I read this in the Denver Post. I really love a good beer and I know some people on here do also. Some might think it's to long but some of you might enjoy it.
People from around the world come to Colorado to make beer. Not for the hops or the grain. They come for the gorgeous water.
The collision of Pacific-borne storms and towering mountains yields enormous reservoirs of pristine snow in the state, much of which melts and submits to gravity, ending up in water-treatment facilities 5,000 feet lower and miles away along the Front Range.
And, eventually, in your pint glass. Hops, barley, yeast and time transform millions of gallons of Colorado water every year into
ale and lager. Colorado breweries (more than 100 of them) pump out more beer — 23,370,848 barrels in 2006 — than any other state.
New Belgium in Fort Collins sits somewhere between brewing leviathan and microbrew startup. Hundreds of workers create an array of beers, from sour Belgian-style ales that cost $15 for a 22-ounce bottle to more-straightforward mugs of suds that sell for $4 at LoDo sports bars.
What goes into that six-pack of bottled blizzard? It starts with snow, in the northern fringes of the aptly named Never Summer Range.
A high-altitude birth
"It's beautiful, isn't it?" asked Clyde Greenwood, water supply supervisor with the city of Fort Collins water production division and a Santa Claus look-alike. He nosed his pickup along a snow-covered dirt road beside Michigan Ditch, really a canal, near 10,276-foot Cameron Pass, about 70 miles west of Fort Collins.
Ragged peaks, pine trees, cliffs and snow fill Greenwood's workplace. The soundtrack: water gurgling in the ditch, water snaking down the sides of mountains in rivulets, water escaping through clefts in rocks.
It's Greenwood's job to lord over the chain of canals and contraptions that guide and hold the melting snow.
In the summer, Greenwood lives with the water, in a log cabin built in the late 1800s. During the long winter, he zips around on a snowmobile, making sure the water is flowing as it should. Water is his life, and he is fluent in its role in the history of the West.
"There have been more people killed over water rights than over gold," said Greenwood. And if water can compare to gold, than the water racing toward Fort Collins would be 24 karat.
"There's no industry, no farmland, no mining" along Poudre Canyon, Greenwood said.
Sometimes, especially in the winter, the water runs as merely as 3 cubic feet per second, which works out to about 22 gallons. During late spring it can reach 110 cubic feet, the water roaring and sloshing up over the edges of Michigan Ditch, a skinny canal built in the 1800s "by hand, mules, dynamite and a lot of hardy backs," Greenwood said.
The water carries flecks of granite and quartz, logs, leaves, dead ants, dead fish, bottles and much more as it travels for three days, from the ditch into the Poudre River, where some of the water is diverted into the Fort Collins water-treatment facility.
Collecting the runoff
The facility looms over the city near Horsetooth Reservoir, another source of water for Fort Collins residents and businesses. It's built on high ground so gravity can help deliver the water.
Poudre River and Horsetooth Reservoir water are mixed in a concrete building connected to the water treatment facility. Every drop that enters the structure is destined for the people and businesses of Fort Collins.
First, though, the water needs cleaning.
"Chlorine saved the world," said Lisa Voytko, water production manager for Fort Collins. Voytko, a tall, angular woman with an athletic laugh, spent most of her career working as a water-treatment-design engineer in Phoenix, where the water is hot — literally — and poor in quality. A few years ago the CSU grad returned to Fort Collins, where the water arrives at the facility at about 40 degrees.
Voytko makes sure all of that melted snow is safe — no nasty chemicals, no pathogens — before it gets distributed to people across the city. Last summer, a truck carrying asphalt fell into the Poudre River, miles upstream from the water-treatment facility. Voytko learned about it "a minute after the spill."
Within moments, the city stopped drawing water from the Poudre River.
The facility is a smattering of large brick buildings containing long, rectangular, 18-foot-deep pools called "flocculation basins." The water gets piped into the basins, and the chemical compound alum is added to coagulate and force particles to stick together, making them bigger and easier to remove.
The water then is directed to deep tanks called sedimentation basins, where metal plates at the surface collect the particles and remove them. From there, all of the water goes to yet another series of deep pools, where it drains through filters made from 30 inches of anthracite coal and a foot of sand.
"We could probably take the Poudre water straight from here, because it's so clean," Voytko said. But for safety, city workers add chlorine to the water to ensure pathogens are eliminated. In addition, the voters of Fort Collins — like most cities in the country — voted to add fluoride to the water, so city workers blend the water with fluoride before shipping it off to customers.
