New Belgium Brewing tour + interview with CEO Kim Jordan

Twenty years ago, New Belgium Brewing was a two person operation in Fort Collins, Colorado brewing the first Belgium beers in the U.S. Now they employ 410 workers and produce 700,000 barrels a year. Our host Jace Milstead sat down with New Belgium’s CEO, Kim Jordan, to discuss beginnings, collaborations, and a company that just might be receiving an application from yours truly.

Ready your résumés

Entering New Belgium is a special experience that Jace compares to “Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory.” People want to be here. It’s no wonder when your CEO never refers to you as an ’employee’ but a “co-worker.” You don’t work ‘for’ Kim, you work ‘with’ her.

That’s not just a catchphrase, since 1995 New Belgium employees own 41% of the company through an employee stock ownership plan (ESOP). Why give away a a percentage? Kim’s just not comfortable with all the equity going to the owners. All 410 employees participate in the annual strategy process and know where the money goes by means of the “open book management” policy they employ.

Kim feels, “you have a choice in what you want to do in life.” And she wants to make the most of her co-workers’ choice.

Human value

Kim wasn’t always a savvy businesswoman. Prior to New Belgium, she paid her bills as a social worker. This is one element that set the tone of the work environment. When confronted with expansion prospects, Kim didn’t really see a need to grow bigger until she realized that her co-workers would “have the opportunity to grow and do different things.” Saying that it was like “a flip of the switch.”

But she also decided that “we’re not going to say ‘we’re too big to care about one another.'” New Belgium has seemingly found the balance between people and profits through a genuine interest to the well being of their co-workers.

Green brewing

[quote]When conceiving New Belgium, Kim asked the question “what do we want this baby company to be? What’s it going to stand for?” One was, as she puts it, an “environmental steward.”

Kim explained the heat exchange energy conserving process she uses in her brewery, “roughly 10% of thermal and electrical energy comes from our anaerobic digesters, which take the nutrients out of our beer processed water and turn those into methane. We pipe the methane back to the brewery and use a combined heat and power plant to turn that into energy.”

Not your typical wind and solar alternatives, but she’s got those too. Also, “in 1999, New Belgium Brewing became the country’s first brewery to purchase 100% of its electricity from wind power.” Kim feels that, “business is a powerful tool in making the kind of world that we want to live in,” and puts her theory to practice by serving as an example.

‘Kick’ collaboration

Dick Cantwell, head brewer and co-owner of Elysian Brewing Company, and Kim joined forces giving birth to beer-child, ‘Kick,’ a seasonal pumpkin brew.

Kim describes it as “earthy in the best sense of the word. Not muddy, not dirty, but a mouthfeel/solid note on the bottom, rounded out by the sour with a splash of cranberry. While Jace enjoys the “residual pumpkin” and “nice balance.” Here’s some stats on the beer.

ABV – 8.5%
IBU – 14
Calories – 254
Hops – Target
Malts – Pale, Carapils
OG – 21
TG – 3.4

[quote2 align=right]When addressing the collaboration concept, Kim says it’s about “showing your craft,” and that brewing “is an ancient art form.” Teaming up allows them to share perspectives and explore the art further. It’s about camaraderie, “people are very kind to one another.”

Because of this openness in sharing, Kim believes “the U.S. is the greatest place to drink craft beer in the world right now, which is pretty exciting.”

What Kim drinks

There’s no one beer for Kim, she drinks “for the moment.” “Beer for me is pretty much always drunk in a context.”

During Winter, she likes the higher alcohol beers like a Tripel. Abbey is a choice to have in the evening. Of course, “Fat Tire’s approachableness when I just want to have a beer and not try too hard.”

Full Interview

Watch Kim go into detail with host Jace in the full video interview.

Video produced by Stan Lee and Jace Milstead
Special thanks to New Belgium Brewing Ranger Dallas Byerley

1 Comment

  1. Great article but come on that video is way too long. Awesome stuff in it, but how about editing it down. And buy the crew a tripod. Either way, I really dig what you’re doing.

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