It was summertime in Sarasota during the late 70’s. Someone was having a party, and had scored several cases of the hard-to-get golden elixir Coors. Oh man, we had to get our hands on some! And we did — and it was, you know, beer. It was a case of the hype definitely surpassing the product.
For many years now, Fat Tire Ale fans have been anxiously awaiting the arrival of New Belgium Brewery beers into the South Florida market, and that wait has come to an end. Several of the Fort Collins Colorado brewery’s offerings are now available in our market, at stores like Total Wine, Whole Foods, Publix, and ABC Liquors, and very likely at your favorite local tavern.
The rollout is carefully controlled by New Belgium. Only 22-ounce “bombers” are currently available. Selected six-packs will come in mid-September and draft will follow. The prices may surprise you. A recent trip to Whole Foods in Wellington revealed a “three for $6” deal your Beer Guy could not resist. Those prices won’t last but will still be well below what you pay for most other craft beer from around the country.
Why? Based on 2012 sales, New Belgium is now the third largest craft beer maker in the country, behind only Boston Beer and Sierra Nevada. The brewery’s size gives it pricing power most other breweries can’t match. So there’s that.
But are New Belgium’s beers, and more specifically the incredibly popular Fat Tire Ale, hype-worthy? To that end I hosted an impromptu and informal tasting session and also asked members of the Palm Beach Draughtsmen homebrew club to chime in with their opinions. Here are their tasting notes.
Joe Peters, a Palm Beach Draughtsmen past president:
“Beautiful appearance. Deep amber/copper color. Very clear and bright. Pours with a thick, foamy, eggshell-colored head. Malt-dominated aroma. Distinct caramel and nutty aromas. Fairly subdued earthy/woody hop aroma. Slight dusty, spicy, phenolic Belgian aroma characteristics. Flavor profile follows aroma profile very closely. Malt/hop balance definitely leans toward the malt. Distinct caramel and nutty flavors. Hop bitterness was accentuated through the finish which was good, but unremarkable. Touch of the Belgian character as in aroma, but I got a bit more of it on the nose. Medium in body. The carbonation brightened and livened the mouth feel a bit.
“My overall impression was that it was better than I had remembered from the last time I had it. It is a very well made, pleasant, easy-drinking beer with a slight twist to the normal style profile and I can see why it has gained the popularity and mass appeal it has. As with most things hyped as much as this beer has been (the Super Bowl comes to mind), no matter how good the actual product or event is, it generally falls just a bit short of the buildup.”
Andy Rodusky, a Palm Beach Draughtsmen past president:
“Having my first Fat Tire off draught in Washington, D.C., of all places. Caramel malty nose. Subdued hop aroma in background. Could use some recognizable American hop aroma. Initial caramel malt palate, followed by a low-medium dry finish. Lacks hop flavor and bitterness, low for an American Amber. Definitely tastier coming fresh on tap, compared to the few times I’ve tried it in the bottle. Malt profile is good; needs more hop presence.”
Ross Brunner, Palm Beach Draughtsmen member:
“Drinking a Fat Tire now. The wife and I also tried the Trippel and Ranger IPA. They are all good, solid beers. Having said that, it’s just not real exciting stuff. Had they launched here three years ago, I’m sure the reaction would have been more over the top. We have so many new breweries getting shelf space weekly, it’s hard to keep up – but I do! Their products are a great gateway beer for the non-passionate beer geek or home-brewer.”
The Beer Guy:
Even when I tried it years ago in Fort Collins, I thought Fat Tire Amber Ale was a solid yet unremarkable beer. There’s some Belgian fruitiness in the nose and some hop flavor at first sip, but malt dominates the profile along with a hint of sweetness and Belgian yeast character. My brewing brothers have covered it pretty well.
The other beers you’ll see initially in our market, including Ranger IPA, Sunshine Wheat and Trippel are similar. Absolutely solid, but falling short of spectacular.
That said, having toured the brewery years ago, I love New Belgium as a company and as a brewer. They are extremely eco-conscious and efficient and have been rated the “greenest” brewery in America by Greenopia three years in a row
They also happen to make fabulous beer. We in SoFla just haven’t had their best yet, including the “Lips of Faith” (have spotted a couple of these, including Cascara Quad) offerings which include Sours like Berliner Weisse and other experimental recipes.
I should note other Florida craft brewers are not necessarily viewing this as a Belgian invasion. Fran Andrewlevich of Tequesta Brewing Company told me he welcomes New Belgian beers with open arms and has always been a big fan of the brewery. And Tampa’s Cigar City is already planning a collaboration beer with the Colorado giant.
To sum up: Fat Tire, the beer, fails to deliver on its ballyhooed reputation (excluding sales, which will be huge). But New Belgium, the brewery, no doubt will deliver on its reputation.
For many years now, Fat Tire Ale fans have awaited the arrival of New Belgium Brewery beers to the South Florida market. Now several of the Fort Collins Colorado brewery’s offerings are available in our market, at stores like Total Wine, Whole Foods, Publix, and ABC Liquors.