Made in Colorado 2017: Trendsetting New Belgium blazed the craft beer trail

Fort Collins craft brewer focuses on fun, people and premium products

Product: Fat Tire Amber Ale | Made in: Fort Collins | www.newbelgium.com

Jeff Lebesch's mountain-bike trip provided inspiration for one of the most iconic craft beers in 1988.

New Belgium CEO Kim Jordan, Lebesch's co-founder and then-wife, says the trip guided his initial homebrewing recipes as well as the name, Fat Tire. "After that trip, he came home and started brewing beer to emulate some of the great beers he tried in Belgium," she says.

The first official batch was bottled in 1991. Lebesch and Jordan expected their Abbey Belgian Style Dubbel would be the most popular variety, but Fat Tire quickly emerged as the flagship. "The beer itself was approachable but still unique," says Jordan. "In those days, [craft beer] was all really new to people."

While the flavor was a draw, branding was also key, she adds. "The name, Fat Tire, has an alliterative quality to it. It's fun to say." And the bicycle-centric artwork, by Lebesch and Jordan's onetime neighbor, Anne Fitch, helped drive loyalty as well.

"As a kid, my bike gave me the freedom to roam my neighborhood," says Jordan of the nostalgia customers associate with the brand. "By the way, there were a lot of people who said, 'That's a terrible name.' We said, 'It's a great name and we like it.' The rest is history."

And that history encompasses many milestones, and a heck of a lot of beer.

"When we started New Belgium, there were no breweries in the United States making Belgian styles," says Jordan. "A lot of people said it was a crazy notion." New Belgium was the first U.S. brewery to barrel-age its beers and has led the industry to numerous other trends.

Fat Tire provided a foundation for all of that innovation. As of mid-2017, the brand will be available in all 50 states, and the brewery estimates it's produced 6.5 million barrels to date.

That's 1.6 billion pints, or enough beer to fill 303 Olympic-sized swimming pools.

Jordan says New Belgium is expecting to produce many more pints to come: "We feel excited about where we're going in the future, and we're happy Fat Tire is along for the ride."

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