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In Bars & Clubs

Blue Moon is a Belgian-style beer packed with protein and vitamins, but you won't find a nutrition label on the bottles.

In Bars & Clubs

Keith Villa started Blue Moon in 1995.

Blue Moon adds craft brewery dimension to MillerCoors


Keith Villa is the brewmaster of Blue Moon Brewing Company, a craft brewery that is a wholly-owned subsidiary of MillerCoors. The company actually started well before the merger of Miller and Coors. Villa is also the creator of Blue Moon Belgian white, the brewery's flagship beer, as well as several other beers.

Villa says there is a very friendly marriage in Belgium of beer and cuisine, and this had a big effect on him as a brewer. After starting Blue Moon, Villa traveled the United States on an education campaign to tell people why they should drink a cloudy beer like his – and later to explain how his beer can best be paired with numerous kinds of food.

"The Blue Moon Belgian white is the single largest craft brand in the United States. Sam Adams is bigger when all brands are counted, but as a single brand, Blue Moon is the largest. People now will often say (of Blue Moon), 'Oh yeah, that's that big beer,' but in the early days, it was tough. I traveled all over the country to educate people about cloudy beer. It wasn't until about 2003 that people started to get what Blue Moon was all about. Prior to that it was a lot of hard work," says Villa.

Really, Villa is an aficionado of the entirety of beer culture, and his immersion in this culture began as a home brewer while still in college.

"Beer to me is just fascinating," he says.

This love of all things beer led him to be on the board of advisors for the Oxford Companion to Beer. The mammoth, 900-page addition to the Oxford series was just released.

The book's editor-in-chief is Garret Oliver, brewmaster of the Brooklyn Brewing Company. "We reviewed everything. It's a very informative book on beer, styles, culture. It should be a sought-after coffee table book for those who love beer," says Villa.

Villa was born in (the aptly named) Wheat Ridge, a town just outside Denver on the way to Golden, Colorado. He went from Pomona High School straight to the University of Colorado in Boulder, where he majored in molecular biology. Villa was headed to medical school, but became a brewmaster instead.

In 1985, Coors Brewing Company advertised on campus that they were looking for a researcher with beer. Villa responded to the ad, as he had already done research as an undergraduate, had been brewing in his dorm since 1983, and thought he was uniquely positioned for the job. Villa went to Golden with 100 other students where he was, in fact, told that he was the most qualified, and could start the day after he graduated.

"I had to ask myself if I wanted to work with sick people or beer," Villa says. He thought he'd give researching beer a year, then quit and go to graduate school. Instead of letting him go, Coors offered to send Villa to the University of Brussels in Belgium to get a doctorate in brewing science.

He remains part of a small group of people in the United States who have PhDs in brewing science. And, with a trace of nostalgia and, perhaps, loneliness, Villa says he might be the only one left with a PhD who is actively brewing in the U.S. While in Belgium, Villa traveled a lot and visited lots of European breweries. He remained fond of the Belgian styles, and he got a chance to create one of his own in 1995.

Villa says that Peter Coors was "a visionary," that he saw the craft beer movement coming, and in 1994 Coors asked Villa and a colleague to put together a craft brewery. They put a business plan together and, on a shoestring budget, set out to offer something with a Belgian twist.

"Our Belgian white, which is what the company launched with, was what set us apart from other people. We had everything going but a name. An administrative assistant suggested this only comes around once in a blue moon, and we said, 'That's a great name!' We had no money then – we could only give her a T-shirt to reward her," Villa says.

Unfortunately, Villa found that most people were afraid of a cloudy beer back in 1995, and few people could point to a map to tell you where Belgium is. Thus, Villa launched his campaign, traveling North America with his message.

"I wanted to make a Belgian-style beer that appealed to the American palate," says Villa.

Blue Moon is a Belgian-style beer made from barley, malted wheat and oats. It's spiced with coriander and Valencia orange peel, setting it apart from Belgian beers, which use different oranges. According to Villa, Belgian breweries also stopped using oats years ago, which are often found to be too difficult for brewing.

Blue Moon beer's "cloudy" appearance is a result of it being unfiltered.

"The cloudiness is protein from the wheat and the brewer's yeast, which is full of B vitamins," says Villa.

Blue Moon tried to get the U.S. government to allow a nutrition statement on the label. "They said we couldn't do it because, if the typical 21-year-old saw the benefits of one, then they might believe six would be really healthy," Villa says. Page 1 of 2 (view all on one page)

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Talkbacks

ninrocket | Dec. 28, 2011 at 6:24 a.m. (report)

Somewhere along the way of learning to appreciate beer in its many forms some of us become beer snobs. I hope that those people can remember that the quest for a better beer doesn't always lead to the micro breweries. I don't care if this beer is produced by a Macro brewery like Coors. It's a great beer..period. I type this as I finish off a Blue Moon Spiced Amber Ale....with a grin.

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swoakes | Oct. 14, 2011 at 1:10 p.m. (report)

Right, but Leinie's was around before Miller purchased them. Blue Moon, as I understand it, was created by Coors. They didn't exist on their own.

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phoner | Oct. 1, 2011 at 9:40 a.m. (report)

lots of microbrews have parent companies, leinenkugel's for example

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swoakes | Sept. 23, 2011 at 2:51 p.m. (report)

There's so much wrong with this article that I don't know where to begin. How about this? Blue Moon was created by and is brewed by Coors, so where does this guy get off saying they're a "craft brewery"? Come on. Blue Moon is just as much a craft beer as a McDonald's cheeseburger is a gourmet sandwich. It's a mass-produced macro beer brewed with adjuncts and additives. And it's hardly "packed with protein." 2 grams of protein per bottle hardly makes it a healthy, muscle-building beer. This article reads like a paid promotional spin piece to position a mediocre macro brew as a carefully-brewed small batch beer. Total farce.

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