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Deflating the Fat Tire Myth

By Chuck Sudo in Food on Apr 26, 2006 6:00PM

2006_04_fattire.jpgIt’s been two months since Fat Tire Amber Ale, from Fort Collins, Colorado-based New Belgium Brewing Company, made its long-awaited (legal) Chicago debut, complete with commemorative labeling on the bottles. Like the inspiration for Seinfeld’s Soup Nazi, who’s looking to open franchises eight years after that show was consigned to syndication, Chicagoist is striking while the iron is quickly cooling, weighing in on the fast receding Fat Tire phenomenon.

The hype behind Fat Tire reminds Chicagoist of another Colorado-brewed beer that grew in mystique due to its high alcohol content and unavailability for purchase east of the Mississippi River. However, had some of us known then what we know now about Coors (and the Coors family), we’d have wished they stayed in Colorado. Thirty years ago, the Coors myth was so large that smuggling a semi-trailer of the foul swill across state lines for some Georgia crackers’ political rally was the main plot behind Smokey and the Bandit.

The similar hype behind Fat Tire centered on its supposedly being the best Belgian-style amber ale not made in Belgium; that it was bottled in 22-ounce “bomber” bottles, like a “double deuce” of malt liquor; and that now-remedied item about not being legally able to buy it east of the Mississippi. While everyone was waiting with baited breath for Fat Tire, Chicagoist sang the praises of Arrogant Bastard Ale, instead.

But we knew what we were getting, having enjoyed Fat Tire at one of the taverns that sold it “under the counter” with other self-styled “hopheads”. Hell, back when we considered wearing lycra a right and not a privilege, we owned a few Fat Tire bicycle jerseys. It's a good beer, but was it worth people stopping us to ask, "Dude, when you gonna write about Fat Tire?" For you who care, the question is: does Fat Tire live up to the hype, or is it Coors 2K6? Our answers for you are after the jump.

The first thing one notices when decanting a bottle of Fat Tire is the color. It’s a rich amber, almost honey in color, with a head that quickly dissipates. Not a good sign for something that bills itself as a Belgian-style ale. We’re used to thick foam that clings to the glass for dear life, even after we’ve drained it dry.

Fat Tire has a slight malt nose, with hints of caramel and wildflowers. Any semblance of hops is almost nonexistent. Since Chicagoist had this bottle in our fridge, we let it sit at room temperature a while, to let the ale warm up and allow the flavor to brighten. The bottle’s label recommends serving Fat Tire at around 45 degrees. After about twenty minutes of sitting, we noticed a nice balance between the malt and hops, with a surprising wheat undertone. As it warmed, the malt came forward on the palate. Fat Tire finishes clean and dry, with almost no indication of hops.

Fat Tire is a clean beer that goes down your gullet easy. Since the bottles are 22-ounce servings, moderation should be at the forefront of your mind here. Chicagoist calls this a “gateway” beer; if you’re interested in Belgian ales, this is a good beer to start your education. It’s not going to overpower your mouth, like the happy death march in your mouth that marks Arrogant Bastard. Fat Tire will prime you for the real thing, or even other New Belgium Brewing selections. It’s worth checking out, even as the hype subsides.