Mashtun and Meow: Sheffield Beer Blog: May 2016

Sunday, 15 May 2016

New Belgium Brewery

Neither of us have ever been keen cyclists, but after two trips to New Belgium during our time in Fort Collins we might just be tempted to dust off and re-oil our bikes (currently decaying in the cellar).

On our first trip to the brewery we met with Spokes Model and long serving employee Bryan Simpson in the tap room over a generous pour of their flagship amber ale Fat Tire (5.2%) and he ran us through some of the history of Fort Collins' biggest craft brewery. Established in 1991 after a cycling trip to (Old) Belgium frequenting many of the beer bars and Brasseries the country has to offer, husband and wife team Jeff Lebesch and Kim Jordan aimed to emulate some the beers on their garage brew kit. And so New Belgium was born.

The original brew kit

As we travelled through the state of the art facility, one of the largest craft breweries in America, we were struck by the sensitivity for tradition in the brewery as well as the want to push forward and produce modern American beer, all against an ideology of environmental care and sustainability. From the original brew kit from humble home brew origins, to the highly polished stainless steel four vessel brew system with steam recollection, to the traditional oak vats used to produce their sour beer next door, to the ultra-modern lab with stir-plates and Erlenmeyer flasks of beer samples. This approach of modern brewing technology coupled with traditional European techniques allows New Belgium to produce one of the biggest ranges of quality beers of any brewery we've been to.

As the tour continued we headed into the foudre forest, an absolutely beautiful room with more than 64 10,000l repurposed wine vats used in the making of slow sour beer, intermingled with a selection of whisky casks from Denver distillery Leopold Brothers, and a climbing wall. All the foudres are filled with one of two different base beers lovingly named Oscar and Felix, the first a black lager and the other being a golden ale. As we stood chatting surrounded by wood we were offered a glass of La Folie (GABF 2001 Gold Medal), an utterly delectable Flanders Red style sour beer with a blend that has been acidifying for anywhere between one year to as much as three. The tartness is reminiscent of apples and peaches, with a light yet lingering oaken texture toward the end. One of the best beers we've ever drunk, and in the most perfect of settings to try it... the heady aroma of the room is the sort you can conjure up just from thinking about it.

The final section of our tour through what is affectionately referred to as the Thunderdome - a frankly enormous bottling line and relatively smaller canning line which took in all around 4 minutes to stroll across. The continuous rattling of glass and clunk of machines highlights the scale of New Belgium's output (as if 64 oak vats of beer weren't enough to do that), capable of 700 bottles a minute with only a hand-full of people operating it. Slick.

We finished up in back in the tap room with a glass of La Terroir, created with the aforementioned Felix as the base then dry hopped to add a layer of complexity, that buoys all the other layers of sour freshness. Another contender for lifetime favourite beer for us both, and impossible to pick which we loved more between La Terroir and La Folie. We brought a bottle of each home just to re-test this theory but still just concluded that both were astounding.

Us with Bryan and Chris from the New Belgium team!

We spent a good couple more hours in the taproom, working our way through the New Belgium core range along with specials including their collaboration with Ben & Jerry's - a 6.3% salted caramel brownie brown ale which was SO up Laura's street (and she got to to try the ice cream the following day too). We massively enjoyed chatting to all of the staff we met, every single one of whom was bursting with enthusiasm for the company they all feel truly a part of (which indeed they are, the company being 100% employee owned). Bryan also told us a story of how Neil Fallon from one of our favourite bands, Clutch, had a go on Bryan's guitar while the band were involved in creating a collaboration beer. Bryan might just be the coolest man we've ever met.

We had such a brilliant day that for Laura's birthday we decided to return, where we joined on the general tour. This followed the same format as the first but was slightly less in-depth but still relaxed and informative. This one included a go on the brewery's helter skelter!

There have recently been a number of rumours regarding the future of New Belgium and the likelihood of it being bought out. We asked Bryan on our first trip who vehemently denied that this was a possibility. Our tour guide on the second visit was a little more vague, which could suggest that it has been mentioned throughout the company but is still by no means a certain. But as the brewery is an employee owned company, it would be hoped that their votes and opinions would be taken into consideration before making a decision with potentially a huge impact on their future.

With a second site in Asheville, North Carolina, having opened earlier this month, it will surely be the case that New Belgium's reputation as a progressive and far-reaching brewery can only increase. Although the brewery prioritises the American market and hopes to sell in every state as a priority over growing export, we are hopeful that before too long we will start to see their beer on our shores!



Thursday, 12 May 2016


Double, or Imperial, IPAs are all the rage at the moment, with an array of big-hitting breweries all coming out with new releases recently. We had a few of the most highly regarded and eagerly anticipated brews lurking in the fridge, so decided to do a bit of a taste test. Here are our thoughts...

New Belgium - Rampant, 8.5%

Brought back direct from the brewery itself from our trip to the states,  Rampant roars with a chewy, resinous nature but hides its ABV well (probably a good thing as it's the lowest of our selection today...) - surprisingly easy to drink with a delicate floral blossom characteristic. The combination of Mosaic, Calypso, and Centennial hops provide masses of fruit and the malt backbone gives a sweetness which keeps the hop bitterness in check. A lasting bitter, piney finish rounds off what is a very well-balanced beer indeed.

Cloudwater - DIPA v3, 9%

We had this on keg on release day at the wonderful Small Bar in Bristol, where the main delicious concern was whether some wily devil had switched our beer for peach juice. In bottle, pleasingly, much the same is true... Fresh and oh so fruity, with a bite of bitterness that doesn't overpower the sheer peachiness of the brew. For this reason it's not in our opinion a massively true to style IPA (this isn't a criticism). The hops (Mosaic, Comet, Citra and Chinook) come together in such harmony that the effect isn't really a "hoppy" flavour, it's just JUICE, and like the Rampant before it the booziness is hidden by waves of flavour. By contrast the finish is a massive thwack of bitterness that keeps the tongue a-tingling for AN AGE. One of the most-hyped beers of the year so far and we reckon deservedly so. It's delicious.

Tempest - Longer White Cloud, 10.2%

Deliciously boozy and absolutely oozing with a rich toffee penny character. Alongside this are notes of apricot softness and something akin to honeydew melon. This was the only beer we've had in our possession for longer than a few weeks (having bought it just after Christmas) so it's worth considering that some of the freshness experienced in the rest of our selection may well have once been present here too... but we have to say, it's aged incredibly well over the past few months and become almost barley wine-ish in character.

Buxton - King Maker, 10.5%

Obviously, we chose to drink this whilst watching Game of Thrones, it felt only right! Surprisingly creamy in aroma with floral notes and a hint of pine. On the palate, a chewy, tacky sweetness is followed by an intense bitterness and a wonderfully robust mouthfeel. Ever present is a big hit of Sorachi Ace hops which, though delicious, don't really seem to meld particularly well with the rest of the beer but provide an interesting overarching character which reminded Laura a little of those fruity coconut mushroom-shaped sweets! An intriguing brew.

Human Cannonball, not pictured, is lurking in the wings for a Cannonball x3 tasting!