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New Belgium, A Beloved Brewery, Is Sold To International Conglomerate

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

One of the country's largest independent craft breweries is getting a new owner. Shareholders of New Belgium, the maker of Fat Tire, voted yesterday to sell to an international beer conglomerate with a controversial background. Matt Bloom from member station KUNC reports on the end of an era for longtime Fat Tire fans.

MATT BLOOM, BYLINE: New Belgium started in the basement of a home in Fort Collins, Colo., in the early '90s and it's since grown into one of the country's largest independent beer distributors with a devoted following.

(SOUNDBITE OF BOTTLE OPENING)

BLOOM: It's how Mary Collins, a lifelong resident, explained to people over the years where she was from.

MARY COLLINS: It was like, oh, I'm from Fort Collins. Oh, I love Fat Tire. Like, that's great. So it was like New Belgium, like, really put us on the map.

BLOOM: Sitting at a bar in town, she says the sale changes things for her.

COLLINS: It's going to be really sad for me to, like - like, it won't be as much of a point of pride.

BLOOM: The company's new owner is a subsidiary of one of the world's largest beer makers, Kirin Holdings. It's based in Tokyo with operations across the globe, including Southeast Asia.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: New Belgium, shame on you.

BLOOM: Kirin's business dealings in Myanmar, formerly Burma, have come under fire by human rights groups, including Amnesty International. They say the company's operations there have financially benefited the military, which the U.N. has accused of serious human rights abuses. Kirin has pushed back on the allegations, saying any benefit it provided to Myanmar was meant for humanitarian aid.

Leah Pilcer, a spokeswoman for New Belgium, says it stands by Kirin.

LEAH PILCER: They also have a commitment to, you know, culture and the well-being of our co-workers. And that was extremely important for us.

BLOOM: The brewery was one of the first to be 100% employee-owned. That model is set to go away now.

PETER BOUCKAERT: My hope is that I can still go to New Belgium and feel like I'm in New Belgium as I was working there.

BLOOM: Peter Bouckaert spent more than two decades as the company's brewmaster. He says the sale makes business sense. The craft beer market is more competitive than ever, and beer-makers need a lot of capital if they want to keep growing.

BOUCKAERT: I'm still surprised that so many breweries are - want to open. A lot of home brewers want to open, but they don't really understand what this business is about.

BLOOM: There's distribution, special taxes, marketing. Bouckaert knows as well as anyone else. He left New Belgium about two years ago to give starting his own local brewery a try just a few miles down the street.

For NPR News, I'm Matt Bloom. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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