New Belgium Brewing: Tapping into Maui
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Jamie Mastin tells me his official title at New Belgium Brewing is “love master.” He’s not a fan of the name, but grins and says it’s not up to him.
“You don’t get to write your own nickname,” he jokes, “you get assigned one and it sticks and I’m not happy about it.”
A more preferable title that has also stuck around for the last 23 years or so? Brew master. Mastin was one of the original brewers at New Belgium in Fort Collins, Colorado, and refers to its ultra-popular Fat Tire Ale as “lightning in a bottle.”
“Fat Tire has that evocative bicycle that sort of attracted everything,” he explains. “We are from Colorado, and I think we’re very similar to Hawaiʻi in that a lot of people discovered our beer when they came to Colorado on a ski trip, so they would fly and come to Aspen or Steamboat or Vail, spend the day skiing and end up in the lodge with a big fire and meet our beer for the first time.”
Now, visitors and locals alike can meet so-said beer for the first time in Hawaiʻi. Monday, Feb. 8 is the official launch date of New Belgium brands throughout the state, through an exclusive partnership with Young’s Market, known primarily as a premier distributor of fine wines and spirits.
“We are very well-versed in handling higher-end products than a lot of more traditional beer companies may be used to handling,” says Keliʻi Heen, branch manager with Young’s Market Maui. “If we can handle a couple thousand dollars’ bottles of wine, we can handle the high-end product like this beer.”
It’s taken years to stretch distribution all the way to the Aloha State, primarily to make sure there was enough supply to meet the demand, and enough quality-control measures to treat the supply right.
Heen says this partnership has changed the way his company does business. Young’s Market, which has been family-owned since 1888, completely overhauled its refrigeration systems on multiple islands to meet the high standards — and low temperatures — required by New Belgium.
“We had to do new coolers, complete refrigeration; all beer is stored under 50 degrees, delivered under 50 degrees,” says Heen. “It’s a gigantic investment for us, but at the end of the day, to have a brand like this with such marketing value is a huge thing for us. It’s not a short-sighted investment with us; it’s very much what is this going to look like five, 10, 15 years from now. I’m sure with these guys as our cornerstone right now, it’s gonna go pretty well.”
New Belgium also asks distributors to clean beer lines on a bi-weekly basis, and coordinate shipping times to ensure quality.
“What you can expect is fresh, clean beer,” explains Mastin. “Forecasting how much beer we send and when we release it off of our line to get here to maintain freshness is very important to us.”
Also important to New Belgium? Taking care of its employees, and the earth, as a certified B Corporation. B, as in beneficial.
“Very mindful of their impact to the environment, as well as their business practices, so for them not everything is always about the bottom line, it’s about how you treat your product and how you treat your people,” says Heen. “It’s about doing the right thing at the right time for the right reasons.”
For instance: New Belgium is 100% employee-owned, and finds unique ways to give back, like building custom bike racks in the company’s home town, holding bike festivals, treating its own wastewater and using solar and methane for power in Fort Collins.
“We time it so we run our generators during the time that we’re at peak demand in the city, thereby lowering everybody in the city’s utility bill theoretically, hopefully for beer money,” Mastin smiles. “It’s a challenge to come up with weird ideas like that and then execute them, and until you get a brewery that’s really successful, you don’t necessarily have the opportunity to invest in weird technology that turns out to work.”
There’s another perk that lets employees raise a frosty mug to company’s founder, in the place that inspired his flagship beer.
“He was traveling around Belgium on a fat-tire bike, he was an engineer over there. Came across this beer, came home, was a home brewer, made the first beer and decided to call it Fat Tire after his first adventure in Belgium,” Heen explains. “Now after five years of employment, every employee gets a trip to the alehouse that he was sitting in when he came up with the concept, with New Belgium the brewery.”
That concept has seen incredible growth in the last 25 years or so, making it the 4th-largest craft brewer in the United States. The Aloha State has become New Belgium’s 40th state of distribution. So you may soon notice giant displays in supermarkets, and see beers like Fat Tire, Ranger IPA and Rampant Imperial IPA on store shelves and bar menus.
“You’re gonna have it in any retail store you can think of, from Tamura’s to Woodland to Safeway to Times,” says Heen. “Then most bars and restaurants you see around town, especially the beer-centric ones, Monkeypod, Honu, What Ales You, Flatbread, Rockin Brews, these guys are all gonna be running on taps starting on Monday.”
Love master/brew master Mastin has been waiting around 15 years for this day, to sip a Fat Tire in paradise. As he says, “Stand by for a proper beverage.”