Flavors to Savor: Home of Fat Tire Ale, Colorado's New Belgium Brewing Mixes Old World Methods and Cutting-Edge Production. Its Great Beer Inspired Our Hearty Recipes

Article excerpt

A TOUR OF New Belgium Brewing in Fort Collins, Colorado, begins at a display of beer ingredients: hops, barley, wheat. All the usual suspects. But then there's kaffir-lime leaves and orange peel. And the barley and orange peel are laid out in the shape of a peace sign.

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That's your first clue that this place differs from the state's big corporate brewers (Coors and Anheuser-Busch, which has a local brewery). "There's always been a perception of us as having an easygoing, hippie vibe," says Bryan Simpson, New Belgium's media relations director. "But there's also a lot of emphasis on excellence." It's paying off: While investing heavily in cutting-edge green technology, New Belgium has become one of the fastest-growing craft brewers in the United States, and its beers--modeled after the complex, free-spirited ales of Belgium--have won multiple awards.

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Upstairs in the brew room sit four giant conical steel tanks that look like the nose cones of spaceships. Through windows on each, you can see the journey of beer--the barley as it's mixed with water, filtered to make sweet liquid called wort, and boiled with hops for flavor. Then it's piped below to the cellar, where the yeast goes to work on the sugars, converting them to alcohol. Once it's beer, it's piped into the chugging, steam-hissing bottling room next door.

The entire operation, you learn as you sip your way from toasty Fat Tire to rich, mahogany-hued Abbey in the tasting room, is largely powered by wind energy. And New Belgium is forward-thinking in other ways, donating $1 to environmental and social causes for every barrel of beer it sells (it raised $400,000 last year). The company is entirely employee-owned, and staffers get a case of beer every week, a bike after one year, and a trip to Belgium after five.

"We hold tight to ethical standards and who we want to be on the planet," says Jennifer Orgolini, the chief operations officer. New Belgium's beers are terrific, but it does a lot more than just make fine brews.

INFO New Belgium Brewing (www.new belgium.com or 888/622-4044) gives free brewery tours and tastings Mon-Sat. For our tasting notes on its beers, visit www.sunset.com/beer Resources: See page 142.

Beer-battered cod and onion rings

Crunchy, light, and addictive.

PREP AND COOK TIME About 1 hour

MAKES 4 servings

NOTES Serve with malt vinegar and tartar sauce, if you like.

1 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt, plus more for sprinkling on onion
     rings and fish
1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 egg
3/4 cup (half a 12-oz. bottle) medium-bodied
     ale (such as New Belgium's Fat Tire)
Vegetable oil for frying
1 yellow onion, sliced into 1/2-in.-thick rings
1 1/2 lbs. skinless cod fillets, rinsed and cut into
     2- by 4-in. pieces
1 lemon, sliced paper-thin
1 cup flat-leaf parsley sprigs, stems trimmed

1. Whisk flour, baking powder, 1/2 tsp. salt, pepper, egg, and beer in a large bowl.

2. Preheat oven to 200[degrees]. In a 6- to 8-qt. pot, heat 2 in. of oil to 375[degrees] over medium-high heat. Add onion to batter, turn to coat well, then put several onion rings in pot (do not crowd). Cook, turning often, until golden brown, about 6 minutes. Transfer to a rack set over a sheet pan, sprinkle with salt, and put in oven to keep warm. Repeat with remaining onions.

3. Allow oil to return to 375[degrees] and skim to remove any batter bits. Add fish to batter and turn to coat well. Cook fish in hot oil, turning and holding down as needed, until deep golden brown, about 7 minutes. Drain on rack and sprinkle with salt.

4. Add lemon slices and parsley to oil and cook until crisp, about 1 minute.

5. Pile fish and onion rings on a platter and garnish with fried lemon slices and parsley.

PER SERVING 427 CAL. …