This past weekend I was in Colorado on a ski trip with a friend from college. I got in Thursday night to Denver and early Friday morning we found out that all the passes into the mountains were closed because of severe winds. Lost about what to do next, we decided to take a drive out to Fort Collins to take a tour of the New Belgium Brewing Company. Needless to say, this was the best damn decision we could have made.
New Belgium Brewing is the brain child of husband and wife Jeff Lebesch and Kim Jordan. Jeff, an electrical engineer by trade, was inspired to brew after a bike tour in Belgium and returned back to the states with a desire to replicate the wonderful brews he had while he was there. Founded in 1991, it began as a 3 barrel system that was run out of Jeff's basement, now on display at the brewery. The first brew was the Abby Ale and the flagship brew, Fat Tire (named after the nickname that was given to him mountain bike by the Europeans who had never seen such a "fat tire") was the second recipe that was created.
It has since grown to a 200 barrel system that touts being the third highest selling craft brewery behind only Samuel Adams and Sierra Nevada. That's a lot of say considering that it's only available in 18 states (New York is not one of the lucky 18). Funny fact was that on the first release of the brew, they left their home phone number as their contact information. After getting a few too many 4am phone calls about how awesome their beer was, they changed that.
The bike is a very important symbol for the folks at New Belgium. First off, the company was founded as the result of a one of Jeff's bike tours, but there's more. When employees have worked at the company for a year, they get a bike that they can ride to work. The bikes for classes are the same color so that folks know who started when. After 5 years the employees get a paid trip to Belgium to take a bike tour in the steps of Jeff. The bike is also a symbol of their commitment to sustainability and the environment. This place is currently run off of renewable resources with 90% of its power being wind and 10% being methane conversion. They utilize natural light in their bottling facility and their spent grain is given to a local farmer who uses it to feed his cattle (lucky cows). They focus on creating a good environment for their employees and for the rest of the world.
This place is the real deal.
As I said, the flagship brew is Fat Tire (an American Amber) with the original brew being the Abby. They also have Sunshine (wheat), Mothership Wit, Blue Paddle (Pilsner), 1554 (Brussels Black Ale), Trippel, and several seasonal and limited release brews (there was a La Folie while I was there). One of the things that stuck out to me was that they use 7 different kinds of yeast. This, compared to the "house yeast" method that many breweries use, is a breath of fresh air to a brewer. The fact that they are using a Belgium yeast for a Belgium beer makes me smile.
While they currently only use the 200 barrel system, they have a 100 barrel system that they use for "test batches". Employees are encouraged to submit recipes that can be made on the 100 barrel system and if they take off, they can be let out in limited release. While we were there, they had a Belgian sour that was on tap that was pretty good (from what I could tell, I honestly don't have a good tongue for them just yet) that was aged for 3 years and was made in the 100 barrel system. They use basic 2-row malt and dough in at 98f before mashing. Adding this step allows them to increase their "efficiency" (as opposed to brewers efficiency, they are thinking more about power not grain yield) as they are slowly increasing the heat of the liquor as the process progresses.
This was a great experience! The people at the brewery were GREAT! This place is the real deal. From the employees slide and foosball table to the bikes, to the sustainability, they practice what they preach at New Belgium. I highly recommend making the trip out there if you are ever in Denver. It's about a 1hr trip from the city that is well worth it. Oh yea, and for the 32 states (like mine!) that don't get this beer, it's freaking awesome! I smuggled a few bottles back and I will write a review some other time.