We decided that we would highlight some of what we considered “special” places to us. I asked to write this particular segment because what the others will surely tell you is that our VIP tour of New Belgium seriously affected me and I’m not even embarrassed as most would be about how I truly got emotional over this visit.
We deliberately took it easy the night before so that we would be fully rested and very sharp for this tour that Dan was able to set up. We go into a fairly crowded tap room area and there is quite a line to wait in. We shop around while Dan waits it out for us and we get ushered off to the corner. We have absolutely no idea what to expect or do we really know what VIP means here, but we were excited to find out.
We were greeted by Matt our tour guide and surprised that he said “So you’re here for the VIP tour? Let’s get you guys some safety glasses and we'll get on our way.” Right then and there I knew this wasn’t going to be a ho-hum run of the mill tour. We grab our glasses and we get on our way.
Matt tells us about the history and informs us that New Belgium was started by a college graduate who was going to take a tour of Europe on his mountain bike and he was starting in Belgium. Well to make a long story short he never left Belgium and came back here with a new fondness for beer with flavor. Matt takes us over and shows us the first mash tun and kettle along with this crazy heating element he designed. Matt shared with us how they used to shove 29 cases into their car and would hand deliver the beers to those who were in my opinion were smart enough to purchase this beer. We go over to the newer areas and up some stairs to what I would say is probably the most beautiful mash tun, and kettle area there is in the brewing industry. It was a huge area with beautiful stainless steel kettles with polished concrete floors. Around each kettle is a mosaic that tells a story and the one that hits me was an interpretation of an employee’s first day. After Matt decided that was have been at this for about 15 minutes and asks us if we were in need of a brew, well we’re on Beer Trip and of course we said a resounding YES. Matt handed us a wonderful Abby Grand Cru and I believe the 4 of us were all blown away of how buttery smooth that beer is. We marched on through a few rooms and then up some dark stairs then Matt opens a door and suddenly we’re on the first level of the roof. We then take a few more steps up and we’re on the very top of New Belgium’s fermenters. What a treat, we were where the group that inspired this trip was standing in the film American Beer. This was an epic moment for me. It was simply amazing and I would say at that point and time I was officially hooked on the concept of Beer Trip. As we were standing up there Matt points out to us off in the distance that was New Belgium’s very own waste water treatment center. Apparently, the City of Ft. Collins wanted a ton of money from the local breweries since they are using and disposing so much water from all the brewing that was being done. NB had a employee meeting and asked if anybody wanted to go to school to learn about waste water management. A couple dudes thought that would be something new and different, so they gave it a go. Now NB is a very, very green company and these guys were following along that same path. They came up with an incredibly brilliant idea. Yes, I might bore some of you to tears describing this, but I’m going to do it anyway. The waste water goes into a collection pond, where enzymes eat away at the bacteria in this water. When this happens there is methane released into the air. Well instead of letting this methane gas slip into the atmosphere it is collected into a “balloon”. When the kettles need to heat the water, this gas is used to do just that. To me, that is simply brilliant, but these guys decided to go full circle with their brilliance. The steam coming off the kettle is collected and used in the radiant flooring. Simply amazing. Now the city of Ft. Collins must have been strapped for cash because they came back to NB and says you sure do use a ton of electri………Well, I’m just going to stop right there because you should know what happens next. NB decides I’m not writing these clowns a check, we’ll figure this out on our own. So they purchase a wind farm in a town nearby in Wyoming. Every bit of electricity used at the brewery is wind powered, and as I understood it, Ft. Collins writes NB a check since they put electricity back onto the grid. If that’s the case, way to stick it to the man, NB!
We then start to go into what I would call the warehouse, we’re getting to leave to go into the employee only area where we suddenly see these huge wooden casks and Matt tells us that this is where they ferment their La Folie. I noticed there were these little chalk boards next to the taps and asked Matt what was up with them. He told us that when somebody want to check out some, they have a taste, and they write down what they think about it. So we kind of ask Matt if we can take a little sip from the taps….He looked around and gave us the OK. I’m thinking to myself, “ Holy crap, is this really freaking happening?” We each get our turn and we move on to what I would call the employee area. They have this gourmet kitchen where employees can fix themselves a freshly cooked meal instead of nuking a left over, which I thought was an extremely novel concept. We now are heading into a very interesting area, where the employees are to come in and grab a wireless tablet and head over to a personal booth where a door slides up and they are given a tray with samples to rate. There are very specific instructions while sampling these beers and when they’re done they head off back to work. How freaking cool is that!!!! On our way over to a large meeting area Dan and Jerry can’t resist the spiral slide, so they go at it.
We head into their meeting room where Matt explains to us their philosophies and what it means to work at this brewery. This is where the story hits me, and it hits me hard. Matt proceeds to inform us that on your first day you are handed a key to the shop and are welcome to a case of beer a week. After a year of employment you are given a bike, and you are then a part owner of New Belgium, but not until you stand in front of every other employee and explain to them why you should become apart of this family. He explained that there is rarely somebody who doesn’t break down after this explanation. Next you continue to stand there and give each and every employee a big hug. He then told us that the CEO, the founders wife, hand makes you a piece of “mojo”. So I’m hearing this and I’m thinking to myself, people are breaking down in front of their co-workers because they enjoy what they do, who they work with, and what they create, not to mention they are treated so well at their workplace that expressing their gratitude is bringing these people to tears. Matt tells us that people don’t quit, they either pass away, or get fired. Something tells me he wasn’t joking. After 5 years of what I can only assume would be, fabulous, fun filled employment, you get an all expense paid week long trip to Belgium where, oh you guessed it, they drink delicious Belgian Beers. From what I can remember after 10 years, they just kind of ask you what you want and get it for you. For instance back where the La Folie fermenters were located there was a full blown climbing wall. Why? Well one the guys who works for them said that he loved climbing, but since he works full time and now has family that he loves to be around, it just doesn’t leave very much time for climbing. So they hooked dude up, so that on his breaks, he climbs. ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!?!?! Where are we at? Fantasy Island? Now the thing to ask for from what I remember, is to have a tree planted, which is awesomely unselfish to me. Matt finishes up by telling the four of us that he enjoyed taking us around and that it would be their pleasure to fix us up some samplers and a six pack each to take along on our journey, along with a major discount on anything we purchased. I was simply blown away by their gesture.
As I wrote this I’m not afraid to say that yes, my eyes welled up tears just like they did while I was there hearing the passion and excitement coming from our tour guide Matt, and we took this tour in 2005. So yes, four years later I still get teary eyed thinking about it.
If you are reading this and happen to be an employee of New Belgium, we are jealous of you. From what I can tell your are part of a family not a corporation, we should all be so lucky. The kindness you all showed us is something I will never forget and for that kindness I made a promise to myself that no matter what, I will always have your product in my home. So please know that for the past 4 years I have kept my promise.
If you happen to be the CEO of New Belgium, I can’t explain to you the how lucky we were that Scott Poore happened to strike up a conversation with Dan and offered us this opportunity. You run an amazing company, with from what I saw, you have amazing employees. I promise you that if you ever needed four more employees, I’m pretty sure we would be there before you finished asking. Thank you once again for an amazing time and one that we will surely never forget because you truly treated us all like like VIP's.
Dan, Timmy, Matt, Jerry, & Andy