Shortly after the turn of the New Year, Keith Villa - the founder of Blue Moon Brewing Company in Golden announced he was retiring from his role at Molson Coors Brewing Co.’s MillerCoors division after 22 years and groundbreaking success.
“While I am stepping away and retiring from MillerCoors, this company will forever hold a special place in my heart,” Villa said in a January statement announcing his retirement. “Over the last 20 years, I have witnessed the growth of Blue Moon from a local beer that we developed at the Sandlot to a brand that is sold around the world.”
The 55-year-old added that his decision was based on his desire to spend more time with this family and pursue new endeavors.
As a brewer Villa bent the rules before the craft trend in beer took off in Colorado and throughout the nation. As an employee for Coors in 1994 he was assigned to launch a new brand on a shoestring budget. He and his collaborator, Jim Sabia, who worked in marketing at the time, didn’t have a name for their brew or a marketing budget (not to mention a place to brew it), but they barreled on.
Coincidentally, Coors Field became the solution. Villa and Sabia launched their Bellyslide Belgian White from the brewery inside the baseball stadium, The SandLot. After showing ample success, MillerCoors requested the name be changed to Blue Moon Belgian White to further sales of the product outside of Colorado and the cozy confines of Coors Field. The SandLot has also undergone a name change as Blue Moon’s popularity began to gain followers across the world. In 2008 The SandLot became Blue Moon Brewing at The SandLot because fans of the beer wanted a brewery site they could visit.
It was at The SandLot that Villa was able to continue to amplify his expertise in the craft industry. Several of his experimental drafts - regularly rotating at the SandLot throughout the baseball season - have gone on to win medals at the Great American Beer Festival and continue to be cherished among beer drinkers.
“I began drinking with some snobbish beer drinkers about 10 years ago and everything was craft this and imperial that,” said Alicia Valles, 33, Denver. “I really liked Blue Moon and people would give me so much crap for it. ‘That’s not a real craft beer’ or ‘you might as well drink water’ people would say stuff like that all the time.”
Valles is one of many beer drinkers who grew up with Blue Moon among her favorite line of beers, despite the criticism it receives for being a Coors product with a “craft” label.
“I go with what I think tastes good,” she said of why she stands by her praise of Blue Moon. “Not everything they make is perfect, but it’s a staple for me and some of the other Belgian White’s that I’ve tried are poor to adequate imitations. I have yet to try one that I would call better, though.”
Though he is no longer part of the MillerCoors or Blue Moon family, Villa is not stepping away from beer. According to a report in Forbes, the beer master has his sights tentatively set on launching a couple of new breweries. One may be dedicated to high-end brews, while the other may take on the form of an exploratory brewery with innovative ingredients.
Now marketed under the name Blue Moon Brewing Co. (as opposed to Coors), Blue Moon was again identified as the number one-selling craft beer in grocery and convenience stores in the nation with $258 million in sales, an increase of 7.3 percent over 2016.