Never in my wildest dream did I image mixing something as amazing as beer and Ben & Jerry's Cookie Dough Ice Cream. New Belgium Brewery did. They even decided that all proceeds from this taste bud exploding venture would go to Protect Our Winters (a leading climate change advocacy group).
Santa never came up with this nice a gift.
Founded in Fort Collins in 1991, New Belgium has transcended the world of beer to become a leader in responsable business practices. They're a certified B-Corp (the business equivalent of Fair Trade for coffee), they recuperate 99.8% of their water use, they're a 100% employee-owned and they've even donated over 8 million dollars in grants. And that's just the tip of the iceberg of everything admirable they do.
Who knew craft beer could accomplish so much?
Before we get to our interview with New Belgium Brewing (NBB), I wanted to display an interesting concept I found on their website. What is the most eco-friendly method to consume beer (glass, cans of kegs)? You can find all the information you need for your decision making here, or you can just take a peak at the graph below.
First question. If you could only pick one, beer or coffee and why?
Well, beer since I’m in the business! But, also, beer plays an important role in society – at its best it can bring people together and create space for conversation, joy, empathy and understanding. It’s powerfully quenching, pairs well with all manner of cuisine and there is nothing better after a bike ride. I love me some coffee but stranded on an island, it would be a no brainer.
Describe New Belgium’s most unique beer?
While we have some amazing wood and sour beers, I often come back to Biere de Mars for this one. It was our first beer using brettanomyces, a microbe that can impart fruit, sour and even barnyard like tones (in a good way). Our Brewmaster Peter Bouckaert first created this beer around 1998 and was inspired by the “structural integrity and delicate organic nature” of works by Belgian architect, Victor Horta. A beer inspired by an architect! That ranks right up there. Biere de Mars comes back from time to time so keep an eye out.
We’ve also done some crazy ones with Ben & Jerry’s like this year’s Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Ale. And really anything out of the wood cellar like La Folie and Le Terroir.
What are the advantages of being a 100% employee-owned?
There are countless benefits and they all add up to one meta benefit: culture. The culture of ownership at New Belgium allows people to show up everyday as their best selves. We are challenged to think and act like owners and that means innovation comes from everywhere within the company.
It’s a pretty flat structure so we all take part in our departmental goals and our long term planning. That keeps people deeply engaged and enthused. Plus, it is truly shared equity for our co-workers. Our founders could have walked away with a lot more money, but they chose to share equity with everyone who has helped build the business. There are many folks at New Belgium who have worked the dock, run machines, given tours - who will retire with a lot more comfort than they may have had otherwise. That’s no small thing these days.
Owners and employees
What is the most responsible way for an outdoor lover to drink beer?
From a carbon or litter perspective, the most energy intensive part of producing beer is the package - the glass or can the beer goes into. So, if you can swing it, ideally you would drink draft beer at the bar and you could take a refillable glass (or stainless!) growler with you on a hike. The refillable nature of both the growler and the keg (if you happen be hiking or biking out to your nearest honky tonk) would minimize your carbon footprint and show true appreciate for the great outdoors.
Who inspires you?
In beer you needn’t even leave Fort Collins – Gordon and the crew at Funkwerks, Lindsay at Horse & Dragon, Colin at Equinox and of course Doug and Winn and the whole crew over at Odell. There are so many more of course. We are very luck to have so many inspiring brewers living right here among us.
New Belgium Beer has had a long journey. Which accomplishment are you the most proud of?
There’s something to be said for remaining independent and 100% employee-owned in this hyper competitive environment. You’ve got the big brewers buying up craft breweries to blur the lines as to what is independent or craft, all the while they are pushing those beers out everywhere through their distribution networks. At the same time, you’re competing against all the Pretty Young Things just starting out. Staying ahead of the curve with innovation, doing work that is fun and meaningful, and focusing on creating world-class beers is a great challenge - and it’s incredibly rewarding.
Thank you so much for doing this. Where can people learn more about NBB?
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