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New Belgium Brewing's Kim Jordan Heads East

It showed on the shelves. The Trip series between New Belgium and Elysian has produced some inspired varieties that are more akin to limited offerings from smaller breweries in recent years. Does it take you back to New Belgium's early days as a basement brewer?

Jordan: Yeah, which is super fun. We've been doing this for almost 22 years, and I think it's almost a natural part of a process like that when your energy and enthusiasm for it has peaks and mesas, to use the geology of it.

It's been really fun to watch our industry have this burgeoning enthusiasm, to watch beer drinkers be interested in really understanding more about the craft and the history of the American movement and others. We are lucky to be the stewards of something ancient, and I think beer drinkers get that.

Looking at your brewery's 1991 start date, the folks who were born the year you started brewing are now your clientele. Is your brand facing some of the same challenges as first-wave craft brewers such as Sierra Nevada and Boston Beer, which are now old enough to be considered somebody's parents' beer?

Jordan: I think there's an element of that. I also think for New Belgium that we were the first brewer in the United States to specialize in Belgian styles. In some ways, we pioneered things where, at the time, we said "Well, I guess no one's interested in wood beer" [Editor's note: wood beer is beer aged in wooden barrels, sometimes using old whiskey or wine barrels] just to have someone else come along and make it and make us think maybe we shouldn't give up yet.

We've had a wood beer cellar since 1997, and it's a pretty big thing now. I think there is a mixed curse or blessing in that we have practiced wisdom and have learned some things. We're able to invest in very good technology and equipment.

Ultimately, we want beer drinkers to get very well-made beers, and some of us have made the decision to become national companies: Like Sierra and like New Belgium. That requires a level of expertise that's different from someone making beer and selling it in their pub or making beer and selling it within a 10-mile radius. I think there is value in that as well, and I'll be interested to see how that unfolds.

New Belgium also got into canning about four years ago, before much of the craft beer industry started embracing cans. Dale Katechis at Oskar Blues once told us that he started canning just to draw more people up to his brewpub in Lyons, Colo. What inspired New Belgium to do the same, and was it a big additional expense at the time?

Jordan: It was a big expense at the time. We started with a smaller canning line, and canning lines are funny because you have the very small ones -- Dale started with one -- that are super slow and the can stays open for a very long time before it gets its lid on it, which is not good for beer.
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