Fat Tire is a hugely successful American craft beer. It’s New Belgium brewing’s flagship beer was one of the first major craft beers on the market, kicking off the American craft beer craze that endures to this day. Its deep, amber color and complex flavor made it a favorite among American beer connoisseurs.
Fat Tire is an American Amber Ale. Its moderate-to-high bitterness, carbonization, and deep amber coloration led to this classification. It has a sweet, almost caramel-like flavor with more malty notes than citrus. It’s very smooth, with a bit of hoppy bitterness and a yeasty kick. It’s a great beer for the fall season.
Is that the whole story of Fat Tire? Of course not. In this article, we’ll take you on a tour of everything there is to love about this American craft beer. Its color, flavor, aroma, and mouth feel are part of the drinking experience, as is this beer’s history and rightful place in the pantheon of American craft beer. Read on to take your very own Fat Tire journey.
Fat Tire’s flavor palate is dominated by subtle, malty sweetness. Although many ales have plenty of fruity notes, and there’s a touch of citrus to this beer, it’s best described as a biscuit-like sweet flavor. With plenty of caramel and sweet malt notes, Fat Tire’s sweeter palate is reminiscent of a freshly baked tray of cookies left on the windowsill to cool before eating. It’s a comforting, familiar sweetness coupled with a hint of hoppy bitterness and a minimally yeasty character right at the finish.
Many European-style amber ales, particularly the Belgian style that New Belgium based this beer on, have a far more floral palate than Fat Tire. This beer lacks the cloying marmalade, or overbearing fruitcake notes that other amber ales often embody. This is likely a concession to American beer tastes, which lean toward crisper, cleaner flavor palates than the dark, complex beers favored by many European beer drinkers.
This beer has a pleasantly biscuity, wheaty flavor. It’s surprisingly drinkable, with a minimally bitter finish, and you’d happily reach for another once you’ve finished your first pint.
Fat Tire has a medium body to it. It’s a little creamier in the mouthfeel, although nowhere near the density of heavier beers like Guinness.
Fat Tire’s medium body has some malty breadth, a pleasant addition to this beer. It brings the beer to life at the first sip, with a nicely balanced complement to its flavor. Fat Tire has more than enough characteristic ale breadth to feel lively and exciting while still being very drinkable. You could easily consume several Fat Tires in a single sitting without overwhelming your palate.
This beer’s aroma will be pretty forward and prominent for most beer drinkers. Those accustomed to heavier, more aggressive ales might disagree, but Fat Tire has plenty of toasted malts and caramel notes in its aroma. Raising the glass to your nose before the first sip, gentle wafts of maple syrup sweetness and even a hint of applesauce come to mind. However, most of this beer’s smell is the tantalizing baked-goods sweetness that promises the biscuity character of the first sip.
This beer’s deep red amber color catches the eye. It’s coppery and deep, with plenty of clarity and a touch of off-white head. The head is almost the color of fresh buttermilk. The head sticks around a little longer than you might expect, remaining atop the beer for a few minutes following the initial pour.
Fat Tire also looks gorgeous in the bottle. It comes in beautifully simple packaging bearing the brewery’s name and logo in large, friendly letters. Simple all-American red, white and blue in dark, stately colors dominate the label without any of the nightclub-ready touches of other American brews, like Bud Light Platinum. New Belgium’s nod to the value of this beer to their now-global brand is in the logo adorning the beer, an uncomplicated bicycle.
This logo is a nod to New Belgium’s long-standing relationship with watercolorist Anne Fitch, who designed New Belgium’s beer labels for nineteen years. When the brand expanded, they learned that more drinkers recognized Fat Tire than New Belgium. To avoid becoming a single-product brand, they redesigned their logo from the old chalice to a Fitch-inspired bicycle.
Anne Fitch’s stunning watercolor work can still be seen on the six-pack of Fat Tire but no longer appears on the beer’s label.
Why Does Fat Tire Taste Like This?
