New Belgium Brewery in Fort Collins, Colorado began as a local brewery. Co-Founder and brewer Jeff Lebesch spent time in 1989 riding a mountain bike with “fat tires“ through Belgium, sampling the beers as he went. Inspired by the experience, the beers, and the Belgian malts, hops, and yeast, Lebesch returned to Fort Collins and began home brewing Belgian style beers. His first beers were a brown Trappist-inspired dubbel (later known as Abbey), and an amber that eventually became New Belgium’s flagship brew, Fat Tire. Lebesch, trained as an electrical engineer, turned his engineering know-how to brewing, creating a home-brewery in his basement using recycled dairy equipment. His beers were received extremely well, after a bit of tinkering, by friends, relatives and family members.
In 1991, Lebesch and his spouse Kim Jordan opened up New Belgium Brewery. Jordan served as distributor, marketer, and art director, convincing a neighbor, Ann Fitch, to create water colors to serve as the labels for New Belgium brews. New Belgium, with Fat Tire and Abbey, began to sell the first commercial Belgian style beers in the U.S. As the brewery grew, Jordan and Lebesch added another brewer, Brian Callahan, and began to create an employee-owned brewery by making Callahan a part owner. All employees after a year at New Belgium begin to accrue. When Jordan New Belgium brewery to Little World Beverages (Japan’s Kirin beer’s parent corporation) in 2019, they had 100% employee equity.
New Belgium has continued to create new beers, including seasonals, and slowly increased distribution; they are now the third largest craft brewer in the U.S. They are also one of the greenest, since they use the methane that’s a side product of their brewing, as well as wind power, to provide substantial amounts of their electricity.
One of the reasons that New Belgium beers have been so very recognizable right from the start has been the label art by Ann Fitch. In fact, I suspect that New Belgium may have been influential in terms of establishing the “craft brew look” in terms of bottle labels and branding. I’m a little surprised (and sad) that that they’ve changed many of their labels to a more austere style. I miss the old labels.
A version of this post originally appeared on Beer Report.