An Amusement & Diversion for The Genteel Cyclist. Daily.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Dirt Magnet: A conversation with New Belgium Brewing

We recently ran into B.K. Krueger, a sales dude from New Belgium Beer. He was hanging at one of our local watering holes during the Nature Valley Grand Prix. There was great excitement, because New Belgium had made its "triumphant return" to the Twin Cities, after some unexplained absence.

Because you're smart, and worldy, and because you love beer and bikes as much as we do, you know that New Belgium brews Fat Tire Ale. In recent years, it's become iconic in the cycling community. In our ever-expanding role of self-righteously separating the poseurs from the pros, we grilled B.K. to test his cycling creds. (Not really. We were just angling for a free beer. Which he kindly offered more than once. Alas, we had to decline, because someone had forced a quantity of Irish whiskey into us, and we were already having trouble remembering where we'd parked our bike.)

B.K. Krueger. What's your real name, and what do you do?

My name is Brian but people call me B.K. My official title is "Sales Co-Pilot." I help manage a bunch of things, but new territory development is one of the things I do.

Give us a little background on New Belgium's connection to the cycling community.

A lot of people think it's a marketing gimmick, but it's truly an authentic story. Jeff [Lebesch] was an electrical engineer, and he used to take some trips to Belgium. He'd cruise around on a mountain bike. He was also inspired by the great brewing and freedom of process and ingredients in Belgian beers, so he came back and as a homebrewer wanted to incorporate that in. And after one of his first trips, in honor of the trip, he named the beer after the bike. Everybody thought he was crazy to name it that-- it's stupid, it's a silly name, it'll never work. But he and his wife Kim decided that was the thing to do. They got their neighbor to paint a watercolor that's still on our label--she's done every label since then, and it's just kind of stuck and caught on.

But the connection to the cycling community is huge, right?

It is. We connect to a lot of communities. People connect with the bikes, they connect with the simplicity, they connect with the balance. It's a balanced product, and it's a real story. Jeff still rides bikes almost every single day. He trains for triathlons. I was just in Belgium for our five year anniversary trip. He takes you on this trip that he did. You ride from the town out to a small brewery and then back into town. Cyclists all over the world connect with that. It's just simple pleasures. Beer is a simple pleasure.

They say in the wine industry that if you put an animal on the label, Americans will buy it. You think that might be true with bikes and beer?

I think we were one of the first ones to do it. A lot of people have done it since then. I don't think it sells any more beer than anything else. It's just good beer, we really focus on making a quality product.

Do you get calls all day every day from dirtbag cyclists who want free beer?

[Laughs]. We get quite a few calls. We don't refer to them as dirtbag cyclists. But yeah, we get calls every day from everybody. There's constant calls for, "Hey can you sponsor our bike race." We get calls from all fifty states. So yeah, it's a really cool thing that people identify with us.

Does everybody in the company ride a bike? Or just senior management?

Most people do. One of the cool benefits is that after your first anniversary, you're given a cruiser bike by Kim and Jeff at the all-staff meeting once a month. And you look outside, and there is more bike parking than there is car parking.

Is the company bike a special custom bike, or a stock cruiser?

It's probably a stock model, but it's got a custom paint job, limited and numbered. In the last couple of years, they might say "number 238 out of 355" in a year

So, recently one of your truck drivers fell into a load of grain, and almost suffocated. What happened, and is he OK?

He was offloading grain from one of our trucks and he fell in. He's totally fine, no permanent damage, no temporary damage, just kind of a big scare. Everything's good.

  • MORE: Check out our recent conversations with Dirt Rag editor Karen Brooks, World Bicycling Relief's Chris Strout, and super-unicyclist Steve Relles.