A rollicking round at Loveland’s Mariana Butte leads to even better ones off the course.
As both a golf aficionado and Certified Beer Server (the beer world’s version of a sommelier), I often find my weekends revolve around looking for distinctive courses and partaking in well-crafted local brews. Lucky for me—and you—Colorado boasts an abundance of both.
Ranked among the nation’s Top 10 Golf States by Golf Digest, Colorado also has the highest number of craft breweries per capita in the U.S. And every one of those breweries has a story behind it that is reflected by the local community and brewmasters who literally put their fingerprints on each pint. I found all this and more on a fall trip to Loveland, the home of scenic golf and a vibrant local brewing scene.
Nestled between the Boulder and Ft. Collins metro areas, Loveland feels like a mountain town in the suburbs. Within its 25 square miles lie three golf courses, the crown jewel being Mariana Butte, a dramatic 22-year-old Dick Phelps tour de force with stark elevation changes from tee to green, and twists and turns that reward bold tee shots and punish errant mistakes.
Your day starts with a wide-open view of the Front Range as well as a wideopen fairway leading to a reachable par five.
Don’t expect many birdie opportunities after the first hole, with water coming into play on more holes than not, and pin placements that garner the envy of the toughest championship holes.
A mid-range par three welcomes you to the wonderfully rustic back nine at hole eleven, with a 100-foot drop from tee to green, and the Big Thompson River lying just twenty feet beyond the green for those who don’t club down an iron or two.
Another 100-foot drop from tee to green awaits you at the par-3 14th. Although considerably shorter than the other par 3s, the tee shot requires some finesse when deciding whether to club down or shorten up your swing.
Mariana saves its best for last, with the final stretch of holes winding through a less-populated area of jutting red rock, brush, and fairways reminiscent of old plantations overgrown with centuries-old trees lining the roadways. Playing holes 15- 17, which run along the Big Thompson River, I’d never know they’d been closed for nearly seven months after the September 2013 floods. I could detect no damage; they were in great shape.
Hole 16’s tee shot overlooks two intersecting waterways that resemble an abandoned rock quarry more than a golf course, leaving the knees quaking before you send your first shot to a forgiving fairway on this double-dogleg par 5.
As payback for all those plunging tee shots, hole eighteen (aptly nicknamed “Devil’s Backbone”) finishes with a continuous climb to the green, located 80 feet above the fairway.
Whether you wish to fete or forget your round, head to Mariana’s independently owned restaurant, the Wapiti Colorado Pub, which features one of the widest selections of beers likely found in the entire state. “The Colorado 100” as the beer list is called, all hail from Colorado (that one Bud Light tap could technically have a Fort Collins provenance). In addition to the diverse selection of local brews, The Wapiti offers monthly beer dinners, pairing food with local brews from Grimm Brothers, Boulder Beer, Ft. Collins Brewery and many others.
Following a can of Oskar Blues Brewery’s Gubna Imperial IPA, I left The Wapiti and went in search of my next libation. With Loveland boasting eight breweries—all claiming to buck the norm in both ingredients and culture—the decision required some trial and error to find the ones that actually delivered a truly unique experience.
Owner/Brewer/Bartender Dave Currie of Buckhorn Brewers does little boasting, however his eclectic selection of beers does it for him. A true diamond in the rough, Buckhorn leaves behind all pretensions. Compared to your typical mahogany-lined bar, the taproom is more like a glorified homebrewer’s laboratory gone mad. The tap handles are made of tin foil and paper, but the elixirs that come out of them is pure gold.
The beers here aren’t constrained by the demand for fizzy, yellow macro impersonators or mightily hopped IPAs; in fact, some contain no hops at all. Currie utilizes gruits—ingredients that predate the use of hops and are normally found in drinks from the Middle Ages or in herbal liqueurs. Juniper boughs and fruit peels comprise just a handful of the herbs and spices used, however they aren’t included as a commercial gimmick. The range of ingredients enhances and blends with traditionally styled beers, such as one Currie made for a local medieval festival, Jester’s Ale. This hazy, amber ale evokes aromatic sensations one might find in a spiced cookie, with flavors of toasted almond, cinnamon and marzipan. Equally novel is the Doppelgänger, a doppeled red ale into which Currie theatrically pours sweetened espresso and a half-ounce of cream.
Ever heard of marshmallow root? Neither had I, but I now know it melds fantastically with the dark, roasty flavors of a stout, imparting earthy and licorice notes.
Currie is likely to be behind the bar during your visit, and will happily tell you about his concoctions, as well as a few old brewing tales along the way, including his dealings with “The Colonel,” the first proprietor of brewing ingredients in the area. Currie has been brewing since 1985, and was at the epicenter of homebrewing in Boulder County when the father of modern homebrewing, Charlie Papazian, began his now nationally published newsletter, Zymurgy. The years of experience have led Currie to offer some of the most distinctive brews in the region, leaving all pomp and aesthetics behind to highlight beer that not only tastes great, but makes you re-think what makes a good brew.
For a more traditional, yet equally enjoyable pint, Grimm Brothers Brewhouse provides another option. As soon as you walk through the door it is immediately apparent that Grimm, like Buckhorn, is a local’s brewery. While I work my way through a flight of beers I observe a table full of patrons not only enjoying their brews, but also making their way behind the bar and helping out the staff.
Grimm fully embraces its locals, who in part, do their own part in volunteering. The long and narrow tables suggest a mini German beer hall, further perpetuating the ambiance of community. Most of Grimm’s beers are traditional German styles, including a Pilsner, a Dunkel Lager, and an award-winning Alt Style a Ale called Little Red Cap.
When I look at my notes, the words “refreshing” and “well-made” appear next to most of Grimm’s offerings, all of which pay high homage to their Teutonic heritage. They also embody the same sense of craftsmanship and individuality that have come to define Colorado’s beer and golf landscape.
Mariana Butte Golf Course
701 Clubhouse Drive, Loveland
Wapiti Colorado Pub
701 N. Clubhouse Drive, Loveland
4229 W. Eisenhower Blvd, Loveland
Grimm Brothers Brewhouse
623 N Denver Ave, Loveland
Home-brewer and freelance beer writer Cody Gabbard contributes regularly to the Boulder Weekly. His Tapping In column will appear regularly in Colorado AvidGolfer. Colorado AvidGolfer is the state’s leading resource for golf and the lifestyle that surrounds it. It publishes eight issues annually and proudly delivers daily content via www.coloradoavidgolfer.com.