cocktail menu.
As we headed out of town, I couldn’t help but wish we’d had more time in Estes Park; it’s such a cute town, and there seems to be a lot going on there. We stopped at Rock Cut Brewery, which wound up having my favorite beer of the trip—a vanilla porter—but coincidentally was my least favorite brewery (the bartender had an extreme attitude, plus they wouldn’t allow Ella inside). But we did have some delicious food courtesy of Two Chicks Wings and Henhouse, the food truck parked out front (the owner of whom was very lovely and the food oh-so-tasty!).
On the way back to Fort Collins, we stopped for pie at Colorado Cherry Company. (Never a bad idea.)
When we got back into town, Layne had a group of friends in from Ohio State, where she went to school, so we met up with all of them at O’Dell Brewing Co., which is one of the more famous breweries out of Fort Collins and had a very welcoming, chill vibe if all the parents with toddlers in tow are any evidence.
On Sunday, there was a Broncos game, so the boys stayed in to watch while Layne and I headed out for an aerial yoga class, followed by $6 carafes of mimosas at Pour Brothers with our pals Chris and Erik. We needed a warm-up before jumping into the beer for another day, head-first.
We had saved a couple of the best for last, including Horse & Dragon whose Sad Panda stout is out of this world.
They also were dog-friendly (a bonus!) and had complimentary snacks (double win!).
After two rounds, it was off to Equinox to taste some more brews. There may have been a little AcroYoga on the street, too, en route (I blame the beer!).
From there, we went to Jessup Farm, which Layne described so eloquently: “It looks like Pinterest threw up inside.”
It was lovely—though didn’t allow dogs—but the service left much to be desired. Still, we enjoyed our beers before grabbing burritos and staying in for the night after a looooong day (erm, weekend) of brewery-hopping.
Monday signaled the end of our trip and time for Layne and Brian to go back to work, but we had a whole day left to kill as our flight wasn’t until 7:45pm and we were but an hour from the airport. So we tooled around Fort Collins a bit, got more donuts, then headed to Boulder.
In Boulder, I got my nails done, and we took a stroll along the pedestrian mall, but once again the weather was not in our favor (story of our past visits to Boulder).
So when once we turned into ice cubes, stopped for a beer at Upslope (again, pet-friendly and super awesome!).
Then, made our way into Denver, which is less than pet-friendly (but Ella will recount that to you in another post). In an all-too-appropriate move, we landed at midnight last Monday and I got up early to do a beer shoot in Nashville for the Brewers Association, which is based in—you guessed it—Colorado. I will say this: I’ve never felt more adequately prepared for a shoot in my life!
Oh Colorado, you never disappoint. I’d love if the travel gods sent a ski trip our way this winter, too—hint, hint, nudge, nudge—if that happened, I wouldn’t be the slightest bit disappointed.