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New Belgium – Memory Lane

Ale Street News Publishers Jack Babin and Tony Forder in the New Belgium Brewhouse

New Belgium – Memory Lane

Photo – Ale Street News Publishers Jack Babin and Tony Forder in the New Belgium Brewhouse, 2011.

by Tony Forder

We visited New Belgium Brewing in the mid-90s, on one of our first Ale Street News tours to Denver for the Great American Beer Festival. This was their first microbrewery with a small brewing system. Kim Jordan and her partner Jeff Lebesch were very welcoming and modest. We liked them and thought the Belgium idea was very cool, never suspecting, as I’m sure the owners weren’t, that New Belgium would become the 4th largest craft brewery in the country. Although, at the time they were planning to move into a 50,000-bbl facility, considered pretty large at the time.

The following year I was at a Craft Brewers Conference in Austin, Texas on a bus outing to San Antonio, talking to the owner of Broad Ripple Brewing, a fellow ex-Brit. We were comparing notes on New Belgium, mostly complimentary. Unbeknownst to us, Kim and Jeff were listening in on the seat in front of us.
Over the years, as we continued taking groups out to the GABF, we visited New Belgium many times, not every year, but every other year it seemed like.

We even had a dedicated tour guide. Bryan Simpson was the third employee hired by New Belgium, and he would insist on showing us around every time we visited. And as the brewery grew and grew it seemed there was always something new to see. The new brewhouse with its brewhouse bar was about as close to heaven as I’d experienced. The sanctity of the barrel room was also a spiritual experience. I remember one year they took us up on top of the tank farm…high in the sky with the solar panels and an amazing Rocky Mountain backdrop.

One year we were taking a backroad to Boulder to go through a little town named Nederland where we’d heard about a small brewpub named Wolf Tongue. It turned out that they had the original New Belgium brewing equipment from Kim and Jeff’s basement.

Not only was New Belgium’s reputation tops in beer quality but also in its reputation as a place to work. After a year they gave you a bicycle, as depicted on their logo. After five years you were rewarded with a week-long trip to Belgium.
The employees always had smiles on their faces. We hope that continues.

Read Part 1: The New Belgium Sale – What it Means