Clockwise from top left: New Belgium’s
Colorado HQ exudes Rocky Mountain joie de
vivre; test brewers pilot new formulations; Fat Tire is now sold in cans, to cater to consumer demands; the “carnie
shop” makes display ads in-house.
IT’S A BRIGHT MORNING IN FORT COLLINS,
Colorado. An overnight fog has just lifted.
And inside the New Belgium Brewery headquarters, a big, glassy barn of a building, the
craft beer producer’s CEO, Steve Fechheimer,
is facing a firing squad.
“There’s been some concern around
Mural,” he says, referring to the company’s
most significant new product launch in
four years. It’s an “agua fresca cerveza”—
a low-alcohol, lower-calorie fruity beverage
resembling a shandy that’s the opposite of a
typical beer drinker’s beer. And Ne w Belgium,
the fourth-largest craft brewery in America,
has built a reputation on making beer for
people who like beer.
The crowd that Fechheimer is encountering today isn’t an investor group or a board
of directors. It’s a roomful of employees, a
hundred or so, who’ve gathered for the company’s monthly meeting. Lately, employees
have been emailing Fechheimer, expressing
their doubts that Mural can compete with
hard seltzers, the refreshingly light malt beverages that have been stealing share within
the $38 billion U.S. beer market. One person
at the meeting asks if New Belgium is spending enough on marketing, to make sure
people “get” Mural. Another wants to know
if the company plans to play up the wellness
angle on the packaging. Maybe this new offering was just too complicated, too different