The plant, Voytko said, averages between 10 million and 55 million gallons a day, depending on the time of the year.
All of it runs through 500 miles of pipes managed by Fort Collins, said Jon Haukaas, water engineering and field services manager. The pipes, ranging in diameter from 3/4-inch for a spur to a home to 60 inches for a transmission main, are generally about five feet beneath the surface, deep enough to avoid damage from freezing.
Millions of gallons of the cleaned and treated snowmelt heads to the New Belgium brewery, a sleek-rustic campus — a barn aesthetic combined with exposed steel and polished concrete and other hallmarks of industrial chic.
Here, the water sits in big green tanks just outside the brewhouse until a brewer touches an icon on a computer screen that begins the beer- making process.
Nearly everything in the brewery is automated, done not by people stirring pots and grinding malt by hand but by gleaming German machines. "It's virtual brewing," said brewer Andrew Hagdorn.
Silos behind the brewery contain malts and grains, which are delivered every week by truck: There are oats, wheat and rye, but most of the grain is malted barley from Montana and Canada. Malted grains have been pushed toward germination with water, and then dried.
At 11 a.m. on a recent morning, Hagdorn — his business card says he's with the brewery's "Church of Fermentology" — pushed the button to begin the day's sixth batch of Fat Tire Amber Ale, New Belgium's iconic, and most popular, beer. "Here we go."
It was the 28,137th batch of beer since New Belgium started brewing in 1991.
Immediately, water from the green tanks was pumped into a machine called a mill that holds a load of malted barley. Rollers crushed the wet barley, and pipes carried the water and crushed barley to the mash tun, a big, copper kettle. Here, the beer's backbone and heart — the mash — is stirred, causing enzymes in the barley to break down proteins and starches into fermentable sugars.
"It looks like a big bowl of oatmeal now," said Hagdorn, who sometimes, when he's got a free minute, just stares at the mesmerizing swirl of water, grain and foam in the mash tun.
Mash, wort and yeast
From there, the mash heads to another tank, which separates the barley from the liquid (the 12,000 pounds of "used" barley goes to feed local livestock) and sends it to the brew kettle. The liquid now is called wort, and it is boiled in the brew kettle.
While the wort was boiling, Hagdorn grabbed a sack of hop pellets grown in Oregon's Willamette Valley and began lifting it above his head and slamming it on the floor to break-up the brick of hop- flower pellets inside the sack. Hops add a bitterness to balance the sweet malt. Hagdorn poured 10 pounds into a machine that sent them into the kettle, also called the "Merlin kettle." Later, he added 40 more pounds of hops.
With the hops brewing in the kettle of Fat Tire wort, only one main ingredient remained: yeast.
New Belgium grows its own strains of yeast in a room of steel tanks in the brewery's "cellar," which is where the fermentation takes place. "This is where we make beer," said Hagdorn, in the windowless underground teeming with bearded young guys listening to loud music broadcast throughout the cellar. "We make wort in the brewhouse."
Different beers call for individual yeast strains. Pipes carry wort from the brewing kettle into this cellar, where yeast is added in another big container, called a fermentation vessel.
Nearly two weeks later, the batch of snowmelt, grains, hops and yeast is Fat Tire Amber Ale.
Much of is packaged in bottles and shipped. The rest is pumped into kegs in the keg room, where machines fill about 100 kegs an hour with different beers, destined for refrigerated trucks.
A lot of beer flows into these barrels. In October, New Belgium filled 4,675 half-kegs a week — each holding 15 1/2 gallons — of Fat Tire.
"We like beer"
Next stop for the kegs? For the most part, they go to bars and restaurants, places like Jackson's in LoDo, a sports bar beside Coors Field.
The long, brick-walled bar got a fresh shipment of Fat Tire kegs on a recent Saturday, just in time for the Broncos game against the Baltimore Ravens, set for 11 a.m. the next morning.
And there they were the next morning, hundreds of people on stools at the bar, at tables, standing around: All of them with one eye on a TV and, usually, drinking a beer.
Marie O'Donnell, 48, a Kansas City government worker in Denver on business, sat down and said, "Can I get a $350 Fat Tire?" to the bartender.
The $350 Fat Tire was an inside joke meant for the benefit of her son, Hans Lange, 28, sitting beside her. Once when he was not yet 21, a police officer caught him with a Fat Tire and fined him $350.
"Beer is cold, and we like beer," she said, just after a sip. That slug of ale went down nearly as frigid as it started — as mountain snow.