Brewing a Brew Culture
Though prohibition in Fort Collins ended in 1969, the breweries that would become a staple in Western college town culture did not arrive for another twenty years. It was Fort Collins’ status as a college town and location near the pristine waters of the Poudre River that drew brewers to the area.
As one of Fort Collins’ oldest breweries, Coopersmith’s Pub & Brewing is a cultural mainstay of the college town. It opened in 1989 along with several other breweries that followed the opening of the Anheuser-Busch brewery in 1988, after a law changed allowing Fort Collins to produce and sell beer. Upon learning of the change in law, Coopersmith's founder Scott Smith took advantage of the opportunity, opening the pub & brewing facility with investors’ assistance. Though several breweries have since opened and closed, Coopersmith’s has survived through the years as a successful model to other similar businesses. Front Range Historian Brea D. Hoffman even suggests that Coopersmith’s helped to make Old Town Fort Collins a popular local destination. Now, the brewery employs over one hundred people with around twenty house beers on tap.
But brewing was not always the industry it is today. It took more than a decade after prohibition ended for the city to even consider allowing breweries to set up shop in Fort Collins, and almost two decades until breweries were actually established. One of the bigger concerns for both the brewers and the locals was water usage. Like the rest of the West, Fort Collins and Northern Colorado face challenges when it comes to water access. For breweries, water is an integral part of their process; water supports the yeast which feeds off of sugar and turns it into alcohol. In order for beer to obtain its natural flavor, the water from which the process begins needs to be free of bacteria and pollutants that can alter the flavor of the beer, leading many breweries to spend considerable funds on treating their water. The City of Fort Collins invests attention to the health of its natural environment and water sources, and has been doing so since the 1970s. Since both the city and the breweries were and continue to be so concerned with water, these entities have worked together on shared goals toward water conservation. This sort of local collaboration was a necessity for brewers in Fort Collins, for the city’s location on the Poudre River made it and ideal place for brewers to set up shop.
Breweries also received pushback from more conservative residents, who were concerned with the kind of culture that would come with an industry centered around alcohol consumption. “The city was dry until ’69,” said Coopersmith’s President, Dwight Hall, who explained what he thought about the cultural changes it took for breweries to take off. “But I’ll go back to CSU being such a moderating influence on the community. It brings people in with new perspectives.”
“It’s the rebirth of a historic tradition,” founder Scott Smith was quoted as saying in the Coloradoan. “Brew pubs aren’t a fad.” Though Fort Collins might have held onto prohibition longer than most, changing attitudes throughout the region helped bring brewery culture to a once dry city.