Fat Tire’s distinctive flavor comes mainly from New Belgium’s use of in-house ale yeast. The base grains they use to brew Fat Tire are Munich, C-80, Pale, and Victory, pretty standard fare for an American beer. Although this is far from an overly hoppy beer, Fat Tire uses Willamette, Nugget, and Goldings hops.
Fat Tire has long been a favorite among serious American beer drinkers because of its relative complexity compared to macrobrews while retaining an accessible, uncomplicated flavor. It’s sweeter, more entertaining, and more complex than a typical light lager but lacks the over-the-top knockout punch of some IPAs.
Fat Tire Brewing History & Process
Fat Tire is the New Belgium Brewing Company’s flagship beer. It’s the first beer New Belgium brewed and remains their biggest seller.
Fat Tire’s origin story begins, as you might expect, in Belgium. The brewery’s founder, Jeff Lebesch, was on a bicycle tour of Belgium in 1989. In Colorado, mountain bikes are often named “fat tires,” He opted for a mountain bike to traverse Belgium’s ancient roadways. Upon arrival in Bruges, Lebesch stopped at Beertjes bar for a drink, surprised to find that he was the sole patron. Upon striking up a conversation with the bartender, he learned a lot about Belgian beer, brewing, and history. This inspired a spark of curiosity in this engineer’s brain, and the idea of brewing a Belgian-style beer for the American market was born.
Lebesch experimented with different recipes and ingredients until 1991 when he released his perfected Amber Ale to the world.
We did a deep dive into the classification of Fat Tire here. In short, as an ale, Fat Tire is brewed using top-fermenting yeast at warm temperatures (60˚–70˚F).
New Belgium is quite open about its brewing ingredients. They brew Fat Tire using Willamette, Goldings; Nugget hops, Pale, C-80, Munich, and Victory malt. The yeast is their special in-house ale yeast for top-fermenting.
What Do Other People Think?
How do our fellow beer enthusiasts view the brew? Fat Tire is a widely enjoyed beer across the USA (as of 2018, distributed in Canada, Australia, Japan, South Korea, Sweden, and Norway). Scores are rated on a scale from 1-5.
As you can see, Fat Tire routinely scores relatively high across the board. Its average score of 3.89 is certainly very positive and indicates that most drinkers appreciate New Belgium’s Fat Tire.
The thrust of many reviews for Fat Tire appears to be that it’s a “standard” beer for beer enthusiasts who might otherwise have more arcane tastes.
One Beeradvocate reviewer had this to say about their glass of Fat Tire:
“This is a good straightforward beer. The flavors are a basic caramel/biscuit malt, and there is no bitterness. This is a very pleasing beer that I would always choose ahead of the American mass market beers. In fact, I would classify this as one of my standard beers. Definitely in my regular rotation and would recommend to everyone.”source
Fat Tire And Food Pairings
In Europe, it’s not uncommon to enjoy beer with a nice meal. Just as many epicures enjoy pairing wine with their dinner, so do the Belgians love the right combination of beer and food.
It should come as no surprise to find that the biscuity sweetness of this Belgian beer goes very well with standard central European style food, including roast vegetables and meats. In particular, pork, potatoes, and even lamb complement this beer’s flavor palate, and amber ales taste great with roasted or barbecued food.
f you’re looking to get the most out of this beer, try enjoying it with a full English-style roast dinner.
Fat Tire Brand Image
As the brand that led the charge of the American craft brewing revolution, Fat Tire leans strongly into its Midwestern Americana image. Although New Belgium is far from a macro brewer, it was acquired in 2019 by Lion, the Australian subsidiary of Japanese brewing giant Kirin.
Fat Tire is very much positioned as a beer for beer lovers. It’s not a “neon sign” beer or a Super Bowl beer by any means. Fat Tire’s branding often evokes the great outdoors and the beautiful American landscapes. It is often marketed as an easy-drinking beer to indulge in while outside, perhaps cycling through the Colorado mountains.