Pedaling from Grain to Glass

Bike Tour Rolls Through the Story of Fort Collins Craft Beer

©Thirst Colorado

©Thirst Colorado

By Steve Graham

Bob Williams likes taking long bike rides and telling stories over beers. This summer, he will use a bike ride to tell the story of the beer.

Williams is the founder and owner of Beer & Bike Tours, a Fort Collins company that runs bike excursions around the world, each ending at a craft brewery. One of his newest adventures is the Grain to Glass tour, which cruises along the Poudre River and includes stops at barley and hop farms, a malting business and a locally focused brewer. 

The idea is to talk to farmers and to see and feel every ingredient — including water, hops, barley and malts — in that tasty Fort Collins beer.

Williams said the 15-mile tour is flat, slow and relaxed, accommodating riders of all skill levels.

“It’s not rushed because the whole idea is to get a feel for the area,” he said.

Williams said a professional malt-maker and a brewer ride along to help educate riders about the entire brewing process.

The tour began last summer and runs at least six times in June and July this year, at peak barley season just before the harvest. 

“I just thought it was fantastic that we can ride to see where the malt is grown and where the barley is grown,” said Carol Cochran of a tour last summer. “The barley was beautiful.”

Cochran is the co-owner of Horse and Dragon Brewing Company in Fort Collins. She went on several Grain to Glass tours last year, then hosted her fellow riders at the brewery for beers made with local hops and malts. 

She was also excited to use the same batch of “beautiful” barley later last fall in a Horse and Dragon beer. The barley was malted at Troubadour Maltings, which provides malts for many other breweries throughout the region, including 1933 Brewing Company, Equinox Brewing, Odell Brewing Co., Snowbank Brewing, Rally King Brewing and Funkwerks.

Christopher Schooley is the owner of Troubadour, where every Grain to Glass tour begins, with a one-hour introduction to malting.

“The raw materials are the soul of any craft product. Craft is all about creating something truly unique and special,” Schooley said.

And Williams wants to highlights Schooley’s malts as the soul of many local craft beers. Williams loves his hoppy brews, but thinks the value of good malt is often overlooked. 

Schooley also wants to use the tour to attach names, faces and stories to the terms “craft” and “local.”

“That’s why we picked the name troubadour because it’s a storytelling tradition,” he said. “Every one of the grains and every one of the malts has a story to tell.”

He said he visits local farms regularly, so it’s fun to share that connection with other local brewers and drinkers.

Last year’s tour was popular with brewmasters and other industry insiders, and Williams said they are welcome to tag along for free. Cochran said even serious beer geeks learn something from the tour.

“Even for people who brewed before, it’s just great to be able to see the ingredients in the process and tie it all back to the land and how it all starts,” she said.

Williams ends the tour at a brewery currently using Troubadour malts, or at the Mayor of Old Town, a Fort Collins beer mecca that always has some Troubadour-centric beers among its 100 taps.

“It’s neat for people to see that this was in the ground and now it’s in my glass,” Williams said.

Steve Graham is a Fort Collins writer who enjoys the outdoors and great beer.

How to bike to your beer

Colorado loves biking almost as much as drinking craft beer. And there are plenty of great ways to combine both pastimes.

• In addition to the Grain to Glass tour, Beer & Bike Tours offers several other Colorado adventures, including day tours around Boulder, Fort Collins, Denver or Glenwood Springs, and rides through Rocky Mountain National Park (you’ll earn an beer in Estes Park on those climbs). But owner Bob Williams said his favorite is the weeklong San Juan Skyway trip through Durango, Telluride, Ouray and Silverton.
    • Mile High Bike Tours offers a three-hour Denver cycling tour that ends with stops at several RiNo district breweries.

• At Your Pace Cycling Adventures offers guided daylong bike and brews tours of Summit County, Glenwood Springs and Boulder, as well as a self-guided day tour of the Colorado wine country.

• To split the cycling duties with 15 other drinkers, try out My HandleBar, an open-air, pedal-powered party bus that books chaperoned pub crawls with a designated driver through Fort Collins and Boulder.

•  A couple of bike bars also cruise around the Denver area.

How to enjoy a day of biking and beers

Bob Williams has four tips for a successful day of biking and drinking.

1. Stay hydrated. Drink a bottle of water for every pint of beer.

2. Wear plenty of sunscreen.

3. Keep an open mind. “Try a style of beer you have never liked. If the brew master explains the beer to you, you might still not like it, but you’ll at least understand it.” 

4. Don’t be afraid to ask brewers dumb questions. “Their whole goal is to teach you about beer and take you further. It’s beer. Be stupid. It’s OK.”