Pull Up A Stool With Christine Perich
of New Belgium Brewing Co.
Earlier this summer, New Belgium Brewing Co.—the 8th -largest brewery in the country—announced that its longtime president, Christine Perich, would assume the role of CFO/COO and president, succeeding Kim Jordan, who founded the brewery with her then-husband Jeff Lebesch, in 1991. Perich, who now oversees all areas of the brewery, sat down with All About Beer Magazine during the recent National Beer Wholesalers Association conference in Las Vegas to talk about the evolution of the Colorado-based brewery that produced 945,000 barrels in 2014.
All About Beer: Original estimates had your brewery in Asheville, North Carolina, opening in early 2015. Where do things stand now?
Christine Perich: We’re very close. We’re within a few weeks of starting to brew. I was there last week and it looks amazing, it’s really coming along. So right now we’re shooting for mid-November to start brewing and we’re working out the kinks. We plan to have sellable beer in early 2016.
What were some of the challenges the brewery faced to get this second location open?
We initiated a delay of several months prior to starting production. We looked at the initial design and the brewery was going to be bigger than it is now and we did a bit of a time out and said ‘you know, we’re pushing this a bit too far and we’re trying to do too much.’ So we scaled it back and it’s going to be more efficient now.
How big is the brewery going to be, and how big was it initially designed to be?
It’ll be 500,000 barrels at full capacity. Initially it was going to be 700,000.
That seems to buck the industry trend. Most breweries are going for bigger in expansions, trying to push capacity. Why pull back?
Honestly, the site we have we love, but it’s landlocked and we can’t expand beyond the site, so we were going to try and really force that 700,000 barrels to fit. We didn’t feel that we could operate efficiently in the long term at that level. 500,000 allowed us to really ramp up in a way we felt good about and really operate day-to-day more efficiently than we would have otherwise. 500,00 allowed us to really ramp up in a way we felt good about and really operate day-to-day more efficiently than we would have otherwise. 500,000 barrels is a lot of beer. I feel that one of the things that has made us successful is that we chunked on capacity and did it in a way that was not biting off more than we could chew. This was about optimizing the site we’re on as well as utilizing our capacity in Fort Collins.
We’ve seen breweries that have built second facilities and then announced plans for a third. Is this in the cards for New Belgium?
We joke about that, actually and say ‘if we need to build a third brewery that’s a good problem to have’ and we’ll figure that out. Right now we’re going to focus on getting Asheville up and filling out our national footprint.
While there are still states to fill in, New Belgium is a brand that has national recognition, but has embraced its Colorado home and identity. Are there challenges with opening up in a new state with a new brewery?
I’m not concerned about that. We’re a nationally recognized brand. We are Colorado focused but when we selected the site in North Carolina it was a conscious decision because we wanted to be a part of that community and we’ve done a good job with that. People will recognize us as a North Carolina brewery pretty openly when all this is done.
We’re seeing a lot of breweries get out of the beer space and partner with other companies in other arenas. Your brewery recently got together with ice cream maker Ben and Jerry’s for both a special beer and an ice cream, branded with your logo. What makes relationships like this important to the brewery?
With Ben and Jerry’s we’re like-minded companies so we’ll continue to look for those opportunities to work with people outside of beer who are similar to us or hold the same values. It’s also really fun for us. It’s outside of our normal wheelhouse so we’re able to talk with different people and try new things and that helps us grow and have better perspective. We’re always going to be looking for ways to reach our customers and it’s not something that we have to do, it’s something that we like to do. I think it’s the next stage for evolution for us. We’re choosing to do this because we like it.
Shortly after you were announced as the new CEO, the brewery also announced that two classic New Belgium brands—Trippel and Abbey—were getting a refresh, recipe-wise. What prompted that change?
I think the feeling was that they deserve a little love and to change things up a little bit. When you drink them they are not so wildly different beer, you just go, ‘Oh, wow, it’s like it’s been shined up a little bit.’ Now, maybe they are a bit more true to style. We’re always looking at our portfolio and are huge advocates of quality, and so anywhere we feel that we can add value to the quality of our beer, we’ll lean into that pretty hard, and those were two cases where we felt we had the opportunity to bump those up a bit.
—This interview was conducted and edited by John Holl.
Go to the next page to learn more about Christine Perich.
John is the editor of All About Beer Magazine and the author of three books, including The American Craft Beer Cookbook. Find him on Twitter @John_Holl.