Sourcing local ingredients at New Belgium

Apr 20, 2010

Have you ever wondered what your favorite companies are doing to support your favorite local communities?  It is a common question in this growing era of conscious consumerism.  Skye, a beer fan in Colorado, recently posted her question on Facebook in an effort to find out what New Belgium was doing to support our local community.  We thought you might be interested in this topic as well, so we are reposting it here on our blog.  Read on!


Skye:  An interesting point was brought to my attention lately: New Belgium does not use any local ingredients. Being the "localest" of our local beers, I strongly urge New Belgium to at least look into buying locally grown grains for at least part of their supply. Grant Family Farms would be a great one to look in to!


NBB:  Hi Skye - thanks for sharing your voice!  Here are a few of the local sources from whom we purchase goods: organic wheat from Southern Colorado, malted barley from across Colorado, glass bottles from Windsor, tap handles from Denver, t-shirts from our awesome Fort Collins friends at Go West... just to name a few.  As a part of our social and environmental stewardship efforts, we try to buy as much as we can locally.  When it comes to beer ingredients, though, it can be challenging.


BARLEY: Before we can buy the barley, it has to be malted.  Malting facilities are quite large in scale in order to be efficient.  So one malting facility will process the grains for many farmers.  Brewers then purchase the malted barley, not directly from the farmer, but from the maltster.  This makes it difficult for a brewery to pick & choose their farmers as the grains are all combined at the malting level.  Coors is the only large malting facility in CO, and a little micro-maltster (Colorado Malting Co) is in Alamosa.  We do purchase some product from Colorado Malting Co, but they are quite small.


HOPS: For most breweries, New Belgium included, hops also need to be processed and then pelletized.  Again, this requires an expensive processing facility that is typically feasible only at a larger scale, processing hops from many farmers.  Unfortunately, no such operation exists in Colorado.  We donated $20,000 to fund the graduate work of an awesome CSU student, Ali Hamm, to research & develop the local hop industry in CO, but it has seen some setbacks due to fluctuations in hop prices among other factors.  One farm was producing organic hops in Paonia for a couple of years, and while they were in business we purchased their hops (although we couldn't do that regularly as the hops weren't pelletized).  If you ever tried a glass of Century Ale at the Town Pump, though, you were drinking CO hops!


In short, the processing necessities put a wrench in farmer-direct efforts, and that's not something we can avoid.  A local farmer could ship his/her hops to Washington for processing or another state for malting and then ship them back to Colorado, but that significantly increases the carbon footprint of the product and that is not something we're comfortable doing.  You mentioned Grant Family Farms, and while they are a great local farm, I'm not aware of them offering malted barley or pelletized hops (which are the products we purchase).  Certainly if they were to ever offer those products to our quality standards, we would be talking to them right away!


Keep up the good advocacy efforts for local products on the Front Range, Skye.  We're right there with you and are always looking for an opportunity to support it.

-          Katie  ~Sustainability Specialist


Skye:  Thanks Katie, I really appreciate your reply!  It is also good to hear how much you do purchase from the local community.  I'll drink my Fat Tire even more happily from here on!  :o)