One of the non-beer reasons why I enjoy the craft beer community, and why I write about it’s many facets, is that there are no “artisan corporations,” but there are “artisan breweries.” The difference, to me, is akin to the subtle change from the word house to home. One is four walls and a roof and the other is where you live. The craft beer world has many “homes.” Dogfish Head and Stone. Widmer and Sierra Nevada. Another “beer home” is New Belgium Brewing from Fort Collins, Colorado. Most will know New Belgium as the maker of the popular Fat Tire amber which is available in bottles and now cans but they also have a great variety of limited releases that are extremely creative and much sought after. Currently you can pick up a six-pack of 2 Below, their winter seasonal, at most fine beer establishments.
After Thanksgiving, I had the chance to e-talk with Greg Owsley from New Belgium about their role in the craft beer revolution, Lips of Faith, sour beers and what is on the horizon for their fans.
How has New Belgium changed from inception to the major player in the craft beer industry? And is that change seen more in employees, the beer or customers?
New Belgium is certainly no longer a 20-barrel brewery in the founders’ basement, but I’m not sure “changed” is the right verb. Maybe grown? Evolved? Matured in a good way? The core values and beliefs that Kim and Jeff wrote down before they bottled the 1st New Belgium beers still anchor our company ethos. Something like 90% of the original co-workers are still employee owners. We still make 4 of the original 5 recipes Jeff launched with. Yet, we’ve thrived, we think, by being a living, breathing, learning organization always looking for new pioneering opportunities. We’re not the biggest in craft volume, but I do think that forward thinking has placed New Belgium at the forefront of the good beer revolution. It’s cool now to see all the American breweries making Belgian style, sour and Bretta beers – stuff our Belgian-born brew jester, Peter Bouckaert, was pushing us to do in the ’90s. Sustainable practices too and how we’ve made those integral to our brewing business success. I guess as we accomplish one dream we start looking for another.
What has been the consumer reaction to the Lips of Faith series and the La Folie beers?
The number of followers of Lips of Faith is still cult sized and I can’t imagine that ever changing. Case in point is you Sean: as not even somebody who mostly drinks craft beer is necessarily going to be seeking a brew with dandelion in it. The weird beer crowd is small enough to nearly be on a first name basis with each other and us and that’s great. That’s perfect for Lips of Faith. Though next year we do want to get better about getting Lips of Faith and La Folie into all the bars and bottle shops where these beers will be appreciated.
Sour beers have really picked up steam as of late. Transatlantique Kriek and Tart Lychee are really good but are pushing the sour edge to the limit. What is the next step style wise for New Belgium?
Funny, Transatlantique Kriek and Tart Lychee actually don’t push the sour as much as La Folie or our rare NB Love, but I agree they are not for everybody. Interestingly, our plan for sour next year includes a try at an approachable sour worthy of a six-pack, something that everyday craft beer drinkers can get into. And something us beer geeks can pack in the cooler for after a soccer game. Your readers up in Seattle, where we are doing some collabeeration with Elysian, got a sneak preview of what we want to make with the beer called Trip III.
And here is something else for the hopheads to start salivating over…
There’s some other Lips of Faith gems in the polishing stage, but I guess the big news from New Belgium land is that we’re (finally) launching an IPA next year. No less than 16 months in development as we figured if you’re the last craft brewery in America to make one, you better make your IPA dang good. It’s called Ranger, named in honor of our Beer Rangers (street reps) who have been begging for an IPA for years.
Find more of Sean Inman’s writing on his blog, Beer Search Party.