Food & Drink

NC State has something UNC and Duke don’t. Its own beer. Here’s how that happened.

You can’t shotgun a double IPA.

While the rise of craft beer has forever altered our drinking lives, some moments call for the old standbys, the crispy, crushable, see-through beers proudly purchased by the case. That used to mean the macro breweries of the world, the Budweisers, Millers and Coors.

But in the past couple of years, craft beer makers have moved to play the giants at their own game, the lager.

This week, New Belgium, one of the country’s largest craft breweries, unveiled Old Tuffy, a tailgating love letter brewed in collaboration with N.C. State University.

New Belgium CEO Steve Fechheimer flew from the company’s headquarters in Colorado to Raleigh for the launch. He sat down for an interview with The News & Observer, touching on the origins of Old Tuffy, the state of craft beer and what he drank in college.

Q: Old Tuffy is an interesting beer moment for craft beer. Why do you think craft beer has taken awhile to get to the crushable phase of beer-making?

Fechheimer: One, even with all of the growth of craft beer, New Belgium is 20 years old right now, that’s roughly the age of craft beer. Craft beer is still 20 percent of the beer sold in this country, give or take, and 70-80 percent of the beer is a lager. It might be an imported lager, it might be a domestic lager, a light lager, but still a lager. If craft beer wants to be a beer for everybody, you need to really play in the lager category. So I think that’s important for craft beer to do that to continue to recruit people into the category. ...

Craft beer extended itself into creating some amazing beer styles and amazing brands. As much as New Belgium does that, and I think we do it as well as anybody in the industry, I like the challenge of how do we keep recruiting people to the brand. I think (New Belgium’s flagship amber ale) Fat Tire can do that, but I think a lager like Old Tuffy is a great entry point for craft beer for people in North Carolina.

Q: Is Old Tuffy identical to Old Aggie (the lager New Belgium brewed for Colorado State University)?

Fechheimer: The recipe is slightly different than the Old Aggie we had been selling historically in Fort Collins, Colo. At the end of the day, the main difference is one of these is supporting North Carolina State, one of these is supporting CSU. Both represent our two home states. We’ve been in Fort Collins since 1991, we’ve really been here since 2016-2017. This is our second home. We think of Old Tuffy as a great representation of this state.

Q: Why NC State and not one of the other schools in North Carolina?

Fechheimer: I think we ended up with North Carolina State for a couple reasons. Our brewery here, we employee about 110 people in Asheville today and more throughout the state with sales teams. We looked at other universities, and NC State just has a lot of alumni who live in the state.

We’re thinking of, “How do we have an opportunity to partner with a community, a fan base who is significant and large in the state and show our love for North Carolina as a second home state?” North Carolina State just makes a lot of sense in that regard. I don’t want to speak for the university, but they were very receptive of this idea. Something like this could be an important part of their alumni relations and their brand. They wanted to do something like this. You need willingness on both sides.

And culturally we matched up well. We spent a lot of time together and got to know one another. And that’s important because this isn’t a beer we’re selling for August of 2019. It’s a long-term relationship.

Q: What beer did you drink in college?

Fechheimer: I went to school in Philadelphia (at the University of Pennsylvania), so we drank a lot of Yuengling. At that time there was a lot of Yuengling and Rolling Rock going around Pennsylvania. But I also drank a lot of Natural Light.

Old Tuffy

Old Tuffy is in major grocery stores, bottle shops and bars across North Carolina. New Belgium is hosting statewide release parties this week, including events in Charlotte, Asheville and Wilmington.

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Drew Jackson writes about restaurants and dining for The News & Observer and The Herald-Sun, covering the food scene in the Triangle and North Carolina.