Here’s the latest installment in my Five Questions With… series. Today I bring you an interview with Bryan Simpson, media relations director for New Belgium Brewing in Fort Collins, Colo.
1. The Thirsty Beagle: First off, not everyone in Oklahoma has the chance to drink New Belgium beers, since the beer is not shipped here. My understanding is that the beers must remain cold, and since full-strength beer in Oklahoma liquor stores cannot be cold, thus the lack of New Belgium in this state. Is that a correct understanding of the situation?
Bryan Simpson: That … is accurate. It’s also not a traditional three-tier system but I can’t comment too much on OK laws for fear of not being 100 percent accurate. Regardless, it would be a tricky negotiation and we have no currentplans for that.
2. TTB: Whether they see it at the liquor store or not, most people around here are familiar with Fat Tire. Is that your most popular beer? What other beers are doing well for you guys?
B.S.: Fat Tire is definitely keeping the lights on but we find our seasonal release program does very well in many markets. That consists of four beers rotated throughout the year. Craft drinkers are a curios lot and they crave continued innovation so that’s a great place for us to play around. Beers like Skinny Dip (summer), Hoptober (fall), and Frambozen Raspberry Brown Ale and 2 Below (winter) exemplify the category. Beyond that, Mothership Wit (organic wheat beer) and 1554 Enlightened Black Ale have strong followings.
3. TTB: I’ve written in my blog about New Belgium — the bicycles, the employee-first attitude, the environmentalism; is working there really a dream job for someone in the beer industry?
B.S.: I’d have to say it definitely is a dream job. I’ve been here 12 years and had no intention of staying longer than my first summer throwing boxes. We are an employee-owned company that practices open book management so co-workers are expected to be engaged in the business of running the business on a daily basis. It’s a creative, supportive environment where you are encouraged to take risks and bring your best self every day. Those are big benefits to me. There’s also a 12-pack a week and a shift beer and a free cruiser bike at one year’s employment and an all expenses paid trip to Belgium at five years. So, it’s like no other business culture I’ve ever encountered.
4. TTB: I saw a link on your Web site for 2 Below Winter Ale; nothing goes with Christmastime like beer, I think. What other seasonal beers can you recommend?
B.S.: Our other winter beer, Frambozen, is a raspberry brown ale that goes great with holiday meals like turkey, dark meats, etc. Our La Folieis a very rare beer – aged three years in oak barrels. This one is a sour brown ale so the flavor is far down the road toward a green apple kind of sour. It’s a beautiful beer but challenging if you don’t know much about it. This is part of our Lips of Faith program – a series of beers that really push the envelope using fruit, spices, esoteric yeast strains and a lot of creative juju.
5. TTB: We see more and more where the mega-breweries are introducing craft-style beers nowadays, or even spinning off entire craft-style breweries. Is this really just a reaction to the success of brewers like New Belgium?
B.S.: You look at the numbers and craft beers are growing an audience of curious and highly savvy fans. It’s not a surprise that people want to tap into that. At the end of the day, knowledge begets curiosity and craft drinkers will sample around and generally find a few brands the remain loyal to. Most folks know the difference.