New Belgium Brewing Co. is coming to Massachusetts.
Beers from the nation’s fourth-largest craft brewery (according to 2015 sales volume data, the latest available) are hitting the state this month for the first time, which means you’ll soon be able to get your hands on Fat Tire, the company’s flagship ale, and the rest of the New Belgium lineup.
New Belgium’s story should seem familiar to anyone versed in the history of Samuel Adams, Sierra Nevada, and other legacy American craft brewers that came into existence in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Kim Jordan and her then husband, Jeff Lebesch, started New Belgium out of their garage in Fort Collins, Colo.
“There’s a picture floating in one of the hallways here of me in sweat pants, bottling beer,” says Jordan, who still runs New Belgium as CEO.
Fat Tire, which launched with the company in 1991 and is still its best-selling beer, was named for a bike trip Lebesch took through Europe shortly before starting the brewery. The beer has become a classic, nailing the interplay between sweet, toasty biscuit, and spicy bittering hops.
“There’s a really beautiful balance,” says Jordan, who credits part of the beer’s success to its phonetically interesting name. “When we first started devising what is it that New Belgium is going to do, we had a lot of people say that Fat Tire was a terrible name for a beer. And we decided we really wanted to do it anyway.”
Flash forward to 2017, and New Belgium is facing the same challenge as other legacy brewers: sustaining growth while thousands of breweries continue to open across the country.
“I certainly think the competitive landscape, focused on the local phenomenon, is a big challenge for many brewers who have moved beyond their very tight home market,” says Jordan.
New Belgium is bringing its entire lineup to Massachusetts, including a rebranded Voodoo Ranger IPA series, the crisp, low-alcohol Dayblazer Easygoing Ale, and sour and seasonal offerings. Together, the portfolio is designed to give drinkers more everyday beer options.
Many of the brews coming to Massachusetts will be brewed at New Belgium’s new Asheville, N.C., brewery. New Belgium will become fully national in April when it enters Oklahoma, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine.
Asked for a prediction on how 2017 will shake out for the beer industry, Jordan talked about the 18-to-24-month process it takes for most breweries to expand production, and warned that there could be some rough patches ahead.
“I think you’re going to see brewers who started plans for expansion before it was as clear as it is now that we were going to have all this competitiveness in the marketplace,” says Jordan. “It’s going to create some disequilibrium before it all settles out. And that kind of a cycle makes people a bit nervous. But I think we’ll come through it as an industry pretty well.”
GARY DZENGary Dzen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @GaryDzen