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Hello, Beer

Stay Wild

Meet some of the people who make New Belgium Brewing

By Sam Sawyer (the new guy) @samsawyer

Photos by Todd Gillman @toddgillman

The things I didn’t know about the beer industry when I started working for New Belgium Brewing could’ve filled the world’s biggest keg (“keg” is a “beer term” I would come to learn, after some extensive training). Through luck and a bordering-on-nepotistic connection, I landed a dream job: a field marketing role for New Belgium Brewing based in the sunny Pacific Northwest—in Ballard, WA, specifically. After spending a decade and a half on the marketing side of the music biz, most recently with venerable record label Sub Pop, venturing into an unknown industry was an adventure that I was very much looking forward to. 

I can honestly say that those articles calling out New Belgium for being one of the best companies in America to work for are accurate, but for all the wrong reasons. SURE, there are great benefits: we’re a certified B-Corp, we all get company bikes after one year on the job, we’re 100% percent employee-owned, gym memberships of any and all manner are offered, my company car is a monster truck, we produce some of the best liquid in the world, and of course, that liquid flows freely into the bellies of employees. But the reason New Belgium is one of the best companies to work for isn’t the list of traits in all those articles, it’s the people.

When someone new visits the brewery, a Willy Wonka comparison is virtually always made, thanks in part to the forest of two story-high wooden barrels, twister slides taking root with unknown origins above, foosball tables, rolle bolle courts, microbiology labs, and pipes filled with BEER going EVERYWHERE, snaking throughout the brewery. Despite the wacky physical surroundings, and much like Willy Wonka’s army of Oompa Loompas, it’s the employees’ specialties and passion for what they do that make this brewery vibrate with positivity, inventiveness, a love for their community, and that je ne sais what that makes you want to go out of your way to come back for another visit. 

Andrew Emerton // Specialty Brand Manager

If you visit the brewery in Fort Collins, Colorado, odds are you’ll get to try some weird, small-batch experimental brew made with a fruit or spice you’ve never heard of. It’s our Specialty Brand Manager, Andrew Emerton, who is tasked with thinking of interesting, esoteric, challenging, culturally intriguing beers, then working with our experimental Pilot Brewery crew to bring those beers to life. I would have a hard time finding the left-field beer styles he helps create anywhere else, and they make pulling the handle and filling a globe feel like a privilege that I haven’t earned. In Andrew’s own words, he makes “celebratory beers.” Dude must like to party, because he has his hand in making some of the world’s absolute best celebratory beer. Sure, many of our Lips of Faith beers are available in stores near my home in Seattle, and if you use New Belgium’s Beer Mode app, you’ll quickly be able to locate the nearest place where you can sample these rare and sometimes wonderfully bizarre brews—but there’s something so different about enjoying 16 ounces of this liquid so close to the source.

Katie Wallace // Assistant Director of Sustainability

Walking the talk is an admirable quality. As a certified B-Corp, New Belgium does an awful lot of good by their employees, their community, and the environment. Assistant Director of Sustainability Katie Wallace did much of the legwork to make that happen. Katie’s a self-described “peacemaker between industry and nature,” and on a given day you could find her in the office learning about waterless urinals, visiting a hop farm, analyzing greenhouse gas emissions, or speaking at a conference on behalf of the brewery, encouraging and teaching other business people to become better stewards of their communities and environments. In short, Katie Wallace is a super human who professionally strives to help New Belgium walk the talk when it comes to sustainability. I like Katie and our sustainability team because they make me, as an employee of New Belgium Brewing, look like a better person. They like to say that “everyone at New Belgium works in sustainability, because the sustainability team benefits from the eyes that see the other parts of the brewery, and the minds that understand our opportunities in totally unique and helpful ways.” 

Michael Bussmann // Manager of the Mothership Experience

Michael Bussmann runs the Liquid Center (the brewery’s tasting room) and the brewery tour program. He’s in one of those positions where everyone knows of him; he’s consumer-facing (a marketing term for “consumer-facing”), he’s been an employee for years, he’s got some good tattoos, and if you get a job with New Belgium Brewing, his portion of the summer camp-like orientation process is essentially him instructing you on how not to be a dick in the Liquid Center (no bar fights, etc.). If you’ve ever visited the brewery and had a beer in the LC or taken one of our legendary tours, his presence can be felt in the people he hires and leads behind the bar. As the Manager of the Mothership Experience (official title), he looks for “the right stuff” in new employees, which I imagine is just a mixture of great attitude and low levels of “the wrong stuff.” I asked him what he’d do if he wasn’t the Manager of the Mothership Experience, and he said he’d like to be a steamboat captain. Something tells me that in an alternate universe, there’s a happy and talented crew manning a ship-shape steamboat helmed by one Captain Bussmann.

