Brewery Showcase | Horse & Dragon Brewing
Tucked away in an industrial part of town near the old Fort Collins Airport, you’ll find a bright red building, originally an airplane hanger, and now a family-run brewery called Horse & Dragon Brewing. Inside, long community tables and round tops casually welcome you to put your phone away and have a seat. There are no TVs, live bands, or food trucks for entertainment. Instead, the brewery welcomes you to come in, grab a beer, chat with some friendly patrons or staff, and enjoy the moment. And immediately, you will feel welcome. There is an inexplicable vibe that Horse & Dragon exudes, that can only be attributed to owners Carol and Tim Cochran. Their love of craft beer and the Fort Collins community is poured into the brewery and here is their story.
“When we were dreaming about it we were just kind of naïve about it…but I don’t think it ever felt like we weren’t going to do it.”
Nowadays, it’s not unheard of to hear about ambitions of opening up a brewery. But for Carol, this was something she and Tim had in the back of their minds since after college in the late 1980s; the duo’s journey to craft beer started before most people even knew about craft. And while they had a sense that they would open the brewery after retirement, Carol and Tim spent a great deal of the next 25 years information gathering. This included traveling abroad for Tim’s job at Miller Brewing Company and later SABMiller. Tim working for Miller brought them to places such as Japan, Taiwan, Indonesia, and Colombia. In places that have more of a language barrier and a greater sense of decorum, the Cochrans found that it was beer that could bring people together. Japan for instance was the only market that Tim ever had to wear a suit and tie amid negotiations and business meetings. “The first time you have a drink, and even a small beer, everybody loosens their tie and it just makes it a lot more easy to get along,” said Tim. “It brings people together.”
Together, the duo have traveled to 30 countries exploring various beer halls, having conversations with locals and asking them what they were eating and drinking. They found community everywhere they went. After living in Taiwan for six years, a time when both daughters were also born, the Cochrans found a communal support network from the tiny Asian island. “They’re great people,” Tim said of the Taiwanese. In fact, when Tim would later make the announcement that he and Carol were opening up a brewery, a good friend who is a Taiwanese importer, double downed and said he would import their beers into Taiwan.
But expanding their reach globally wasn’t a goal for the Cochran family. Their feeling of community everywhere they went, travels back to the US to Oregon and Colorado, and many brewery visits, led to the belief that they could share their craft locally. And so, rather than wait for retirement, the Cochran family planted their roots in Fort Collins, Colorado.
“You all of a sudden realize that we were actually preparing ourselves this whole time without maybe doing that as purposefully as we should have”
…said Carol. The name Horse & Dragon is a peculiar one, but is derived from the couple’s birth years in Chinese astrology, and also uniquely tied to the year when they started drawing up plans to open the brewery in 2013 (the year of the dragon) and when the brewery officially opened in May of 2014 (the year of the horse).
The brewery’s four guiding principles include: Make good beer, treat everyone ethically, minimize their environmental impact, and be proactive members of the community. The latter point is something that Carol has brought into the brewery. Her prior years doing nonprofit work, fundraising, event planning, and volunteering, have helped the brewery in their philanthropic efforts. Last year Horse & Dragon raised $26,300 in cash and in-kind donations to charitable organizations such as the Firefighters Community Compassion Fund, Book Trust, the Larimer Humane Society, House That Beer Built, and so much more. “There are so many people out there making a positive impact addressing problems in our communities that we feel pretty compelled to try to contribute where we can,” said Carol. “It’s awesome to see how much the craft brewing community jumps in to play small and large roles in these things.”
With so much emphasis on giving, of course Horse & Dragon has a pay-it-forward model when it comes to tipping. Simply put, they don’t accept tips. Instead, they encourage guests to buy someone else a beer. Good beer and good vibes here indeed.
When I first moved to Fort Collins about two years ago, I knew that I was in a craft beer mecca but aside from New Belgium Brewing, Odell, and Fort Collins Brewery, I wasn’t sure what else was out here. I first tried Horse & Dragon’s Sad Panda at Tap and Handle, a local taproom. The coffee stout was nearly black in color, with notes of caramel and roasty coffee. There’s a smooth coffee bitterness in the taste that is rounded out by malty undertones of vanilla and chocolate. It is, and continues to be, one of my favorite stouts. And I love me some stouts. Since that delectable encounter, I’ve made my way back to brewery and have tried other H&D beers such as Whistle Blast Oak, a barrel aged honey brown, and Agitated Aardvark, an imperial IPA. All have not disappointed.
“The beauty of our size is we feel that if we get to a certain space which is not very big then we will be able to take care of our people and that’ll be enough for us”
…said Tim. And that is what is so refreshing about Horse & Dragon. In a town where two heavy weight breweries already reside, and in an industry that arguably is already cluttered in growth (the BA recently published in their mid-year report that over 5,562 breweries are in operation in the US), Horse & Dragon remains true and humble to their roots—make good beer, make that beer available locally, be kind to one another, and give back as often as you can. Before I let you go, I’m going to leave you with this—a video from craftbeer.com that shows the essence of Horse & Dragon. Trust me, it’ll give you all the feels. Enjoy.