Odell Brewing Company: The First and the Best Microbrewery in Fort Collins (New Belgium a Close Second)

By: Christopher Willey

Odell Brewing Co. opened in 1989 by Doug and Wynne Odell. It was the first microbrewery in Fort Collins and, in my opinion it is the best in town. They got their brewery off the ground by kegging their beer and selling to local restaurants and pubs. Their model was “draft only” for several years.  They built up their profits by delivering kegs all around town and picking up the empties in an old beat up Datsun pick-up. The first two beers that Doug Odell developed, 90 Schilling and Easy Street Wheat, are the 2 best craft brews in northern Colorado. The reason they are the best is that Doug spent about 10 years perfecting the recipe for both of these beers.

Of course, the biggest brewery in Fort Collins is New Belgium, and they too have two high quality craft brews that took 10 years to perfect, but with their ever-growing size they have lost a step in staying true to a devotion to taste and quality. It seems that over the years New Belgium has ventured out into making so many different beers that the flavors began to blend together, while Odell’s has developed a few seasonal beers and batch beers, but have stayed true to what I consider their 2 “core” ales: amber and wheat. Don’t get me wrong they both develop some other great styles, such as pale, porter, stout, and on and on. But for this comparison we will discuss the differences between New Belgium’s core beers and Odell’s core beers and how Odell’s brewing tradition has put them ahead for any true “old school” Fort Collins beer lover.
The most comparable and popular beers of the two breweries would be Odell’s 90 Schilling, and New Belgium’s Fat Tire. Both beers are amber ales and both probably have the best overall “drinkability” for casual craft beer drinkers. However, I think Fat Tire is closer to an American Lager in taste than 90 Schilling. I’m sorry to say, but Fat Tire is just a little bland for my personal taste. It has no character and no distinction. I feel that it is dull in taste and lacking freshness. I like my beer with a bite to it and that is why I would pick 90 Schilling. 90 Schilling has a rich full flavor that lets you know that many hours were spent creating the perfect amber ale that isn’t too dark, but doesn’t have that “faded” kind of taste that you get with Fat Tire. It really hits the middle of the road as far as taste goes, and I mean that in a good way. If you enjoy a more earthy and crisp ale that has the depth of hue just halfway between pale and dark and has a smooth malty finish that isn’t too bitter then grab for the 90 Schilling. You could do a lot worse. Trust me.
So if 90 Schilling were the Coca-Cola of Fort Collins craft beer, then Easy Street Wheat would be the Sprite. This wheat is light in color and has a wonderful citrusy flavor that goes nicely with a tiny squeeze of lemon. Personally, I prefer it straight up, but the lemon compliments it very pleasantly. Easy Street is unfiltered, like most wheat beers, but has a very smooth clean taste. The best way to drink it is to pour 2/3 of it into a glass, swirl the last 1/3 very well and then top off the glass. The yeast that settles to the bottom will be mixed nicely into your glass and you will be able to grasp its full flavor. Easy Street is impeccably refreshing for a warm summer day.
Now let’s dive into Easy Street’s New Belgium counterpart, Sunshine Wheat. Now I am not going to knock Sunshine the way I did Fat Tire because Sunshine is actually a very unique wheat beer. It is filtered so it offers a lighter body than Easy Street. It’s easy to tell that Easy Street would be classified as a heffe-weizen, but I would not know how, exactly, to classify Sunshine Wheat. It has a much grainier flavor than the Easy Street and has undertones of orange and apple. In fact, it is traditionally served with an orange as opposed to the Easy Street being served with a lemon.  I find the taste of Sunshine to be more assertive and its aroma is bready. I prefer Easy Street, but I would not put down anyone preferring Sunshine. In comparison, Easy Street, just scarcely, edges out Sunshine.
So if you find yourself in that ever occurring conundrum of what craft brew to grab for and you’ve got it narrowed down to a New Belgium brew or an Odell’s brew, go for the Odell’s. Overall, I think it is the better choice, because as New Belgium keeps rising in its quantity of beer sales, it keeps dropping in its quality of beer. Odell Brewing stays small and keeps true to a passion for quality craft beers and you will taste it in every brew that they put in the coolers.

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