Reviews, Commentary and Opinions on Midwest Craft Beer and Microbreweries


Beer Reviews

Fat Tire Amber Ale

Other reviews for this beer:
Nigel Tanner one beerone beerone beerone beerone beer read it ›
New Belgium Brewery, Inc.
Fort Collins, CO

Style: Amber Ale
ABV: 5.6%

Nigel’s Rating:
one beerone beerone beerone beerone beer   (Recommended)

In October 2006, Eddie Glick contacted aspiring Beer Dork Nigel Tanner about joining his latest venture, a web site dedicated to Midwest craft beer. Young Nigel, who was in the midst of a whirlwind journey of craft beer discovery, initially scoffed. After all, Eddie’s first site, dedicated to Wisconsin sports and compiled by a bunch of guys who didn’t actually live in Wisconsin, went down in flames. But, after some casual convincing and waterboarding, Nigel agreed. “What’s the harm,” said young Nigel, “nobody’s going to read it anyway.”

Oops. Fast forward two and a half years, and has established itself as the preeminent craft beer web site in the world, at least in our minds, and as a web site with a solid following in reality. While this is phenomenal news to us and we’re all incredibly humbled and grateful of the support we’ve received, it has created an awkward situation for Nigel: the topic of early reviews.

My initial reviews, circa late 2006, were short, sweet, and to the point (a method many people would like me to return to). After a few months that changed, and Nigel began his “Stupid Phase,” which involved him babbling endlessly about random bullshit going on in his life at the time, as if anyone really gave two shits. While the wordiness hasn’t decreased since that phase, I’d like to think the intellectual content and beer knowledge has (yes, I’m presently under the influence of alcohol and thus likely living in an alternate reality). In retrospect, some of my 2007 reviews were immature, poorly written, and, at times, downright embarrassing. Thanks to Eddie’s voting machine, I now have the ability to go back and see just how many people agree with that assessment.

Two reviews in particular stick out, one because my assessment was so freakin’ off base it makes me cringe, the other because its one of the most read reviews on our site and was written at the height of the “Stupid Phase.” The first one would be my review for Founders Centennial IPA, which is one of my all-time favorite beers and which I foolishly criticized for having “too much chunkage,” even going so far as to reference a Miller commercial that was popular at the time. For the record (an edited version will come at some point), Centennial is a five mugger for sure, and if they ever filter it, I will stop drinking it. The other one is for New Belgium’s Fat Tire, which was then, and still is, becoming one of the most recognizable craft brews in the country.

Tonight, I revisit Fat Tire, hoping to make more sense of it than I did initially. It’s not that I was off base with my assessment, but more that my taste buds hadn’t fully matured, and I wasn’t as “enlightened,” if you will, on the world of craft beer. That combined with the fact that I used “anyways,” tried to be clever by speaking Spanish, and had paragraphs that were a mile long … Sigh …

My original statements still hold true. Fat Tire is heavily marketed as the next big thing, but ultimately it’s a very average beer without any unique qualities that would bump it up a notch. As it continues to penetrate the Midwest market, it should be noted that there are a number of quality, local amber ales that are superior to Fat Tire. It’s quirky, it’s new, and it’s going to get some pub, but it’s likely no better than what you’re used to drinking.

However, New Belgium deserves major credit for their role as the preeminent “green” craft brewer in the country. Going green is a huge priority in this day and age, and New Belgium incorporates that into their ideology. The brewery in Fort Collins is truly a sight to behold, a largely self-sustaining, energy-efficient building that churns out thousands of barrels of craft beer with few detrimental effects on the surrounding environment. New Belgium promotes environmentally friendly behavior on all levels, and should be applauded for that. Even if all of their beer were garbage, which it by no means is, they would still get a thumbs up from this Dork.

My current version of Fat Tire comes in a 22 oz. bomber bottle, with the same label as the 12 oz. bottle, save for the commemorative “Now legally cruising into America’s Dairyland” portion at the top. Fat Tire was conceived on a bike trip through Belgium and other parts of Europe in the 1980s by the founder of the brewery. The theme seems to have stuck, and New Belgium is now associated with the old, red, Pee Wee Herman-like bike on the Fat Tire bottle.

Fat Tire pours well, with a pillowy white head of over an inch that slowly dissipates into a creamy head that lingers throughout, with some stickiness on the sides. A dark golden brown/copper hue with the slightest bit of sedimentation, it’s a beautiful pour and a nice looking beer in the glass.

Aromas are plentiful, but not entirely pleasing in my opinion. The overwhelming theme of Fat Tire is earthy, biscuity malt, and that’s obvious in the aroma. Barley malt dominates, with what appeared to be a touch of creamy oats. Some sugary notes are present as well, mainly light caramel and molasses. While there’s the occasional hint of hops, many of the subtle background notes are drowned out by a staleness that I found distracting. Perhaps this is the reason why amber ales aren’t typically overly aromatic. A big thumbs down on the aroma from this perspective.

The flavor is fine, but far from spectacular. It’s a bit creamier than many amber ales I’ve had, which is why I keep thinking oats (the addition of oats gives beer a creamier, milky body). Ultimately, it’s barley malt that dominates, with an overwhelming earthy, bready undertone that I seemed to think was “yeast” in the last review. A hint of roasted nuttiness comes through next, followed by a mild sugary sweetness with a touch of light caramel and toffee. Only the slightest bit of hoppy bite is present, as again, there is an overwhelming maltiness that never relents. I seemed to find more in the way of hops in my first review, but here I only detect a hint of European hoppiness that adds to the grainy, earthy profile. Medium bodied and smooth on the palate, Fat Tire is a prime session beer that reminds me of a slightly darker version of New Glarus’ Spotted Cow, and it’s completely understandable why it’s spread through America so quickly as a very accessible session beer.

While my impression of Fat Tire has changed very little in the past two years or so, some of the reasons behind my interpretation have. But, ultimately, we have the perfect example of an “it is what it is” beer here. Earthy, malty, mild, and accessible to a wide audience, there’s a reason New Belgium has hit the jackpot with a brew that many of us hardcore Dorks find a bit tame. New Belgium has some other brews that many of us may find more enjoyable, but in the meantime, anyone who hasn’t had a Fat Tire should check it out and see what all the hype is about. It won’t blow you away, but it won’t offend either. And kudos to New Belgium for their brewing ethos … let’s keep it green!


Reviewed by Nigel Tanner on June 2, 2009.
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