Wednesday, January 18, 2012

From Micro To Macro: 11 Years Later

It’s now the 3rd largest Macro brewery in the country behind Samuel Adams and Sierra Nevada - but back when I first heard about them they were a small growing microbrewery. Best known around the country for ‘Fat Tire’ it’s the beer that made them famous and pays many of the bills, but it’s by far all New Belgium Brewing Co. has to offer.

It was ‘Sunshine Wheat’ that was my go to beer in college and what I referred to as my favorite beer for the better half of a decade. I even have a very worn in long sleeved sunshine shirt from my first visit to the Fort Collins brewery back in the summer of 2000.

(vintage photos from my college collection)
I’ll still grab a ‘Sunshine Wheat’ now and then but with the nearly two dozen choices that NBB has up for grabs these days, I try to test out the unknown. That’s one of the reasons why we decided to tour the brewery during a Christmas 2011 visit to Fort Collins. I’m going to blog about it now despite it being out of the WestToast region for a few reasons. You can find at least a half dozen NBB beers at most grocery stores and taverns up and down the West Coast, it’s grown from a garage operation into one of the most successful beer businesses in the country and it’s still employee owned and if you like beer chances are you’ll end up in Colorado at some point since all of us should for the Great American Beer Festival.

We were able to sign up for a tour time the day before since was the middle of the week, there were only five of us and it was a couple weeks before Christmas but by the time we arrived the next day our tour slot was booked up - so sign up in advance if you know you’re going to be in the area. You can do it online and they offer a ton of tour options. When you get there just let the bar know you’re there for a tour, show them your confirmation (mine was on my phone) and then just wait for someone to holler that the xx:xx time tour is starting.

The brewery keeps you stimulated from the moment you walk in the door and continues during the tour. The first room we entered had tables filled with beer knickknacks and of course our first sample. That sample was ‘Ken’s Beer.’ It’s a wheat beer that was created by Fermentology Master Ken. How’d he get his own beer you might wonder? Each year the brewery does a “Loose Lips” contest. They artyu; dump different amounts of three different beers together and employees who want to participate are sightless and taste the mix. Anyone who guesses not only what three beers are in there, but the proportion of each, gets to make a batch of their own. Ken did it so he created a canary-golden color but traditionally cloudy Hefe. This one had a peppery punch and left some spice on your tongue. These ‘Loose Lips’ beers are only available at the brewery.

We moved onto the kettle room next with a glass of ‘Jared’s Smoked Peach Porter’ in our hands. Another ‘Loose Lips’ beer this 8.0 ABV beer was intense. The first taste is the peach and you think it’s going to be a nice fruity beer but then the smoke hits you and you realize this isn’t the girly beer your lips first thought it was. In the kettle room we got to check out what was boiling, take pictures in the joyride photo booth while sharing NBB memories and tast the 9.5% ABV ‘Abbey Grand Cru.’ This is the company’s very first beer, what co-founder Jeff Lebesch first developed in his home brewery.

The tour then took us out back, to a newer expansion to the Brewery. On they way we passed dozens of fat tire cruisers. Some in racks for use by sales staff when they come to town and others belonging to employees. The company designs a new cruiser each year and on an employee’s first anniversary they’re presented with that year’s model as a thank you for what they bring to the business.

As we walked into the bottling plant (where more expansion is underway) we were poured ‘Fat Tire’ from 12 ounce bottles. The sixers had just come off the line and were nice and tasty.

In my opinion our tour guide saved the best for last. He took us into the barrel room and let us try La Folie sour brown ale. It was my first time trying a sour beer and I’m hooked. NBB ages this brew for three years in the barrel and for that reason it costs more than $15.00 for a 22 ounce bottle. The bottle’s label is silk screened on so along with the delicious taste you could always repurpose the bottle as a vase, candleholder or tiki torch fuel holder when you get done.
(group and slide photo courtesy: Carri Mahaffey)

At New Belgium it’s a work hard play hard attitude and giving back is part of the culture so drink up! For every barrel NBB produces it gives $1.00 to non-profits in the communities where NBB is sold, that includes WestToast states.


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