By Chris Meehan | Jul 30, 2015
Fort Collins, Colorado
"The job I do here at New Belgium is basically work at a small brewery and try to figure out how to run a small brewery inside a big brewery," Salazar says in explaining the company's Lips of Faith series.
Lips of Faith, like the Hop Kitchen series, allows the company and its brewers to remain inventive and true to the craft beer spirit of experimentation within the brewery's need to produce its bread-and-butter beers like Fat Tire. They're wild beers like: Eric's Ale, a sour ale spiked with peach; Salted Belgian Chocolate Stout; or Coconut Curry Hefeweizen, to name a few. Many may only see one run.
The brewery began the Lips of Faith line in 2005, Salazar explains. For the company's 15th anniversary they cooked up a batch of beer they called Le Fleur Misseur?, which they handed to co-founder Jeff Lebesch. The misspelling and question mark are from Lebesch's notebook, from his fateful trip to Belgium. Salazar says it was a pivotal moment for him, something that helped him push on riding his bike.
It was nothing close to a mainstream U.S. beer. "At the time this was completely radical. These weird, strange beers -- people weren't doing many of them. Now many breweries' entire portfolio are these types of beers. You take a leap of faith with your lips."
"That's how we started that," Salazar says. "At the time when I started it I went to all the brewers. I knew they had recipes in their back pocket burning a hole. I went to them and said this is your chance." They could try the ideas they'd had and see how they came out."
They were having fun making the beers, but didn't have a solid way to get them to market. "Occasionally they'd fall on the truck and get to places," Salazar says. "But customers were like: 'Stop doing that. Seriously.'"
Salazar and Jordan sent 100 handwritten letters to customers asking them to dedicate a handle at the bar to the series of beers, rotating them throughout the year as new Lips of Faith beers came out. They got a positive response and began sending the kegs of one-off beers out. Since then they've gone from kegs only to a mix of about 60 percent bottles and 40 percent kegs, Salazar says.
Now Salazar is focussed on expanding New Belgium's specialty beers. "I was really trying to figure out how best to integrate these brands into the larger brand so I took more charge in 2015," she says. "I wanted there to be something flowing all the time, whether it's a seasonal or Lips of Faith, a sour, or a Hop Kitchen beer."
As part of that change she's also changing how the brewery handles orders for the series. "I went to distributor pre-order. So we basically take orders from distributors and we buy the raw materials to fill an order out." She says that takes about four months of planning to work out.