New Belgium, the third largest craft brewery in the United States, is coming to Florida. On July 29, they will hit the shelves running in a state-wide launch featuring their core beers: Fat Tire, Sunshine Wheat, Tripel, Ranger IPA and Shift.
Any time one of the national big boys enters a market, it’s bound to send shockwaves through the craft beer community in that area. It affects bar and restaurant taps, shelf space in stores, and the local and regional breweries.
I am a firm believer there is a great abundance out there for all craft beer. Rather than fearing New Belgium will come in and stomp out the little guys, I think they will be a tremendous boon to the craft beer scene. The greatest asset they bring to the table: influence. (Well, that and more good beer.)
From what I’ve seen in my brief time here, there are some laws and regulations that could use tweaking. I could go up to the legislature or any number of distributors in the state, and I’d be lucky to get an appointment. New Belgium comes knocking and they listen.
That begs the question, is New Belgium a benevolent force in the galaxy? I was in South Carolina in 2009 for their launch there. (Prior to their arrival, I remember there was a tremendous buzz about this beer called “Fat Tire.”) In the time after the launch, I felt they were good citizens of the beer world, and they seemed to have a lot of fun. I enjoy their lineup of beer, and I fell in love with their Lips of Faith sours (more on that later).
My hope is that they will continue the acceptance and education of craft beer that local brewing pioneers such as Cigar City, Tampa Bay Brewing and Dunedin Brewing have already laid the groundwork for. New Belgium can help grow the pie for all craft beer.
And if there’s one thing we can all agree on, it’s that we need more pie.
A Trip to the Mothership
Nicole and I took a trip to Colorado in 2011, which included a stop in Ft. Collins to tour New Belgium. That experience gave me a renewed appreciation and great respect for the brewery.
New Belgium has a love for humanity at heart. They are 100% employee-owned and go to great lengths to be sustainable. They built a gigantic brewery (huge by craft standards) and it felt like they designed it specifically to be toured and experienced by their fans.
On the tour, you get to look through a window into the massive brew kettle as the wort is boiling, stand beside massive 100-bbl oak barrels that are aging sour beer, and gaze over the expanse of their bottling and canning lines.
The tour is free, and you always have a beer in your hand as they take you into each step of the process. The best part is at the end, when you can slide down a spiral slide and walk on over to the tasting room to enjoy another pint.
What really struck me while at the brewery is how much the employees love to be there and how much thought they put into the experience of New Belgium. There was a positive energy that everyone seemed to exude. It really comes through in the atmosphere, and I believe makes it’s way into the beer. I’ve never met a surly person that has worked for New Belgium.
New Belgium’s Beer, It’s More Than Fat Tire
You don’t get to be the third largest craft brewery in the country if you don’t make good beer. If you’re that big, your beer also has to be accessible to a large audience. New Belgium does both.
Most of the year-round beers, starting with their flagship, Fat Tire, are flavorful, well-balanced and easy to drink. They are not over the top with malt sweetness, hoppy bitterness, or crazy amounts of herbs and spices.
As they say in beer-geek-speak, their beers are sessionable, meaning you can drink one or more in a sitting over an extended period of time and not suffer the dreaded palate fatigue or get overly hammered.
This also means that their beer is much more accessible to the average consumer than the extreme beers most beer geeks go nuts over. Because of that, some in the beer community have criticized New Belgium as being uninteresting or boring.
I will certainly admin, Ranger is not my favorite IPA on the planet, nor do I consider New Belgium’s Trippel to be on the level of Westmalle. However, New Belgium makes solid beer that you can always count on as a go-to, in the same vein as Sierra Nevada Pale Ale.
Where New Belgium seeks to appeal to the beer geek is in their Lips of Faith series. Lips of Faith beers are small batch recipes that were inspired by ideas from their employees or collaborations with other breweries.
Some of my favorite Lips of Faith beers from the past have been Cocoa Mole (one of my favorite beers ever, an imperial porter with chilis, cocoa and cinnamon), Kick (a dark sour with cranberries and pumpkin) and Brett Beer (a funky wild collaboration with Lost Abbey).
Where I really fell in love with New Belgium is with their Lips of Faith sour beers. In 1996, they hired Peter Bouckaert from Rodenbach to be their head brewer. He brought the funk from Rodenbach, literally and figuratively, and has been producing some of the best sours in the world from Colorado.
La Folie is their “standard” sour, though I would hardly call any sour beer standard. It’s intensely tart with a zing of Granny Smith apples and dried cherries. My favorite sour I’ve had of New Belgium’s is Tart Lychee, made with lychee fruit and cinnamon. Other great sours that I have had from them are Le Terroir, Eric’s Ale, and Clutch.
New Belgium will be dropping 22 oz. bombers of each beer to start. Kegs and 12 oz. bottles and cans will follow starting September 16. As I mentioned at the top, they will be kicking off with five of their year-round beers:
- Fat Tire: The Flagship. The Golden Egg. The One Ring to Rule Them All. This is what made New Belgium famous. It’s an amber ale that’s slightly toasty and biscuity. It’s balanced, not too sweet or too hoppy, which makes it a very sessionable beer.
- Ranger IPA: To me, it tastes like a hoppy Fat Tire. It has a quaffable citrus hop aroma and a clean, bitter finish. It’s a solid, well-rounded IPA.
- Shift Pale Lager: A pilsner-esque pale lager featuring American and New Zealand hops. A little more hops, maltiness and body than your typical American Light Lager, it’s flavorful and easy to drink.
- Sunshine Wheat: A great summer beer. It’s a wheat beer with orange peel and coriander, like a better version of Blue Moon. It has a creamy wheat body with citrusy, spicy character. For those scared by bitterness, don’t worry, there’s no hoppiness to be found here.
- Trippel: A Belgian tripel with a bit of coriander added. It has notes of clove and bananas. It’s not as intensely sweet as many tripels you’ll find, which is either a good thing or a bad thing, depending on how you like your tripels.
There will also be a limited supply of four Lips of Faith varieties that you may be able to find scattered about at fine craft beer establishments:
- Cascara Quad: A dark Belgian strong ale with dates and cascara, which is the fruit of a coffee bean.
- Heavenly Feijoa Tripel: A Belgian strong ale with hibiscus and feijoa, which is like a pineapple guava.
- Pluot Ale: A funky 10% strong ale with pluots, fermented with a blend of Brett and their house Belgian strain.
- Paardebloem: A collaboration with Red Rocks Brewing that features dandelion greens, grains of paradise and wild Belgian yeast.
Some people are put off by success, particularly an artist’s success. Much like when your favorite band from college makes it big, and they are no longer “cool” to follow because everyone else listens to them now.
Similarly, breweries seems to fall into the same category. Achieve commercial success, and you must have “sold out.” I, for one, don’t subscribe to the starving artist theory. I believe that great artists should be compensated for the contribution they make to our world. Making a great product that a lot of people demand is not selling out, unless you’re Nickelback.
I’m excited that New Belgium will be here, and I look forward to cracking open a Fat Tire in a couple weeks. Cheers, and welcome to Florida!
(And please send some La Folie this way… soon…)