Ted Peterson // Wood Cellar Poet Laureate

Ted Peterson’s office is our Wood Cellar, and he makes poetry blending sour beers, or so his business card, and perhaps pickup lines, implies (official title: Wood Cellar Poet Laureate). The Wood Cellar is a collection of 60-ish two-story foeders (giant oak barrels used for aging and developing our sour beers), and this is Ted country.  Another thing to know about Ted is that he’s my favorite person to run into when I visit the Mothership, and I’ll tell you why: Dude’s trouble. Chill, manageable trouble—but trouble nonetheless. If you work for New Belgium, but you’re one of the few hundred employees who work remotely, brewery visits tend to have many opportunities for “sampling,” or as you’d call it anywhere else, “drinking.” For example, I may walk through our Wood Cellar, and if I run into Ted on the way, the next thing I know he’ll be zig-zagging me through the maze of foeders to one particular retired whisky barrel where he’s aging a “secret blend of [inaudibly trails off].” He’ll hand me a glass, use pliers to pry out the nail used as a stopper, and unleash a healthy pour of what is most likely a very high ABV sour beer that very few people will ever try—at least as is. Pair this with the beer I was probably already drinking (hey, I’m sort of on work vacation), and the fact that this will probably happen a few more times today, and Ted starts to seem like trouble. I like Ted and I like sour beer. A lot.

Andy Mitchell // Brewer

Andy Mitchell is a Brewer 3, and despite Andy’s protest, being Brewer 3 level is like having a black belt in the brewing arts. Brewers don’t make beer, they make wort (If you’re saying it correctly, it’s pronounced wert. If you’re like me and mispronouncing it correctly, it’s WART). In short, wort is a malty, sugary feedstock for yeast, and it’s the yeast that makes the beer, by converting sugars into alcohol and carbon dioxide. Not only does Andy know what it takes to make yeast happy and healthy, he specializes in improving the brewing process so we can make more with less—more and better beer with less energy and fewer inputs through constant collaboration between brewers, engineers, and programmers for process improvements. The German engineering-level of precision it takes to make our beer is greatly appreciated.

Kelly Tretter // Microbiologist

I’m generalizing here, but it takes more than a goatee and a love of World Cup Soccer to brew great beer. You also need a thorough, PhD-level understanding of microbiology. Which is to say, you need a microbiologist. Quality and consistency in brewing begins with understanding how beer is made on a microscopic level, and that’s where Kelly Tretter comes in to play. Kelly has attempted to explain to me, the beer dummy, how yeast (unicellular eukaryotic microorganisms from the Fungi Kingdom that reproduce asexually through budding and convert sugars into ethyl alcohol and carbon dioxide) is propagated from 200 milliliters (juicebox size) to 80 hectoliters (big ass vessel) in just one week. Kelly’s role as microbiologist seemed the most wonderfully surprising to me. When I was getting my first brewery tour, we walked into a lab where Kelly works, and I was all, incredulously, “WHY ARE SCIENTISTS HERE?”, and my tour guide was like, “Dude, you know we have scientists to help ensure the quality of everything we do, right?” I do now, tour guide. I do now. The fact that across the hall from the Carhartt-wearing brewers we have white lab coat-wearing scientists makes me feel like I’m with the perfect mix of weirdoes.

Sam Sawyer // Field Marketing Manager

I’m a Field Marketing Manager and my field is the Pacific Northwest. I live in the Ballard neighborhood of Seattle, and I work from my apartment with my dog Mars (he doesn’t do shit, but he’s cute as hell). I cover Portland and Boise as well, but much of my focus is on Seattle. Sometimes I work from Reuben’s, the very good brewery across the street from my house, but their WiFi is usually broken, so I just drink beer and talk shop with the great people who work there about how they do what they do. I’m just one of a couple of hundred of our employees who works in the field doing sales, marketing, quality control, or some weird hybrid role, which is to say I’m not special (though my mother would disagree). What we do is work with the sales teams present in our markets to build meaningful relationships and contextualize the New Belgium message for the people in our neighborhoods, cities, states, and regions, because as people who proudly call the #PNW (or wherever) home, we know what our neighbors value, and we try and make a difference on behalf of New Belgium within our communities by identifying opportunities for growth and improvement through partnerships with like-minded people, local companies, and non-profits. But mostly we give away beer at sampling opportunities. Let me be the first to tell you, giving away beer is not a difficult job.

Working as a singular satellite in Seattle can become lonely and uninspiring at times. When I’m down about this, which can happen frequently in a damp, dark Northwestern winter, I try to think of some of the people I work with from afar, like Ted, Michael, Katie, Andy, Andrew, and Kelly, about what they do and why it’s important to everyone else’s job at New Belgium, and I can find in them a source of inspiration to keep plugging away. 

More info // @NewBelgium // newbelgium.com