New Belgium Brewing

Jeff Lebesch was already a homebrewer of beer when he set off on a bike trip across Europe in 1986. Belgium’s famous beers inspired Jeff to duplicate their flavors once he returned home. He produced an amber ale and a brown dubbel (a darker “double ale”) named, respectively, Fat Tire and Abbey in honor of his trip, and won rave reviews from friends and relatives for their flavors.

In 1991, Jeff and his wife, Kim Jordan, decided that their basement brewing operation was ready to go commercial. With Jeff brewing, Kim handling marketing and distribution, and their son Zack helping the two of them with bottling, the family business started off distributing to a few local bars and liquor stores and expanded their client list as their beers’ following grew. Since Jeff was an engineer and Kim a social worker, they prioritized efficiency and social responsibility right from the start.

When New Belgium’s growth allowed them to move it into its own building, they went green—their facility maximizes daylighting, uses motion sensors to reduce electricity use, reuses the heat used in brewing, and draws cool Colorado winter air in from outdoors to chill the beer. Recycling goes beyond bottles and paper to include turning spent grains (the part of the grain left over once its sugars have been extracted for beer) into cattle feed, and keg caps into table surfaces.

In 1998, New Belgium’s employees voted to dip into their bonus pool to start meeting their facility’s needs with wind-generated electricity from their local utility company. Having addressed that resource need, they then turned their attention to water, which is a major concern in Western states. In 2002, New Belgium completed its own process water treatment facility, which uses bacteria in a series of ponds to remove organic waste from the water and produce methane—which is then pumped back into the building to generate heat and electricity for brewing.

“It’s not just what we produce, it’s how we produce it,” explains New Belgium media director Bryan Simpson. “Caring for the environment is part of our workplace culture.” Simpson recalls the employee vote on whether to switch to wind power, which cost an additional 2.5 cents per kilowatt hour and would require the company to use money earmarked for employee bonuses. “We were about to vote, and I thought it would be a close vote. But then I looked around, and everyone was giving it the thumbs up.”
—Liz Borkowsk