What happens when an icon like New Belgium gets sold?

It wasn’t entirely unexpected.

Reuters first reported in December 2015 that New Belgium Brewing Co., Fort Collins’ iconic craft brewer, was exploring a possible sale, at a valuation of more than $1 billion.

Still, the company’s announcement Nov. 19 that it was being acquired by Australian beermaker Lion Little World Beverages Ltd., a subsidiary of brewing conglomerate Kirin Holdings Co. Ltd., sent shockwaves through the craft-brewing sector and the city that New Belgium has called home since its inception.

The sale is expected to close by the end of 2019. New Belgium’s headquarters will remain in Fort Collins, with breweries operating in that city and in Asheville, North Carolina. The companies’ press release announcing the sale promises continuity.

“Lion Little World Beverages is committed to protecting and nurturing New Belgium’s unique identity, culture and brand as a leader in craft beer,” the companies said. “New Belgium Brewing headquarters will remain in Fort Collins, Colorado, and Steve Fechheimer will continue as chief executive officer with the management team remaining in place. Kim Jordan will remain deeply involved with the company, and also play a key advisory role in collaborating alongside other leading founders within the Lion Little World Beverages network ensuring the core tenets of craft beverages are aligned with the strategic vision for Lion Little World Beverages in the U.S. and around the world.”

Nonetheless, the pending sale raises fears that something will be lost in Fort Collins, which no longer will have ownership within the city’s boundaries.

New Belgium ranks as the nation’s fourth-largest craft brewer. The company has been an icon not only in Fort Collins but also throughout the state and nation. Its culture — from charitable donations to employee ownership, from effecting social, environmental and cultural change to providing employees with new bicycles on their one-year anniversaries, has inspired thousands of other crafter brewers (and leaders of companies in other industries).

The company’s Fort Collins headquarters/brewery has become a tourist attraction and must-see stop on any brewery tour, along with nearby Odell Brewing Co. and others. Perhaps more than any other company, New Belgium perfectly captures the heart of the city, from its quintessential story of entrepreneurship to its embrace of the triple bottom line (social, environmental and financial).

New Belgium is Fort Collins, and time will tell whether the new owners, with ultimate decision-making in Australia and Japan, will be able to preserve the essence that has made New Belgium an essential thread in the fabric of the city.

To do that, they must listen to Fechheimer and — especially — founder Kim Jordan. They must continue their charitable giving. They must continue to be a leader in the social, environmental and cultural spheres. They must continue to embrace employees into the ongoing narrative of the company.

Early indications are that the company will do just that. Jordan noted several positive signs in an open letter reflecting on the sale, including that the new owners have asked that New Belgium retain its status as a Certified B Corporation, which means that it’s “dedicated to be a force for good in business.”

“Right away, the folks at Little World told us that they were captivated by this model, and they are asking us to retain our B Corp status,” Jordan said.

She also noted that Lion has announced that it will become carbon-neutral at its Australian and New Zealand breweries, beginning in 2020, with New Belgium accelerating its “journey toward carbon neutrality.”

Fort Collins might have lost a locally owned company, but, as Jordan noted, “This is not the last chapter; there’s more fun to be had.”

Christopher Wood can be reached at 303-630-1942, 970-232-3133 or cwood@bizwest.com.

It wasn’t entirely unexpected.

Reuters first reported in December 2015 that New Belgium Brewing Co., Fort Collins’ iconic craft brewer, was exploring a possible sale, at a valuation of more than $1 billion.

Still, the company’s announcement Nov. 19 that it was being acquired by Australian beermaker Lion Little World Beverages Ltd., a subsidiary of brewing conglomerate Kirin Holdings Co. Ltd., sent shockwaves through the craft-brewing sector and the city that New Belgium has called home since its inception.

The sale is expected to close by the end of 2019. New Belgium’s headquarters will remain in Fort Collins, with breweries operating in that city and in Asheville, North Carolina. The companies’ press release announcing the sale promises continuity.

“Lion Little World Beverages is committed to protecting and nurturing New Belgium’s unique identity, culture and brand as a leader in craft beer,” the companies said. “New Belgium Brewing headquarters will remain in Fort Collins, Colorado, and Steve Fechheimer will continue as chief executive officer with the management team remaining in place. Kim Jordan will remain deeply involved with the company, and also play a key advisory role in collaborating alongside other leading founders within the Lion Little World Beverages network ensuring the core tenets of craft beverages are aligned with the strategic vision for Lion Little World Beverages in the U.S. and around the world.”

Nonetheless, the pending sale raises fears that something will be lost in Fort Collins, which no longer will have…