Based in Ft. Collins, CO, New Belgium Brewing is the third biggest craft brewery in the United States. Recently they announced plans to expand distribution into Maryland, Virginia, and Washington D.C. Now with over 400 employees, distribution in 28 states and a state of art brewing facility, the brewery has gone a long way since it was founded by Jeff Lebesch and Kim Jordan in 1991. We sat down with employee number three, Jamie Mastin, and spoke to him about CEO Kim Jordan, Ranger IPA and drinking Chimay in 1983. [info]
When Jamie was 17, he became a regular at “Uncle Charlie’s”, just outside of the Francis E. Warren Air Force Base in Wyoming. “I had my brother’s driver license that said I was of age,” Jamie tells us. Charlie, the owner would tell his friends in the air force to bring him beers from wherever they were flying in from. Charlie collected beers and had proper glassware from around the world. “I was drinking Chimay with proper glassware in 1983,” Jamie says. At Uncle Charlie’s is where Jamie first learned about homebrewing.
In 1989, Jamie moved to Ft. Collins to work at CooperSmith’s Pub & Brewing. During this time he collected antique bicycles as a hobby. When Jamie found out about Fat Tire in 1991, he rode over with his bike and asked Jeff Lebesch for a job. “I said to Jeff, ‘we’re meant for each other,’” Jamie says. Jeff needed help with the bottling line and Jamie was hired right away. “They saw that I knew what I was doing and I became a brewer in 1992,” Jamie added.
Before all the state of the art equipment, Jamie and the crew used to brew with old dairy vessels. “We used to drive around Eastern Colorado in a flat bed truck looking for dairy equipment to buy,” Jamie tells us. Time has definitely changed; now, they have a whole engineering team that will fly all over the world in search of the newest brewing equipment.
When they first started brewing they would take bottles of alcohol and mist the tanks, then take a blowtorch to the rim to kill off all the bacteria to make sure the yeast stayed consistent. “You would be covered in alcohol. You would hold your breath and not let any bacteria near the vessel, it was almost superstitious.” Jamie explained.
“We don’t have to do that anymore, but we do have a system now that’s equally as neurotic,” Jamie added.
Kim and Jamie have been friends for nearly two decades. He was one of the first few to get hired. “There were people before me but they’ve moved on. So, technically I am the number three employee,” Jamie tells us.
Kim and Jamie would get on their cruiser bikes and go around town. “Being CEO didn’t make her something she’s not. She’s still the same person from day one,” Jamie says. He thinks if he ran a company that’s worth as much as New Belgium Brewing, he wouldn’t be as easy going. “She listens to my words, if she thinks I feel strongly about something, she’ll trust that,” Jamie adds.
A Ranger’s detour
Ranger IPA, named after the New Belgium Beer Rangers, can be thought of as the “street team” promoting the New Belgium brand. Creating this beer is not without a hitch. During a “powwow,” where the entire New Belgium Brewing staff would get together twice a year for a hike/meeting, Jamie spoke out about the beer not being right, “I didn’t think it’s what we’re meant to do.” They’ve already brewed about 600 barrels and it was near release date. “There was a lot of money on the table. We could’ve transitioned it but Kim said if you feel that strongly about it then we should revisit this beer and get it right,” Jamie says.
They ended up dumping the initial batches of beers. “Fortunately, in our brewery when you dump beer our digester will turn it into power. We basically turned all that beer into power and reformulated (the recipe) really late in the game. She’s that kind of person, you can go to with a pile of money on the table and she’ll say ‘seriously, if you feel this strongly about it, let’s make a change,'” Jamie explains.
Jamie has brought his big passion to a small company and played a critical role in its thundering success. What about the future? Looks blinding from here.