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Tour of New Belgium Brewing: Home of Fat Tire

In The Can: Brewery Spotlight
New Belgium Brewing, Fort Collins, Colorado

Colorado has more craft breweries per capita than any other state. If you’re a beer lover, that’s a very good thing. If you’re a craft brewery, that makes it very difficult to standout.

Our visit at New Belgium Brewing in Fort Collins on the first night of our trip made it clearly evident they are on the top of the heap. They make it look easy, and even more so, they make it look fun!

As the host location for 50 Campfires Field Trip: Heart of the Rockies Campfire Sessions, they rolled out the red carpet for the team and our guests. They also shared a bit of the history and philosophy behind their success.

50 CAMPFIRES: Tell us a little about your brewery, the types of beers that you brew, and what you feel makes your brewery unique.

NEW BELGIUM: In short, New Belgium Brewing is all about crafting world class beers and riding super fun bicycles, fueled behind the scenes by magic of being 100% employee owned.

Our culture is unmatched. New Belgium is recognized as one of Outside Magazine’s Best Places to Work, one of the Wall Street Journal’s Best Small Businesses and tops Bicycling Magazine’s Best Companies for Cyclists. We are a Platinum-level Bicycle Friendly Business as designated by the League of American Bicyclists, one of World Blu’s most democratic U.S. businesses, and a Certified B Corp (which basically means we put people and the planet ahead of profits).

In addition to Fat Tire Amber Ale, New Belgium brews sixteen year-round beers: Citradelic Tangerine IPA, Fat Tire Belgian White, The Hemperor HPA, Voodoo Ranger IPA, Voodoo Ranger Imperial IPA, Voodoo Ranger 8 Hop Pale Ale, Voodoo Ranger Juicy Haze IPA, Sour Saison, Honey Orange Tripel, Dayblazer Easygoing Ale, Tartastic Fruit Beer Series, 1554 Black Lager, Bohemian Pilsner, Abbey Belgian Style Ale, Trippel and a gluten-reduced beer, Glutiny Pale Ale. We also have a storied and celebrated barrel-aging program that produces some the country’s best sour beers, which include La Folie and Le Terroir. Outside of all of these great beers mentioned, we kick out a healthy amount of small batch and seasonal releases.

50 CAMPFIRES: What is your most popular/flagship beer? What makes it great?

NEW BELGIUM: Fat Tire Amber Ale is the beer that launched New Belgium and it continues to lead the charge. When looking at this beer in a historical context, it was one of the OG craft beers that introduced generations to all the goodness of craft beer. Many people will tell you their craft journey started when they discovered Fat Tire. Overall, what makes Fat Tire great is its balance. This is especially relevant today as IPAs and other styles sometimes place exaggerated emphasis on certain flavor elements. Fat Tire includes so many premium craft ingredients at once, suspending them equally in an amber liquid in a way that is a feat of brewing. Malts, hops, yeast, etc. all have their place in a sip of Fat Tire, but it’s hard to pinpoint which specific flavor is hitting you due to the great steps taken to make sure everything compliments everything else and all is expertly balanced.

50 CAMPFIRES: We love hearing stories about how breweries got their start. What’s the history behind yours?

NEW BELGIUM: Fat Tire Amber Ale. Our story is really fun (and long). I’ll try to keep this quick. 1988. Belgium. Boy on bike. (Ok, make that a young man of 32.) As our aspiring young home brewer rides his mountain bike with “fat tires” through European villages famous for beer, New Belgium Brewing Company was but a glimmer in his eye. Or basement. For Jeff Lebesch would return to Fort Collins with an imagination full of recipes and a handful of ingredients ready to embark on a whole new journey. Jeff’s first two basement-brewed creations? A brown dubbel with earthy undertones named Abbey and a remarkably well-balanced amber he named Fat Tire. To say the rest was history would be to overlook his wife’s involvement. Kim Jordan was New Belgium’s first bottler, sales rep, distributor, marketer, and financial planner, as well as the company’s longtime CEO.

Jeff’s Belgian inspired brews garnered enough praise from friends and neighbors that Jeff and Kim took their basement brewery commercial in 1991. Kim, social worker by day and mother to two always, began the marketing process by knocking on their neighbor’s door, asking Artist Anne Fitch (that neighbor) to help craft the New Belgium, including the original Fat Tire label.

Bringing on Peter Bouckaert, a Belgian Brewmaster previously working at Rodenbach, in 1996 helped influence our love of sour beers. Moving forward, Peter would take the brewing reins as Jeff began pursuing other interests. In 2009, Jeff moved on completely and we have continued to flourish with Kim, Peter, and a team of dedicated employee-owners at the helm. Peter is off doing a passion project today, but we remain in the great hands of our passionate employee owners and Kim as our President and Board Chair.

50 CAMPFIRES: We love meeting people who share our passion for the outdoors. Tell us a bit about the folks involved with your brewery, and what they enjoying doing outdoors.

NEW BELGIUM: New Belgium attracts people from all walks of life, but it is very safe to say we all share a strong love of the outdoors. When you’re born in Colorado and spread out to Asheville, there’s just too many awesome outdoor adventures to ignore. Our employee owners spend time outside of work mostly outside. The current AD for the Northern Colorado Chapter of the Backcountry Hunters & Anglers Assoc. works in HR for us. We have some celebrated backcountry skiers with huge Instagram followings. We have sponsored endurance athletes plugging away in our Brewhouse by day. Nearly all of us bicycle commute as much as we can. One of the guys who founded Thrasher Magazine (former pro skater/snowboarder) heads up our experiential events. Area rivers are familiar with our many in-house raft guides and kayakers. A few of us teach rock climbing classes. We could go on and on, but I’ll end with this – without a healthy planet and a respect for natural resources, we wouldn’t be able to brew beer. Water is our lifeblood. We respect Mother Nature at every turn and have best-in-class sustainability efforts to prove it. Part of deepening our respect is to enjoy all it offers.

50 CAMPFIRES: Is your beer available in cans?

NEW BELGIUM: Heck yeah! As you can tell by our diverse portfolio of beers, we try to provide something for every beer lover and that extends to packaging. Canned beer can go places bottles (or kegs) cannot. About half of our year-round offerings are available in cans and more will come. Many of our Voodoo Ranger IPA special releases are can-only, and we recently launched a 19.2 ounce can size to compliment the 12 oz, 16 oz and 22 oz we are able to offer. Pack it in, pack it out, we like to say.

50 CAMPFIRES: Where can we find your beer?

NEW BELGIUM: New Belgium distributes beer to all 50 states, some spots in Canada, Puerto Rico and Puerto Rico. We should be easy to find. If you’re looking for something specific in your neck of the woods, our beer finder is a nice little tool: https://www.newbelgium.com/beer/finder/

50 CAMPFIRES: If people want more info about your brewery, where can they go?

NEW BELGIUM: To learn more, visit NewBelgium.com and/or follow the brewery on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.

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