The history of New Belgium Brewing

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A craft pioneer

A craft pioneer

It's been nearly 30 years since a social worker and a homebrewer took the first steps in building an employee-owned brewery that helped fuel the rise of craft beer. How'd it happen? Let's take a trip.

 
June 1988

June 1988

A bike trip through Belgium in 1988 inspired a young couple to launch New Belgium Brewing Co., bringing the flavors of centuries-old Belgian beer styles to the little town of Fort Collins, Colo.

 
March 1991

March 1991

Co-founders Kim Jordan and Jeff Lebesch install brewing equipment in the basement of their Fort Collins home. They also trek into the Rocky Mountains and establish New Belgium's core values. (No. 4: Kindling social, environmental and cultural change as a business role model.) Pictured: the original brewing equipment.

The early days

The early days

With brewing underway, co-founder Kim Jordan was New Belgium's jack-of-all-trades as the first bottler, sales rep, distributor, marketer, financial planner and longtime CEO. As years went on, Jordan would eventually scale the brewery into one of the most successful craft breweries in the country, acting as a visionary for both her co-workers and the industry.

June 1991

June 1991

Test brews of an amber ale called Fat Tire begin in early June of 1991, as well as test batches of a beer called Abbey. Later that month, Kim and Jeff sell New Belgium Fat Tire and Abbey for the first time at the Colorado Brewers Festival.

October 1993

October 1993

Abbey Ale, one of New Belgium's original recipes, wins a gold medal in the Specialty Category at the Great American Beer Festival in Denver. At the time, Belgian-style beers were so rare in the craft beer scene that the festival had yet to make a category for entries.

October 1995

October 1995

Having outgrown the three-year-old production facility, and in anticipation of future growth, New Belgium relocates a few blocks down the street to the current location of 500 Linden Street.

January 1999

January 1999

New Belgium starts off the new year with a new tradition: New Belgium-branded anniversary bikes, beginning with a 1999 Electra cruiser. The tradition of awarding co-workers with a cruiser on their one-year anniversary continues today.

Early 2000

Early 2000

New Belgium's first batch of La Folie Sour Brown Ale, inspired by Belgian sour tradition, is hand-bottled and sold. This inaugural batch was aged in a collection of French-oak wine barrels. A few months later, the brewery would receive its first batch of two-story French-oak foeders, transforming its sour beer program.

Summer 2003

Summer 2003

New Belgium creates an in-house sustainability department, which would go on to establish the brewery as a Certified B-Corp and 1% for the Planet member, while spearheading on-site projects like the installation of solar panels and a wastewater treatment facility. The department follows New Belgium's fifth core value: "Environmental stewardship: Honoring nature at every turn of the business."

August 2009

August 2009

New Belgium implements what at the time is the largest private solar array in the state of Colorado, capable of generating 3% of total electricity needs and 16% of peak load. Those efforts continue today.

December 2012

December 2012

New Belgium becomes 100% employee owned. The ESOP buys the remaining shares from CEO Kim Jordan and her family, and goes from 41.5% ownership to 100% ownership, with a total of 457 co-workers. Jordan at the time: "There are few times in life where you get to make choices that will have multi-generational impact -- this is one of those times."

May 2016

May 2016

Just in time for summer, the Asheville brewery's Liquid Center opens to the public, bringing the New Belgium experience to the East Coast.

Summer 2018

Summer 2018

NPR's How I Built This podcast sat down with Kim in 2018 to chronicle how, in fact, she helped take New Belgium from her basement to the nation with a unique business model.

April 2019

April 2019

Lauren Limbach, our wood cellar director, receives the prestigious Russell Schehrer Award for Innovation in Craft Brewing from the Brewers Association for defending, inspiring, and innovating in the craft brewing industry. Meet her in this podcast from Good Beer Hunting.