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New Belgium Brewing Company

by Chris Meehan on August 4, 2015, 07:30 am MDT

www.newbelgium.com

Fort Collins, Colorado

Founded: 1991

Employee-owned

Employees: 620

Co-founder and CEO Kim Jordan launches Colorado's craft-brew leader distribution into the Northeast as production is forecast at just under a million barrels of beer in 2015.

Talk about rolling on. In a little over two decades the brewery has gone from operating out of a basement to becoming the nation's fourth-largest craft brewer and its eighth-largest brewery. Not bad for a company that got started because of a bike trip through Europe. 

That's a brief history of New Belgium Brewing Company, which brewed about 945,000 barrels of beer in 2014 -- nearly 10 times more than any other craft brewery in Colorado.

With a new brewery set to start producing salable beer in North Carolina this year, the company is set for continual growth. "We'll be somewhere over that and under a million in 2015," says Jordan.

Jordan says the success was a surprise. "Most entrepreneurs I know don't say: 'I'm going to start a business and say I'm going to be huge at some period in time,'" she says. "You start this thing, it takes a lot of work. You start to hire people, you have risks here and there and you kind of keep looking around and go 'Wow, look we're this big now.’"

"The thing that has made us want to grow more is that it provides opportunities for our coworkers," Jordan adds. "If you're stuck in a static spot it's hard to have new energy and things to do that offer a real sense of intellectual curiosity and vibrancy and that is really our catalyst for growing." The company, a registered B Corp., is co-owned by all of its employees.

New Belgium's flagship Fat Tire Ale led it through the craft beer boom in the 1990s and it has continued to grow a diverse portfolio of beers that includes standbys like Fat Tire and Sunshine Wheat alongside more exotic Lips of Faith and Hop Kitchen releases. The company has also announced a new sour-centric pilot brewery in the works for the Source Hotel in Denver's RiNo area.

VIEW THE BREWERYWEEK ARCHIVE 

The brewery is in 38 states in the U.S. and expects to grow into more soon: The company expects to expand into Pennsylvania as soon as the new brewery comes online. It will be New Belgium's first state north of Delaware.

The company, Jordan explains, has reached brewing and packaging capacity in Fort Collins. It would have to build a third brewery in Fort Collins but that might not have the advantages of locating a new facility elsewhere. Locally, too, it would add to traffic congestion and could require more infrastructure. Moreover, "We don't get the synergies when you have to build a whole other brewery," she adds.

Building more capacity in Fort Collins wouldn't reduce the costs of shipping beer across the country, whereas building a brewery in Asheville, North Carolina, allows the company to better serve markets on the Atlantic Coast.

"When we first started distributing beer on the East Coast we did so knowing at some point we we would need to build some capacity. We committed to do it on the East Coast so we would have a brand presence there and not be shipping beer across the U.S.," Jordan explains. "The beer business is a different business these days than when the big brewers in America built their one big singular brewery and now it makes more sense to spread that out."

Favorite beers: "I tend toward hoppy beers. I also really love saisons and interesting sour beers," Jordan says. "A favorite beer is a tough one to nail down. I've been drinking a lot of Slow Ride lately. When we get a new beer, I want to drink a lot of it because of palette memory and because it's delicious and I want to see from batch to batch how it's doing, especially with hoppy beers; you want to make sure that hop aroma is still in the forefront and lively."

Challenges: "Certainly getting Asheville up and running," Jordan says. "That's an $140 million investment. There's hiring and building a community that's consistent with what we want. Making sure the beers are delicious and consistent with what's coming out of Fort Collins."

Opportunities: "We think that we have some interesting ideas on the way that we can continue to support a fabulous community," Jordan says. "We are plying an ancient trade in a way that has a lot of collaboration and fun and spontaneity and creativity. We want to make sure we're helping breweries to figure out how to stay independent and do what they love."

Needs: "Can't think of anything. Needs is different than working on succession strategies and what our place in the world is. I don't really have something juicy for you," Jordan says.

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