For eight long years, Ron James has called out to New Belgium Brewing and asked about when the Fort Collins, Colo., brewery would start distributing in Ohio.
He didn’t make the repeated inquiries because he was jonesing for a Fat Tire, the brewery's flagship brand. No, he’s the director of beer, wine and liquor for the Wooster-based Buehler’s Fresh Foods chain. And he believes New Belgium, the third-largest craft brewer in the U.S., will be a major hit in the Buckeye State.
That day finally arrives Monday. (Dec. 16)
“We’re very excited,” James said, predicting that New Belgium will make a splash similar to when D.G. Yuengling & Son entered the state in late 2011. (Buehler’s will have Fat Tire on draft at the growler stations in its Forest Meadows and Brunswick stores.)
James, along with hundreds of others from retailers, bars and restaurants, attended a special preview tasting Tuesday night at the mammoth Superior Beverage Group office and warehouse in the Cleveland suburb of Glenwillow. The event — which included dueling pianos in the lobby and three giant video screens showing New Belgium commercials — featured samples of Fat Tire Amber Ale, Ranger IPA, Trippel Belgian Style Ale and Accumulation White IPA.
The brewery also is bringing some of its Lips of Faith series (Paardebloem & Heavenly Feijoa), but those beers weren't offered during the tasting.
New Belgium is launching with 22-ounce bottles and draft in Ohio. And as part of that launch, the state will be the first to get the brewery’s redesigned packaging.
Ohio is the brewery's 35th state for distribution. New Belgium said in a news release Tuesday that six-packs and 12-packs of bottles will be available in stores in early February.
The demand for the brand is here, retailers and the brewery said.
Fat Tire is the third most requested beer at 101 Bottles of Beer on the Wall in Kent, which offers more than 750 brands.
“They are going to do phenomenal in the market,” general manager Amanda May said.
Jeff Ewart, co-manager of Lakes Beverage in Green, agreed.
“This has been one of our highest requested items for years,” he said.
Many Ohio beer drinkers are familiar with New Belgium because the brewery already distributes to the neighboring states of Indiana and Michigan, or because they’ve sampled the beers in one of the other states where they’re now sold.
Andrew Tolan, southern Great Lakes regional director for New Belgium, noted that about 15,000 people have downloaded a special brewery app on where to find the beer. Even though the beer wasn’t available in Ohio, 1,500 Ohioans downloaded it, he said.
That shows that there’s already brand recognition in the state, Tolan said.
But he added that the brewery will have to educate the average beer drinker and share the New Belgium story, which dates to 1989 and co-founder Jeff Lebesch riding a bike through Belgium and sampling beer.
Long story short, Lebesch, an electrical engineer, hooked up with Kim Jordan, a social worker, and in 1991 the two launched New Belgium.
“They said we really want to make a certain type of company,” Tolan said. “We want to have these core values and beliefs. Kim is a social worker by trade. Very artistic. Very creative. And you got Jeff who’s the engineering side and focused on efficiency and has the homebrewing knowledge. Together, they wanted to make sure they had a high involvement culture. They wanted to make sure they were stewards of the environment at every turn. Wanted to make sure we had our philanthropic causes. They seeded the company before the first case of beer was shipped with that underlying structure.”
Over the years, New Belgium has won 28 medals at the Great American Beer Festival for its Belgian-style ales. It also is building a second production brewery in North Carolina that’s slated to open in 2015.
Jordan, who serves as chief executive officer, will tour Cleveland on Dec. 19 as part of the launch. She's expected to be at Superior in the morning and also will visit the Winking Lizard Tavern in Bedford Heights from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., and Horseshoe Casino in downtown Cleveland around 6 p.m. The Superior and Horseshoe visits are not open to the public.
Jordan also will appear on the Alan Cox Show on WMMS (100.7-FM) around 4 p.m.