January 23, 2009

Behind The Scenes at New Belgium Brewing… elephant journal hops into one of America’s best breweries.

Hello friends and beer-lovers. My name is Rusty Ralston and I work for the New York Times.  Well, umm, actually, ahem… I work for Elephant Journal. Not quite the same, really.

BUT, that’s how I was treated at New Belgium Brewery… like press royalty!
I had quite the good fortune of getting a private tour of the New Belgium Brewery led by the first employee at the company, Brian Callahan, and New Belgium branding guru,  Adrian Glasenapp. By private, I mean VIP behind the scenes all-access pass to the brewery… can you ask for more than that? They even welcomed me with a hand-drawn sign by Bernie, who must be the one of the greatest tour guides of any brewery in America.
For those of you unfamiliar with the New Belgium Brewery, first let me give you a little breakdown. New Belgium is now the 8th largest brewery in America. So, if you think you know American beer, but haven’t heard of New Belgium… now you know of one of the only 100% American-owned breweries in the states. These are all noteworthy things, but the reason New Belgium Brewery is remarkable and garners our attention at Elephant is their commitment to being environmentally sustainable and taking that platform to people in a fun, clever, and inspiring way. Not only do they make incredible beer, but they make it in incredible ways.
The story of Fat Tire is what companies dream of… how did this happen? Surely, they had a master marketing plan detailing the word of mouth campaign, guerilla tactics to subversively convert people, and an approximation of the tipping point into massive awareness? Well, not exactly. The founder of New Belgium thought the Abbey Ale would be the best-seller… clearly it was the unique brew in the lineup and it garnered the most awards and accolades… but that Fat Tire… well, it becoming a legend wasn’t impossible but it wasn’t part of the blueprint either. But there was something about Fat Tire that would not yield… and it exploded across the country and Fat Tire is now available in 19 states.
Fat Tire’s mythical status is known across the east, as anyone returning back east from Colorado would pick up cases of the stuff to return to their buddies or hoard themselves. In fact, the first time I experienced Fat Tire was years ago in Nashville, Tennessee. My good-times loving friend Jess secured some on a visit to Colorado and flew a bottle back to me in Nashville…and yeah, I experienced the biscuit-ey flavored amber hued beer and the lore continued to spread. Although Fat Tire is what made New Belgium famous, I have come to adopt their 1554 Enlightened Black Ale as my favorite stand-by Colorado beer. It’s dark but not heavy, very well balanced, and entirely unique. Legend says the beer researchers at New belgium traveled through Belgium and after many hours of “research”, unearthed this style of beer in some long-forgotten records. 1554 is widely available… I believe you can buy it in 19 states, so pick some up!
When I talk about the brewery being environmentally sustainable, I am not talking about their in-office recycling aluminum drive or the nifty new paper recycling bins… you might find this at Corporate America USA, but New Belgium is on a whole other level. I am talking about their all-consuming sustainable focus… filled with everything from being the first wind-powered brewery, being 15% methane-powered from methane trapped on their land, their mad usage of bicycle commuting, their commitment to environmental causes, preferred parking for hybrid cars, the way the brewery is engineered to reuse energy, reduce consumption, and recycle everything from old bike parts to salvaged counter tops… they do it all. Their commitment to this way of life is unparalleled across business practices in the United States. I am not talking about being a leader in the brewing industry, I am talking about them being an an environmental leader to almost every field of business in America. New Belgium has proved that being green and helping the environment is NOT an opposite to making money… in fact, if anything this is another factor driving sales. And this is seen by all the Fortune 500 companies that show up at their doorstep and ask for a brewery tour and tips on how they can do it themselves.
Another way New Belgium is pushing the limits, is with their wheat beer, Organic Mothership Wit. So, if you’re wondering; why does drinking organic beer matter? Well, here are some simple answers:
1. No pesticides and chemical fertilizers in the ground, which deplete the soil of nutrients. That means Barley and Hops that are just as nature intended… and the crops help the soil instead of hurting it.
2. No possible pesticide residue in your beer. I know you like a little zing, but not that zing.
3. More vitamins in your beer. That’s right, organic beer is actually better for you! Beer is a good source of vitamins… and it has been proven that organic crops have more of them. So, Mothership Wit is actually better for you than a non-organic brew!
The question that I have about New Belgium, is how will they sustain their commitment to the environment as they grow into one of the biggest breweries in the country?  And if they ever become a publicly held company (instead of being 100% employee owned),  will their practices die out and the beer carry on? I’d like to think that New Belgium’s practices will not only flourish in the future, but impact the beer industry and other types of businesses across the country. As a new president takes office who has touted the possibilities of the “green” economy, I hope New Belgium is in the middle of that movement and continues to be a force of good times, amazing beer, and a business model that cares about the green on both sides of the coin.
Oh, last but not least… here are some of my favorite New Belgium brews… 1554 Enlightened Black Ale is my favorite all-around Colorado beer , Organic Mothership Wit is one of the best wheat beers out there (and organic!), and their Trippel is a classic Belgian style made right here in the states… ENJOY!

Photos / Blog by Rusty Ralston (http://rustyralston.com)

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