I couldn’t take the anxiety anymore. I wanted to jump from our moving car, run through their doors, and dive into a vat of beer. But damn it, I had to park, unbuckle, turn off the car, shut the door, and then walk to the front door like a civilized adult. It was a painfully restrained way of doing things, but I somehow managed. What was once a humble “basement operation,” started by Kim Jordan and Jeff Lebesch in 1991, was now a beautiful, state-of-the-art facility before my eyes. It’s a facility that is setting new standards for brewing operations, environmental friendliness, and employee happiness.
Upon walking inside, my eyes began to dilate. I didn’t know what to focus on: the brewing vessels in the background, the NBB pictures and memorabilia all over the walls, the bar - with an assortment of NBB beers, the coolers with La Folie, or the people I was rudely tripping over. It was a lot to take in. Luckily, my wife was able to speak for me, and we caught a tour that had just started.
The operations at NBB are state-of-the-art. The automation of the entire brewing process was designed and implemented by New Belgium. Much of the process is run by computer, which we saw in their main brewing room. Very impressive stuff, indeed.
NBB brews about nine batches per day, or 13,000 cases plus 1,200 kegs. In addition, they have a Krones labeling machine that labels 320 bottles per minute. Their quality assurance seems to be nothing less than exceptional. They have three labs on site and they propagate their own yeast. By the way, they use four strains of yeast: their Fat Tire yeast, an Abbey yeast, a Lager yeast, and a Wild Belgian yeast. No, they don’t use “Rocky Mountain Spring Water.” They use something better: Fort Collins’ city water, which is 60% better quality than the nation’s average. Maybe that’s why there are seven breweries in such a small town?
The employees I saw working there seemed to love their jobs (NBB employs about 150 people). I felt a “connection” because they were playing Pink Floyd in the bottling room. But anyway, they have an employee ownership program, which, with their growing success, may pay off rather well down the road (think Microsoft). In addition, after working there for five years, they send their employees on a trip to Belgium. Oh, and most importantly, every employee gets a free case of beer each week.
NBB is very conscientious concerning the environment. They do numerous things to conserve and save energy and waste. First, they take pride in recycling – just about everything. Second, they are the first wind-powered brewery in America – eliminating 1,800 metric tons of CO2 emissions per year. Third, they use light tubes, which harness the sun’s light, and bring it inside the building (their many windows also help add “free light” to the room). With more than 300 sunny days a year in that region of the country (more than San Diego or Miami), sunlight is no stranger. Fourth, they capture steam from the boil and re-circulate it to heat the next boil, heat the building in the winter, etc. Because of this, NBB uses half as much wastewater as the average brewery. And of course, the spent grains are sent to local ranchers to feed cattle. Fifth, many of their employees ride their bike to work, saving gas and emissions (BTW, another perquisite of working there: after being an employee for one year, you receive a new fat tire cruiser). Sixth - to infinity, I won’t get into, but you could imagine. Among their many awards, they’ve received EPA awards for their efficiency and environmental friendliness. On July 5, 2002, the NBC Today Show aired a three-minute story on New Belgium Brewing Co. and its environmental practices. Lebesch told them, "There never were aspirations to shoot for big bucks; it really was beer passion at the top of the list and still is." Jordan added, "We talked about being environmental stewards before we ever made a beer."
Not only is NBB very green, they are also very into “giving back” to the community. Each year NBB gives $1 per barrel to philanthropic causes. Donations are balanced between the realms of cultural, social, environmental, and drug and alcohol awareness programs.
NBB brews a slew of beers and many seasonals. Visit their website, www.newbelgium.com, for information on their beers or to read up on the history of the brewery. Figured they could tell it better than I can.
Overall, my experience at NBB was a great one. I left happy and satisfied, with over $100 worth of beer and merchandise. I recommend it to anyone.