I still remember my first sip of Fat Tire. I was at work, (relax I worked at a
liquor store wine market) and the beer buyer who was in charge of my beerducation had me try it. A burst of sunlight broke through the clouds, an angelic choir sang, yadda yadda, it was magical. Before that first ambrosial sip, I was a Miller High Life & Pabst kinda gal — Blue Moon if I was feeling “fancy”, but Fat Tire opened my eyes to a whole new world of beer. So, visiting New Belgium Brewery in Fort Collins was something of a pilgrimage —a visit to the Holy Land of craft brewing, if you will.
We were lucky enough to score spots on an afternoon tour. (Book 2 months in advance for a spot on the tour.) After landing in Denver one wintry afternoon, we hopped into my brother’s jeep (thanks Ben!) and drove straight to Fort Collins. After a lamentably brief stop at nearby Odell Brewing Co., we finally arrived in the Promised Land.
The tap room is filled with happy people enjoying delicious craft beer. A riot of artwork dedicated to New Belgium’s iconic bikes and brews explodes from the rafters and corners creating a unique and tailor-made drinking experience. Although it’s tempting to belly up to the bar immediately, we suggest you first check in for your tour and wait. The tour, which is free by the way, generously plies you with everything the brewery has on tap, so hold off until your tour starts.
Tours are led by gregarious guides who are knowledgeable and passionate about their beer and the company that makes it. You start off with a brief introduction to the history and culture of New Belgium, which is accompanied by your first sample. Then you head upstairs to the most stunning brewhouse on earth…
…complete with disco ball and bike rim chandeliers…
…Belgian beer glass trees…
…and pull-your-own-draft samples.
New Belgium is now the seventh largest brewer in the US, but their size has not compromised their dedication to their craft or their company culture. The company is 100% employee owned, and the benefits of working there are undeniable. One of the most visible perks are the bikes. On each employee’s first anniversary, they receive a limited edition bike, similar to the one that founder Jeff Lebesch rode on his inspirational bike trip through Belgium. Each year the bike is different, so you can tell how long someone has been working at the brewery by their wheels.
Employees also enjoy playing ping-ping (pint pong?) on the canning line.
This part of the brewery is also graced with candeliers. Wouldn’t you like one of these for your house? Time to start collecting cans! We also got to try their fabulous Shift beer at this point in the tour. Shift, an APA/Lager, is what each employee gets as a free drink after, you guessed it, their shift is done for the day.
New Belgium is also home to the fantastical “foeder forest”. Here, their foeders (giant wooden wine barrels) are used to age their fabulous sour beers. And yes, we got to try more beer here!
We have been on a lot of brewery tours, but New Belgium blew us away with their passion, dedication and commitment to excellence. Visiting the brewery was like entering a fantastical world of pure fermentation.
Open Tuesday-Saturday, 10am-6pm. Tours run frequently, but you must reserve a spot.
This marriage of beer, passion and artistry is not to be missed. A beer drinkers nirvana.