Sunday, January 9, 2011

I Love This Company

While I have done my best to wholeheartedly embrace all that Colorado has to offer, there is one thing that I have shunned- beer. Colorado has the highest percentage of micro-breweries per capita in the U.S. And New Belgium Brewery is right here in town. But I'm not a drinker, so touring said brewery wasn't much of an imperative for me. I knew I wanted to check it out, because I had heard great things about the way the company is run, but I just hadn't gotten around to it. Having J-Ben and P! in town was the perfect chance to go ahead and do the tour.
Outside view of the brewery
We got there around 12:30 in the afternoon and all the tours for the day were booked solid, so they put us on standby for the 1:30 tour. We decided to explore the huge front room/lobby area where the bar and all the merchandise are located while we waited to see if they would have room for us. I can't say enough about how much I love the way the place is decorated- they cultivated a really unique aesthetic and brand that was based around bike culture and kitschy flair, with the prints of their watercolor beer labels mixed in.
This is the view from the front door, as soon as you walk in. They still had Christmas decorations up (check out the "Get a Room" mistletoe).
Everyone there was really nice. A stranger took this picture of us, and we returned the favor.
One of my favorite aspects of New Belgium as a company is the emphasis on bike culture. The man who created the company spent a few weeks in Belgium, bicycling from brewery to brewery, to learn how to make Belgium style beer. It was right after mountain bikes had been invented, and everyone kept asking him where he got that bike "with the fat tires". Hence the inspiration for the name of one of his early beers, "Fat Tire".
The bike theme runs throughout a lot of the merchandise as well. P! was super excited to find this to use in frisbee golf.
A kitschy shrine to the Saint of breweries.
This is the view from the other end of the front room, and the end of the bar.
The woman who does all of their watercolor paintings for labels just happened to be living next door to the founder when he was brewing in his basement. She still does all of their art.
Oh, look! Non-alcoholic goodness for me! Thanks New Belgium. I like you even more now.
It was delicious. And, like the tour and all the samples of beer, it was totally free.
More bike decor- a tire and gear table.
Employees are given their own custom cruiser bike on their one year anniversary, and biking to work is strongly encouraged. This wall installation was title "Why we ride" and it had various quotes from employees. There was a shelf along the bottom with blank scraps of paper and pencils for visitors to share their own "why we ride" reasons and tack them up on the wall as well.
They had *just* enough people cancel for us to join the tour. Our tour guide was fantastic. This is our first stop, in the original brew room. Those who were partaking sampled the very first beer, Abbey Ale, as our guide told us the story of how the company began. This is where we learned that New Belgium became fully wind powered in the early 90's, and that they have their own water treatment plant on site where they harvest the methane produced to power up to 15% of their operations. They also give the fresh water back to the city for free. We also learned that the brewery is completely, 100%, employee owned. Everyone is referred to as co-workers, and on your one year anniversary you become a co-owner. The founder's wife was a social worker by trade, so she greatly influenced the people friendly policies of the company.
We then headed up to the main brew room, which was so gorgeous. Wood everywhere, floor to ceiling windows on two sides with views of the mountains, and these sculptures hanging from the ceiling. Three co-workers have had their wedding receptions in this room.
J-Ben in between the massive brew tanks.
Each tank was ringed with hand laid mosaic art.
The artist slipped Sponge Bob in there too, haha. Everyone gathered around the bar and the 2nd beer sample was served while our guide told us about the beer making process, and all of the energy saving techniques unique to New Belgium.
Our last stop was the bottling facility, a short walk across the parking lot from the brewery. This art installation consists of individually blown glass made to resemble beer bottles. It starts at the front door...
and winds its way all the way up the stairs. As we were overlooking the bottling operations, our guide gave us more information on what working for the company is like. I've already mentioned the bike and the co-ownership that commemorates the one year anniversary. He also shared that on one's 5 year anniversary the company provides an all expense paid, one week trip to Belgium. People spend a week on a bicycle tour of breweries in Belgium, to experience what motivated the owner to start the company. And on top of it being fully paid for, everyone still gets paid for a full 40 hour week while they're there. Yeah, I know. Corporations, take note!
We ended the tour by getting back to ground level via the very steep and twisty slide they had installed to emphasize their 10th core value, "Have Fun". I loved that this man came down the slide with his 6 month old. I'm sure helicopter moms cringed at that.

Our last stop was the hospitality room, also still decorated for Christmas.

We were served our last two samples of beer, one of which was a co-worker contest winner. The other was a creation made with another brewery. It was pretty funny that I ended up at the head of the table.
P! normally doesn't drink much, so I think he was a bit tipsy by this point :)
One silly "double fisting" photo-op before I passed off my samples to my friends. They had postcards at the table- and in the lobby- that you could fill out and address to anywhere in the world and they would pay the postage and send them for you. I wrote one to my mom and dad. I'm sure they'll appreciate the irony of my writing them from a brewery. I made a Golden Compass joke about how I hoped Mrs. Coulter didn't throw our postcards in the trash...I must really like that series because I've referenced it a lot in day to day speaking. Nerdy nerd nerd.
We headed out to check out the grounds- namely the airstream rv that decorates the roundabout in the parking lot.
The inside walls are covered with the chronological history of the company.
P!, happy after the tour. I have to say I never thought I would leave a brewery tour inspired for green business practices and people friendly policies, but I did. If you are ever in Fort Collins, even if you're not a drinker or hate the taste of beer, do take the tour. It's totally free and you'll leave happy, even if like me you're stone cold sober the whole time.

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