| The Man Who Turned America Sour
by Kyle Browning
20 years ago, Peter Bouckaert arrived in Fort Collins, CO. American craft beer would never be the
same. “I want to turn the whole U.S. sour,” Bouckaert said with a smirk. “Bud Light sour is my end goal in
life.” His opus as New Belgium Brewing Co. brewmaster — the oak barrel-aged sour brown ale called
La Folie — ushered sour beers into the mainstream. La Folie won a bronze medal in its debut at the
2000 Great American Beer Festival for Belgian and French style ales, back when there was no sour
category. The beer claimed gold at the 2001 and 2002 GABF. As awards piled up Peter was being
called the godfather of sour and wood-aged beers in the USA.
The style's popularity has grown so much that in 2016 there were 142 GABF entries in the American-
style sour category. Even more, sales of sour/American wild ale-style beer were up 73 percent in 2015.
The rise of the beer style started with Bouckaert's bold move to leave his native Belgium for the
brewmaster role at fledgling New Belgium Brewing. Peter gave Belgian credentials to a brewery named
for the country and also brought experience to the operation that in 1996 was rapidly ramping up
production thanks to the popularity of its amber ale, Fat Tire.
By 1995, the year before Peter arrived, New Belgium had emerged from their founders' basement,
distributing throughout Colorado and Wyoming, and producing 31,770 barrels of beer. Now, with two
decades of Peter as brewmaster, New Belgium has grown to the country’s fourth-largest craft brewery,
producing more than 900,000 barrels a year and nearing distribution in all 50 states.
Beer was plenty present for Peter growing up in Belgium. Low-alcohol table beers were served daily at
school lunches in middle and high school. "It was completely normal,” Peter said. “Although it wasn’t very
While initially he went to college to study bioscience, he quickly changed his major after walking past his
university’s brewing department. Peter was one of seven students in his class, obtaining the equivalent
of an American master’s degree in brewing science. His thesis project was to develop a beer for an
existing brewery. So he cultivated yeast from an existing beer. He later fermented the beer again with the
same yeast. After graduation Peter landed the assistant brewmaster job at Rodenbach brewery, well-
regarded for its sour-style beers.
By 1996, the small but growing American craft beer industry had almost exclusively German and English
influences. So New Belgium funded Peter flight to share a Belgian perspective with the industry at a
Boston conference while at the same time they were looking for a new head brewer. It was an instant
match. Peter wrote a resume the night of the first interview. He interviewed for two more days, sampling
all five of New Belgium’s beers at the time: Fat Tire, Old Cherry, Abbey Dubbel, Tripel and Sunshine
Wheat. "I was most surprised by Fat Tire,” Peter said. “I had traveled in the U.S. before and everybody
was doing the same Cascade hop pale ales ... So to have a balanced beer like (Fat Tire) was a big
surprise.” Peter, also enticed by the company’s plan for employee-ownership, was offered the job
before returning home to Belgium. He decided to accept the offer after consulting friends and family.
Peter’s boss at Rodenbach broke down crying at the news.
Early on, Peter oversaw the entire beer production process, even cleaning keg lines and hand-capping
and corking bottles. He also started developing seasonal releases, He was also saving a “zoo” of
Belgian sour yeast strains while also collecting different wood for aging. While his first attempt at a
kettle sour at New Belgium failed, he eventually mastered it with La Folie — a French phrase meaning
Initially, American consumers were challenged with sour beer but that soon changed to a deep
appreciation of the style among serious drinkers. With that it's easy to say Peter almost singlehandly
changed the craft beer business.
Based on an article by Jacob Laxon in the Coloradoan
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