Fat Tire beer was born in a basement in Fort Collins, Colorado in the early 1990s. Specifically, in the basement of the house that sits on the lot adjacent to our back yard. That’s our small claim to fame, I suppose. Never mind that the makers of Fat Tire and founders of New Belgium brewery, Jeff Lebesch and Kim Jordan, had long moved out of the neighborhood by the time we moved in 13 years later. The photos below show some of the equipment and processes used during those early basement years of brewing operations.
If you have a few minutes to spare, New Belgium’s history and development is worth a quick read, but here’s a quick summary. People liked the beer, so Jeff and Kim moved out of the basement and established a proper brewery. As New Belgium beers continued to increase in popularity, the company kept expanding capacity to keep up with demand. A few fun facts from New Belgium’s website:
- Fourth-largest brewer of craft beer and the eleventh-largest brewery in the U.S.
- Lists over 30 different beers on its website, including about 20 with year round production
- Sells beer in all 50 states and the District of Columbia
- Available internationally in Canada, Sweden, Norway, South Korea, Japan, and Australia
- Added a second brewery in Asheville, North Carolina in 2016
- 700+ employees and 100% employee-owned
The free 90-minute brewery tours are a hot ticket in Fort Collins. The 63 weekly tours fill up weeks in advance, so it’s best to plan ahead, although you can also just show up and put your name on a standby list in case there are a few no-shows. We reserved our spot for a Wednesday 2:30 tour about a month ago.
Since New Belgium is all about bicycles as well as beer, we pulled our bikes out of the garage for the leisurely 3-mile ride from our house to the brewery. Once there, we joined 18 other New Belgium enthusiasts for our tour led by Shannon. She was vivacious, knowledgeable and entertaining.
The 5+ New Belgium tours I have done over the years have all been different, and I learn something new every time. Even though all touch on New Belgium’s history, beer-making process and organizational culture, my perception is that each guide has broad latitude to customize his or her key messages. Perhaps that’s why so many people do the tour again and again (or might it just be for the free beer?).
I’ve included a few photos from different places we visited on the latest tour.
While New Belgium is no longer the small operation it was 25+ years ago, it still feels like a small company that cares about its products, employees, the community at large, the environment AND financial health. As a retired strategic planning consultant, I was naturally drawn to a couple of posters hanging on the walls in a small conference room that wasn’t officially part of the tour – one with a synopsis of New Belgium’s organizational direction (mission, vision and strategic goals) and the other delineating the company’s core values.
Given that environmental stewardship is listed as a core value and one of the company’s strategic initiatives is to reduce energy and water intensity, it makes sense that they would track specific metrics related to progress toward goals. This information is also shared publicly via a formal annual report as well as informally through real time data displays at the brewery, like the photo on the right shown below.
More details about New Belgium’s commitment to sustainability and other aspects of the corporate culture are available in the 2018 Force for Good Report on the company’s website.
With so much information from the tour to digest on a picture perfect summer afternoon, Bill and I decided we should pause for a beverage on the New Belgium patio before tackling the bike ride home. Definitely a fun way to spend an afternoon!