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Tour de Beer
Q&A with New Belgium Brewery about their 2011 Tour de Fat
July 29, 2011
BY COLLIN CZARNECKI
Beer and bicycles practically go hand-in-hand during the summer time. Well, at least in the world of New Belgium Brewery they do. In fact, beer and bicycles are the two key elements that the Colorado-based brewery was founded on. Just look at their logo or even their staple and most popular beer called Fat Tire – both pay homage to big wheeled, beach-style cruiser bikes. But New Belgium takes their love for beer and bicycles to a whole new, unmatched level every summer with their 13 city, beer-obsessed, bike friendly Tour de Fat.
The five month tour stretches coast-to-coast, complete with live vaudeville/indie rock fusion acts, bowler-hat-wearing mustache wielding bicyclists and, of course, really, really tasty beer. Lance Armstrong couldn’t even hold his own in this thing. OK, maybe he did have like 20 Tour de France wins. But Tour de Fat isn’t about pelotons or yellow jerseys, it’s about good friends, ditching the car for a day and yes, really, really tasty beer.
And what makes this beer so delicious? For one, it’s brewed in Colorado and, let’s face it, everything’s better in the Rockies. However, it also might have something to do with the beer being “alternatively brewed.” What's that you ask? Alternatively brewed beer is a good thing for you and the planet. Since day one at New Belgium they’ve been living and brewing sustainably. Along with “producing world class beers” the brewery stands by being the best stewards to the environment that they can be – through beliefs and practice. In 1999, their brewery and headquarters in Fort Collins, Colorado became 100 percent wind powered. Even their website is powered by the wind.
New Belgium’s culture of sustainability travels from production to distribution. Tour de Fat takes that message one step further as most of the attendees go “car-free” for a day and hop on their bikes instead. To get a better feel for just what New Belgium and the Tour de Fat is all about, we chatted with the brewery’s media relations director Bryan Simpson.
The Lead: When did Tour de Fat begin?
Bryan Simpson: We started Tour de Fat in 2000, so we are 11 years in, starting our twelfth year. We were actually a brewery founded on a bicycle trip through Belgium. One of our co-founders was cruising around over there and got really turned on to Belgian-style beers and starting brewing them over here. So, the brand Fat Tire sort of pays homage to that trip and has always been a big part of our whole culture and character.
TL: What’s the whole idea behind Tour de Fat?
Bryan: In the mid to late 90’s we started thinking about, 'how do we give back to the bike community that’s given so much to us?'. They said, 'let’s do a fundraiser, take it out on the road and team up with local bike nonprofits and see what we can do with it.' That first year we did six cities and then we started to grow that a little bit and add cities. But it was really rinky dink in the beginning. It was really just a pick-up truck full of props and pillions and it’s come a long way - it’s quite the spectacle nowadays.
TL: How has the tour grown and changed over the years?
Bryan: It’s expanded and contracted once and continues to expand, but now what we’re doing is that 13 cities feels like a good size for us. What we’ve been doing lately is that once we’ve been in a city for a number of years and it feels like that city kind of ‘gets it,’ we start to look at new markets. Last year, instead of doing Seattle and Portland, we moved into Durham, North Carolina and also Nashville, Tennessee. So it’s kind of a way to go to where there are emerging bike scenes, work with new nonprofits and spread that word a little further. For the time being, 13 is a sweet number, but you can definitely see new cities pop-up from time-to-time.
TL: What’s the overall message of the Tour de Fat?
Bryan: As far as the message goes, we try to find one person from every community to give up their car and be car free for one year and we will give them a 27-speed, custom built, black sheep cruiser bike, which is built by a local builder here in Fort Collins. Throughout the day (during the Tour) we talk about bike advocacy and that bikes can not only be a secondary mode of transportation, but primary. And toward the end of show we bring that person on stage and revoke their car keys and registration in exchange for the bike, which sort of ascends to the heavens, smoke comes up and everyone kind of goes crazy and it’s this great cathartic moment.
TL: How does the message of sustainability that New Belgium promotes through their product, reflect on the Tour de Fat?
Bryan: For us the bike is definitely a symbol of sustainability, but it’s also, literally, a manifestation of sustainability. The more folks that you can get learning about (sustainability) the better. One mile driven is about a pound of carbon in your average car. So you can think about taking out 10, if not hundreds of thousands of miles, if not millions, out of the driver pool every year, then that’s a real positive thing. The tour does that in a real elegant way in that it’s not super preachy - it’s all about enjoying it and having fun. There’s another catch phrase around here that says if it’s not fun, then it’s not sustainable. Meaning that you can’t push too much burden on people individually, but if you can give them a joyful way to express (sustainability) then you can get more and more folks on board.
Upcoming Tour de Fat events:
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
COLLIN CZARNECKI is the editor for The Lead and former reporter in Volusia County, FL. He has also worked for Patch.com and interned for TIME Magazine.
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