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Friday, August 11, 2006

Fat Tire Amber Ale- New Belgium Brewing

I really yearn to like New Belgium's beers. The labels are pretty, the styles are interesting, the company is philanthropic and green, and they have a Belgian brewer. Alas, that makes them a lot like Starbucks*--cool company, poor brew. I've worked my way through most of their beers in the past few years, and I'm always disappointed. They are underwhelming echoes of the classic styles they were inspired by.

But New Belgium didn't found its craft brewing empire on their interpretation of Frambozen or Abbey Ale. It is the company that Fat Tire built, and the company will be riding Fat Tire, good or ill, to the end. In 2005, New Belgium was the 13th largest brewery in the country, and the third-largest craft brewer, making about 33% more beer than Widmer, Oregon's largest. That's a lot of Fat Tire.

Sometime in the past three or four years, New Belgium decided it wanted a piece of Oregon's market, and it spent an enormous amount of money trying to get shelf and tap space. It appears the effort has been only partly successful--after displacing regional ambers for a time, New Belgium has given back a lot of shelf space and tap handles to Full Sail and Mactarnahan's. They may do decent business, but I don't think Oregon is the pot of gold NB hoped.

But before we get to the review, let me confess that I've always found this beer insipid and have, I think far from uniquely, taken to calling it "Flat Tire." I am, nevertheless, a trained beer-tasting professional and when I sat down to taste this beer, wiped my biases clean.**

Tasting Notes
Fat Tire pours out a brackish amber, with a quickly-dissipating head. The color is honey/amber, but strangely murky, as if by hop haze (foolsgold, of course). I pick up the briefest caramelly malt note in the nose, with possibly a hint of citrus.

Malt is Fat Tire's central flavor, backed by a creamy mouthfeel. Hops add a single flavor note, the same citrus you might detect in the nose, which draw out the sweetness of the malt. That's really all there is. If the brewery is like Starbucks, then Fat Tire is like that Charlie Sheen sitcom--a perfectly mainstream product without the character to inspire love or hate. It is a wholly inoffensive beer. What more to say?

The label promises that the beer's "appeal is in its feat of balance: toasty, biscuit-like malt flavors coasting in equalibrium with hoppy freshness." A friend of mine sitting at the table as I took notes offered a rebuttal: "it's weird and tinny and stale and gross. It would not be a beer I'd be proud of."

The truth lies somewhere between: Fat Tire will satisfy none of the beer drinkers who find delight in robust, characterful, hoppy Oregon beers. (The brewer, Peter Bouckaert, in describing how to brew a clone of this beer to Brew Your Own magazine, cautioned: "don't use Cascade or other overpowering hops." Cascades, gentle and aromatic, are the most common and beloved hops in Oregon ales.) But neither will they dump out their bottle.

It's a beer of a kind that get brewed across the globe: a mainstream product so lacking in character you forget you're drinking it.

Unavailable. Apparently Bouckaert regards his recipe as a state secret. He can keep it.

(very) average.

*Starbucks, for those who think their nine million stores are only a soul-destroying yuppie huts, is actually a cool company. They give their workers benefits and buy coffee from farmers. Sadly, their product is a thin gruel of over-roasted bitterness.

**No, I don't believe it, either.


  1. roflmao...brilliant.

  2. Not a big fan of Fat Tire, either. I agree with your friend. I like Drop Top way better, and it's local to boot.

  3. i agree. "flat tire" is not a very good beer. and neither are the other ones they push.

    i went to school in ft. collins (home of NB) when it first started. their beer was new and refreshing then but now it's bland and uninspired. was it always this way or was it just something new?

    anyway, people lap this shit up. they are a good company but the beer is just weak. i think it's a case of the bland microbrewed beer that people love because they don't know any better. tons of hype. and you look cool and feel better about yourself when you bring some to a party. no, you don't.

    i can think of 20 mass produced yellow beers that i'd rather drink than any one of NB's beers.

  4. I loathe to be characterized as one of the beer drinkers who don't “find delight in robust, characterful, hoppy Oregon beers;” so, Fat Tire licks goat balls, it’s a bland mockery of authenticity for snooty, turtlenecked suburbanites and tasteless, uninspired entitlement leeches – I’m convinced these are the same people who graze me on my bike in BMW SUVs and never notice. (it’s always us and them, isn’t it?)

    But some of New Belgium’s other stuff is good; 1559 is inoffensive; I look forward to one sometimes, and bier de Mars is spectacular I think.

    Thanks for the encouragement, Jeff, and your dedication and enthusiasm. Your blog is great.

  5. Thanks for the encouragement, Jeff, and your dedication and enthusiasm.

    Beer blogs actually work well as a collective, so I look foward to you getting back in the saddle. I regularly check out your site, Ghost Dog's, Bad Ben's, and others. Sort of a fraternal order of hopheads.

  6. I grew up in Ft. Collins and coincidentally New Belgium brewery opened just before I turned 21. It is hard to remember taste, but it seems to me that the beer had more oomph back then. Maybe its just that my taste has matured.

    Anyhow, while I don't disagree that Fat Tire is now an uninspiring beer, I think you do neglect one of the unique highlights. As you quoted from the label "toasty, biscuit-like malt flavors". I personally find this to be the beer's best quality. Being a homebrewer I've tried to replicate that light toasted flavor a time or two without luck. Biscuit malt and the like don't seem to do the trick. I think a bit of home-toasting would probably be necessary to really get it.

  7. In New Belgium's defense, when I was in Colorado a couple summers ago I had a few tasty Blue Paddle Lagers, which was the "micro"brew Pabst-option among the people I drank with. The little market by my house usually stocks it, but it tastes much better when it doesn't have to travel very far.

  8. I hate to be the one to call you all wrong, but I would take Fat Tire over nearly every beer in the world. I went to school in Greeley, now live in Washington, DC, and have lost all access to it.....being stuck with back seaters like Wild Goose and Dogfish Head. It may be all the Fat Tire Tuesdays, but I've found no other brewery out here that I can count on for the Fat Tires hoppy flavor.


  9. Clauswitz: Fat Tire hoppy? Really? I think you're tasting something else (sour malts?). You want good hoppy beer in MD? Clipper City Loose Cannon. That's pretty much it. Red Hook Long Hammer IPA and Troeg's Hopback amber are pretty decent. The only problem with Loose Cannon is that it spoils quick so you MUST check the brew date.

  10. Some facts i found about fat tire.Named in honor of our founder Jeff's bike trip through Belgium, Fat Tire Amber Ale marks a turning point in the young electrical engineer's home brewing. Belgian beers use a far broader palette of ingredients (fruits, spices, esoteric yeast strains) than German or English styles.

  11. Admittedly, I have had only one bottle of Flat tire but I wouldn't have another. Not very inspiring first taste and the after was very unpleasant--as if it had been brewed in a tire. Maybe I got a bad batch.

  12. It's actually one of the most unforgettable thing at Belgium.I mean the place is known for the fat tire Beer.The taste is almost perfect.