The man who turned America Sour

Peter Bouckaert

Lily Morford

He is often called the father of sour beer, the “man who turned America sour,” and the creator of New Belgium Brewing’s flagship beer, Fat Tire. But really, Peter Bouckaert is the chief of wisdom and other nonsense, as his business card comically reads. He is an under-the-table joker with a thick Belgian accent, who doesn’t take himself too seriously when it comes to talking about his past and the long, emotional journey he’s been on that’s led him to opening Purpose Brewing in Fort Collins.

He sits in the corner of Purpose at a dimly lit table, with a beer he brewed himself in his hand and starts at the very beginning of his American dream: New Belgium Brewing.

In 1996, after speaking at Savor craft brewery conference in Boston, Bouckaert met acquaintances Kim Jordan and Jeff Lebesch, owners of New Belgium Brewing Company in Fort Collins. Jordan and Lebesch mentioned to Bouckaert that they needed a Belgian brewer to help at their brewery.They gave him an interview, and offered him the job of brewmaster. Reluctantly, Bouckaert left his position of 10 years at Rodenvach Brewing, acquired a visa, and made the trek from his home in Belgium all the way to Fort Collins.

As Bouckaert introduced different varieties of Belgian and sour beer, New Belgium Brewing grew very fast. “It was fantastic how much I was able to learn in so many aspects. I was the brewmaster by title, but my functions had changed so much over the years because I had to take care of different specializations.” New Belgium became so successful that the owners opened a second brewery in 2014 in Asheville, N.C..

“To me, that’s where the story really starts,” said Bouckaert. “When I was down in Asheville, it was a fantastic experience and then we hired a great crew there and they only needed me occasionally, and I said, ‘What the heck do I do now?’ “

With a little more time on his hands, Bouckaert wrote a book about the process of brewing and the use of wooden vessels for fermentation called, “Wood & Beer: A Brewer’s Guide.” Then, he took a sabbatical and drove out West to visit some of his brewer friends who were a little surprised to see him taking a break from New Belgium.

At Sante Adairius Rustic Ales in Santa Cruz, Calif., Bouckaert said as he started to relax, he had a conversation with the owner that would change his life. He would open his own brewery.

“Maybe that’s what I should do . . . go back small. The idea kept fermenting for the rest of my trip until I got home.”

When Bouckaert returned from his sabbatical, he explained his idea to a couple of friends, Zach and Laura Wilson, the head brewer and marketing director at 1933 Brewing in Fort Collins. 1933 seemed like the perfect space Bouckaert had been dreaming about since it had a smaller space for brewing, it had less than a 10-barrel system, and it also reminded him of Casey Brewing and Blending in Glenwood Springs  – a very small brewhouse and pub after which he wanted to model his own place. 1933 also was losing money. After convincing his wife, Frezi, to buy 1993, Bouckaert asked the Wilsons to be his business partner and together, they made an offer to the owner. By Christmas 2016, the Wilsons and the Bouckaerts had officially acquired 1933’s assets, started making business plans, and decided to name their new space Purpose Brewing and Cellars.

For much of last year, Bouckaert worked long hours: full time at New Belgium until he resigned in April, and part time at Purpose. Purpose’s taproom opened in August and hosted the grand opening in late September 2017.

“It was a crazy year,” said Bouckaert. Bouckaert officially went full time with Purpose in November 2017.

“It came as shock for Kim. It was an emotional roller coaster. But we parted hugging and kissing – and then we had a beer … because that’s New Belgium, that’s who we are.”

The decorating process for Purpose was especially fun for Bouckaert. “Everything is from friends,” he added. The tables are from Pateros Creek Brewing Company and the wooden panels on the walls are from Glendevey Ranch – a ranch in Jelm, Colo., owned by Jeff Lebesch. Lebesch even milled the wood himself. The smell of fermenting beer lingers in the air and the rustic, barn feel also adds to the whole taproom experience.

“I always say you only need three ingredients to make good beer: knowledge, experience and creativity,” said Bouckaert. “Creativity, especially, is where you make beauty.”

His creativity has even found its way into Purpose’s logo and the meaning behind its name.

“When we were working on the logo, we stumbled upon an acorn, because the purpose of an acorn is to become an oak tree, and the purpose of an oak tree is to become a barrel, and the purpose of a barrel is to make good beer. We named it Purpose because two of the most important moments in your life is your birth, and when you find your purpose.” The intricate design of the acorn logo even has the shape of the country of Belgium etched inside it.

“Beer is for community. People come here [to Purpose] to try whacky, different beers and we want to wow them. That was my purpose here.”

Bouckaert also has plans to teach the art of cooperage – the process of repairing a barrel and making it water tight. He currently teaches brewing classes at Colorado State University.

Purpose Brewing is located at 4025 Mason St. Fort Collins. For more information about events and new brews, please visit www.purposebrewing.com or call 970.377.4107.