New Belgium Brewing Company: Fort Collins, CO

For America’s craft beer fan, a visit to New Belgium’s headquarters in Fort Collins is an obligation. I knew a few random facts about their employee benefits and the beers, but seeing it made it more real.

Before going, I heard it was an equal employee owned company, which is true. After working at New Belgium for a year, employees are given a bicycle. Founder Jeff Lebesch went on a beer/bicycle pilgrimage to Belgium, where he created the famous Fat Tire recipe after talking with some Belgian beer lovers. Unsurprisingly, the bicycle has become a New Belgium symbol. On that same first year anniversary of working there, employees also begin to earn their shares of the company. After 5 or 6 years, the employee reaches its maximum stake. It’s an exciting journey to work and slowly gain the stock in your own employer, like our tour guide. She’s counting down to the big day in 2020 or 2021. Since many employees bike to work then, they need to arrive early if they hope to get some space at the rack.

I also really enjoyed the “gas pump” they have near the electric vehicle charging station. It says 0 gas used, 0 exhaust, and 100% electric. New Belgium puts a lot of energy into their building designs, and Colorado is actually the sunniest state in the US with an average of 300 days of sun per year so solar panels offset much of their carbon footprint.

The first stop on the tour is a look at the original equipment that Jeff and Kim used to brew beer in a basement. Jeff would brew while Kim would help with the administrative side of the operation, helping with deliveries, accounting, and legal checkpoints.

Before Kim and Jeff moved out of the basement, Brian Callahan was sitting with a New Belgium beer in Laramie, Wyoming. He saw the address on the bottle and drove the hour into Fort Collins. Once he got there, he asked Jeff and Kim if he could work for them. When they said no job was available, he offered to get paid in beer.

Fast forward to 2019, he is now the longest-tenured employee at New Belgium. Rumor has it he now gets paid in United States Dollars, now. So that’s cool too. His title? Director of Fun. Job duties range from printing quirky articles for bathroom reading to organizing employee volleyball tournaments. I’d bet he was involved in the installation of the slide at the end of the tour and the air hockey in the bottling facility, but that’s unconfirmed.

New Belgium makes a lot of sour beers. Many Belgian styles are sour, so this makes sense. Their massive barrel-aging room on the tour is by far the largest I’ve ever seen. Originally used for wine, these foeders help create distinct tastes that New Belgium is looking for.

As you can see, the vast amount of beer made here (nearly 1 million barrels annually) is difficult to imagine. This story of a tiny little idea in a home brewing club has obviously expanded beyond their dreams. The massive campus and employees eager for the company to succeed makes it a great place to visit. On the Saturday I visited, I needed to purchase the tickets for the tour weeks in advance, and the whole space was covered with dogs, people, and food truck food. The property boasts an indoor bar with a couple different areas for outdoor seating. Tours are available often, but a free reservation is required due to the popularity. While on the tour, I received either three or four free pours, which helped me try a couple different recipes that I wasn’t very familiar with. Check this website for more information: https://www.newbelgium.com/brewery/tours/ I can’t wait to try it again. I loved visiting the Fort Collins hub. Cheers!

4.5/5

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