First founded in 1991, New Belgium Brewing Company is today among the top five biggest craft beer breweries in the United States, and among its top ten largest breweries overall. Its most notable product is its Fat Tire amber ale, which may sound pedestrian to hardcore beer geeks but in its time had helped catapult the Fort Collins, Colorado-based microbrewery into the big (beer) league. Even today the Fat Tire is still a fixture in many craft beer bars throughout the country.
Of course, this means it must make a lot of beer on its sprawling site located along the Cache La Poudre river in Fort Collins, about an hour’s drive from Denver. You’d easily spot its crimson and white logo emblazoned on its main building, featuring a bicycle, from afar. In fact you’ll see plenty of vintage type bicycles scattered all over New Belgium’s brewery, paying homage to Fat Tire, and which also ties in with the brewery’s history – founder and president Jeff Lebesch started New Belgium after returning from riding his mountain bike (complete with fat tracked tires, of course) across Europe visiting places that were famous for their beers back in 1989. Fat Tire was one of the two recipes he first brewed in his basement setup.
That humble basement of Lebesch’s has today grown into a massive modern, fully-automated facility with an over 900,000-barrel capacity. And the demand for its beers are still growing. New Belgium has also recently announced a new 140,000-barrel brewery facility to be built in Asheville, North Carolina that will be ready in 2015 to supply burgeoning demand for the eastern part of the United States.
For now most of the production still comes from the Cache La Poudre facility. When you sign up for the 90-minute tour you’d be brought around to see almost everything the brewery has to offer, from the huge metal tuns for mashing all the way to the control centre with a display that looks like it belongs on the main deck of the Star Trek’s USS Enterprise.
You’ll also see the massive bottling line; for a beer geek or a hophead, there’s nothing quite like pulling a bottle of Ranger IPA that’s just been filled with beer mere minutes ago, fresh off the bottling line and popping it open for a taste.
If you’re into barrel-aged beers, you may want to check out New Belgium’s barrel-aging program; they have a massive room dedicated to housing its huge barrels. You may, for example, spy the ex-bourbon whisky casks from Denver-based small batch distillers Leopold Brothers.
New Belgium is among the first breweries in the United States to make sour beers, even before the current sour beer craze sweeping the American craft beer world. It first made sour beers back in 1998 – the La Folie – when it landed brewmaster Peter Bouckaert from Rodenbach (which is famous for its Flemish sour reds) with La Folie, and in the months to come Boukaert will have more of the casks to make all the sour beers to his heart’s content. The brewery recently doubled its wood beer capacity with the addition of 32 new French oak foeders – large wooden casks used for conditioning sour beers – that will effectively double its sour beer production.
When we visited during the week of the Great American Beer Festival, the brewery even arranged for various food trucks to be encamped on its grounds in a carnival-like atmosphere.
Make sure you book for a free tour before you arrive (with beer sampling); otherwise the tasting room and the adjoining merchandise store is all you can peruse.
If you make a trip out to Fort Collins to visit New Belgium, do make time to also visit Odell Brewing, a mere stone’s throw away.
New Belgium Brewing Company is located at 500 Linden, Fort Collins, Colorado 80524 USA.