Morgan’s Legacy

This entry is part 19 of 22 in the series May - 2015

Morgan’s Legacy

By Ed Sealover

BILL MORGAN never got to have a pint in a Fort Collins craft brewery during his time as Colorado State University president. In fact, the town was “dry” during his entire 20-year tenure. But his legacy lives on now in a new brewery opened by his granddaughter, who is using the values he instilled in her to become a part of the community.

Morgan was the president who brought CSU into its modern era. During a tenure stretching from 1949 to 1969, he constructed a vast number of buildings, ramped up the university’s acquisition of federal funding and changed its name from Colorado A&M in order to reflect its more comprehensive offering of studies.
Carol Cochran, born in 1964, admits that she never really knew her grandfather as a university president, though she hears many stories of his role at CSU even today. But the lessons he imparted to her – including his adherence to the “Code of the West” – are the same values that guide Horse and Dragon Brewery, which she and her husband, Tim, opened in May 2014.

“His approach to everyone was: ‘You do your best. We need
you all to do your best as a society.’ I appreciate that he had that attitude,” Carol Cochran reflected on a Sunday afternoon in late December when patrons drove through the snow to crowd her taproom. “He was sometimes a little intimidating as a kid. He had particularly high standards and he didn’t put up with fools. But I think so many people lived up to his expectations.”

Born in Fort Worth, Texas, Morgan graduated from Texas A&M and worked as an agricultural economist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture and as an assistant registrar at his alma mater. He served in the Army Air Corps during World War II, including a stint in the China-Burma-India theater, and worked after the war on the Marshall Plan to help rebuild the food and agricultural economy of war-torn Europe.
While in that position, he agreed to become Colorado A&M president. And he immediately set to rebuilding and expanding campus facilities. Athletic facilities, an engineering center, several residence halls, and animal science buildings all went up during his tenure. A 2005 obituary noted that the facilities inventory on campus was valued at $6.6 million in 1949 but had increased to roughly $102 million by the time of his departure.

Morgan also sought federal contracts and grants and raised
the money for a new library building that bore his name when it opened in 1965. After his retirement, he and his wife, Lilla, stayed in Fort Collins, where he served on the boards of banks and corporations before his death in 2005.

Despite this history, Carol never got any pressure to attend CSU. Instead, she went to Stanford University, where she and Tim met and later married. For more than 20 years, the pair bounced around the world, from Taiwan to Columbia to Wisconsin, where Tim worked first for a distribution company and then for Miller Brewing Company. When the younger of their two daughters left for college and Tim’s job relocated, they decided in 2013 to take the plunge and pursue their longtime dream of operating a craft brewery.

“I didn’t have the urge to own my own business. I guess Tim did a little. But we had the urge to join the craft movement
… not just because it’s a great product but because these people have such a great connection to each other and to the community,” Carol explained.

Picking where to launch their brewery was another question. Tim’s parents live just outside Eugene, Oregon – a university town and great craft-brewing destination in its own right – but Carol’s parents had moved to Fort Collins nine years ago. The couple also had a cabin on the Cache la Poudre River where they would gather with her parents and grandparents, so the Choice City emerged as what they considered their home.

But opening a brewery in Fort Collins is no easy task. Eleven were operating in the town of 150,000 people when planning began, and two more cut their ribbons before Horse and Dragon could, Tim remembered.

There were dueling forces at work. On the plus side for them
was the fact that residents knew their craft beer – Carol tells stories of 60-year-olds who ask about the type of hops used in their recipes – because pioneers like Odell Brewing and New Belgium Brewing laid the groundwork in the city in the 1990s. On the more intimidating side, they realized this was a town where the beer had to be not just good but very good to find an audience.

The couple conducted a national search for a brewer and ended up interviewing 17 candidates. But they found the best fit in their backyard – Linsey Cornish, a Colorado State University graduate who had been brewing at Odell for four years.

Cornish offered a connection to the community that they treasured; a zoology graduate, she had taken a brewing science class in college and decided to work with yeast rather than larger organisms. But her hire in July 2013 also garnered attention for Horse and Dragon, as there was only one other female head brewer at any of the more than 200 breweries in the state at
the time.

“I wish it wasn’t such a big deal,” Carol said of her head brewer’s gender. “She’s immensely qualified, and I think that’s proven out.”

The Cochrans found an old airplane hangar at 124 Racquette Drive and invested in a 15-barrel brewing system – a rather large set up for a start up brewery. While they produced just 450 barrels in 2014 after opening on May 1, Tim said the bigger system is
an investment in future growth, which could come quickly after the brewery exceeded expectations for its initial eight months of operations, concentrating on sales at the taproom and other bars rather than making any effort at canning or bottling.

“The goal was not to be retail. The goal was to be a production brewery,” Tim said. “We tried to make a plan for that growth.”

The first thing that may catch visitors’ eyes is the creatively named beers on tap. From the Sad Panda Coffee Stout to the Agitated Aardvark Imperial IPA, Cornish enjoys combining animals and emotions to create the monikers. The brewery itself is named after the Chinese symbols for the year that the couple began planning the brewery (2013, year of the dragon) and the year they opened it (2014, year of the horse).

But the brewing philosophy is an ambitious one. Rather than offer a regular spate of selections with one or two special seasonals, Cornish rotates new beers constantly through the taps. In addition to the best-selling IPA and the coffee stout that has bred the most rabid following, guests may find a coconut porter, an India pale lager or one of the more regular offerings aged in a whiskey barrel.
“Our taste profiles are not crazy, crazy, crazy,” Carol said. “We’re trying to make good, drinkable beers that are tasty.”

And they are succeeding in being a part of the community. In addition to Cornish, another CSU graduate works in the taproom. Staff and graduate students from the school join locals as the taproom regulars. Tim and Carol have been asked to serve on the advisory board for CSU’s new Fermentation Science and Technology program.

And Bill Morgan is there in spirit in the town that he and Lilla loved so much. Carol inherited from him the knowledge of the importance of preserving water, of planting trees, and of always approaching others with “square dealings” – traits that are part of the guiding principles for the brewery.

And that Code of the West and its cowboy ethics that Morgan loved so fiercely are there in the way that she and Tim go about their business every day. Take pride in your work. Be proud
of your occupation. Never pass anyone on the trail without saying “howdy.”

“Although we never had a craft beer together, my grandfather taught Tim and me a lot about what would become enormously important to us – in life and also as we navigated starting a brewery here in his old home town,” Carol said. “Without having ever seen the brewery, he has become a part of it.”

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