In the world of beer geeks, popularity can sometimes breed contempt. Among the top-rated beers on sites like RateBeer and Beer Advocate are the rarest of rare beers, gems like Kate the Great and Allagash Gargamel. Alternatively, brews from the country’s biggest craft brewers tend to slip down the ratings ladder the greater their distribution. These trends aren’t necessarily without merit – I’m with the majority in agreeing that KtG is the best stout I’ve ever had, and often brewers will compromise with ingredients and brewing methods to produce beer at a scale to distribute nationally. However, I’ve never seen a beer I truly love subject to more derision among beer geeks than New Belgium’s Fat Tire.
Producing well over 400,000 barrels of beer ever year, New Belgium is among the US’s largest craft breweries, behind only Sam Adams and Sierra Nevada. Founded back in 1991 after a fateful trip to the breweries of Belgium, brewer Jeff Lebesch and now-CEO Kim Jordan have grown a socially conscious and forward-thinking brewery over the last two decades. New Belgium is wind-powered, employee-owned and one of the best places to work in the country, natch.
You may ask “what about the beer, Josh?” New Belgium’s roots are firmly in Belgian styles, with a trippel, wit, black ale, dunkel and framboise along with some limited-release beers and American-Belgian hybrids. Of course, their Fat Tire Amber Ale is the most famous beer to come from the brewery. The brewery describes the beer thusly; “people [like] everything about it… toasty, biscuit-like malt flavors coasting in equilibrium with hoppy freshness.” Conversely, lots of online reviews place it between average and Coors Light of microbrews.
Personally, I fall more in the “like everything about it” camp. I had my Fat Tire (from a can!) poured in a Magic Hat tulip glass. The brew tends a little more towards pale than amber in color, settling in at a khaki color. Head is white and frothy, but subsides quickly to leave a healthy amount of lace. The nose is toasty biscuit, with a citrus hop backbone.
The first and strongest flavor in the Fat Tire is the biscuit maltiness of my favorite pales and ambers. It doesn’t get too much more complex than that, as the bready flavor remains until a citric hop finish, dry and just a little bitter. As the beer gets a little closer to room temperature, the malt takes on a toastier flavor, and some spicier hops join the citrus notes in the finish. In terms of mouthfeel, carbonation is pretty active, and the body is light and drinkable. Overall the beer tends a bit to the sweet side, not enough to become unbalanced.
I can see why this beer gets a bit of a harsh review from beer lovers – there is nothing “extreme” about it. It isn’t super-hoppy, high alcohol, sour or brewed with strange ingredients or according to a centuries-old recipe. It is, however, a subtle and accessible session beer. I can certainly see why New Belgium is growing at the rate they are – Fat Tire is not only a well-brewed beer, but is a perfect gateway brew for people that wouldn’t ever try a HopSlam or Chipotle Ale. I, for one, celebrate such a tasty session beer, and think it has a place on the shelves of beer lovers, beer newbies, beer geeks and beer snobs. It holds a place in my heart as a favorite, and will certainly have a place in my fridge if New Belgium’s distribution ever includes Maine.