Born in a Colorado basement to New Belgium Brewing Company, Fat Tire has warmed its way into many beer lovers’ hearts and drinking schedules. This beer was one of the first true craft beer icons, which is a testimony to its rich history. However, despite all of the hype and raving reviews Fat Tire has gathered, many don’t know what kind of beer it is. Let’s change that.
Fat Tire is best classified as an American Amber Ale. The reasoning behind this classification is its moderate to moderately-high bitterness (IBU of 22), medium to high carbonization, deep amber to coppery brown color (SRM of 13), the standard alcohol content of 5.2%, and Fat Tire being top-fermented rather than bottom-fermented.
That’s a concise answer to the question of what kind of beer is Fat Tire, but there is more to it. This article will examine the broad classification of the beer as an ale or lager, the more specific classification as an American amber ale, the factors that have informed this classification, and if Fat Tire has always been an American amber ale. Stick with us!
Is Fat Tire A Lager Or Ale?
The first step to classifying any beer is the classification as an ale or lager. It is on this basis that more specific classification can be made. But before we answer the topic question, let’s establish what ales and lagers are.
The major difference between ales and lagers is the fermentation technique used when brewing. Ales are beers that are brewed using top-fermenting yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae) at warm temperatures (60˚–70˚F). This type of fermentation is called top-fermentation
Conversely, lagers are brewed using bottom-fermenting yeast (Saccharomyces pastorianus) at cold temperatures (35˚–50˚F). This fermentation is referred to as bottom-fermentation.
Back to Fat Tire then – it is classified as an ale because it is brewed using top-fermenting yeast at warm temperatures.
What Kind Of Ale Is Fat Tire?
After the broad initial classification as ales, the next step is grouping Fat Tire into one of the several different types of ales. To do this, we will rely on the guidelines of the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP), which is one of the most globally recognized beer certification organizations.
Following the BJCP guidelines, Fat Tire is an American Amber Ale. Several factors come into play in reaching this classification, and we will consider them below.
If you’re interested in finding out what we think about this Amber Ale, have a look at our review.
Why Is Fat Tire An American Amber Ale?
Unlike the classification as an ale or lager, which revolves solely around the fermentation technique used, many factors have to be considered when sub-classifying beer. According to the Beer Judge Certification Program, these factors are bitterness (measured in IBU), color intensity (measured in SRM), original gravity, final gravity, and alcohol by volume of the beer. Let’s examine them.
For starters, beer bitterness. As you would imagine, the bitterness of a beer measures how bitter it is. This is done using the International Bitterness Unit (IBU) as the standard metric. The higher the IBU of a beer, the more bitter it is, and vice versa.
In line with standard guidelines, American amber ales have an IBU between 25 and 40, conferring moderato moderately-high bitterness on the beers. Fat Tire has an IBU of 22, which falls slightly short of the standard.
Next is the color intensity of the beer, which is a measure of the darkness of a beer. This factor is measured using the Standard Reference Method (SRM). The higher the SRM of a beer, the darker it is.
The Beer Judge Certification Program has a provision of 10-17 SRM for American amber ales, appearing as deep amber to coppery-brown, and may have a reddish hue. The beer in review, Fat Tire, has an SRM of 13, meaning it falls within the recommended color intensity range for American amber ales.
Furthermore, the gravity of the beer affects its classification. Here, the two relevant gravity parameters are original and final gravity. The original gravity (OG) of a beer measures the sugar content in the beer wort before fermentation begins. On the other hand, the final gravity (FG) measures the unfermentable sugars in the beer after alcoholic fermentation.
According to the BJCP guidelines, the OG of American amber ales should be between 1.045 – and 1.060. In comparison, the estimated OG of Fat Tire is 1.053, which is within the acceptable range for American amber ales. Similarly, the standard FG range for American amber ales is between 1.010 and 1.015. Fat Tire has a final gravity of 1.011, which is acceptable for American amber ales.
Since Fat Tire meets both the final and original gravity specifications, it passes the gravity requirements for American amber ales.
The final and most straightforward factor for sub-classifying beer is its alcohol content, measured in alcohol by volume (ABV). The ABV reflects how much pure alcohol is actually in beer.
The Beer Judge Certification Program states that American amber ales have an ABV between 4.5% and 6.2%. Fat Tire has an ABV of 5.2%, which meets the standard requirements for American amber ales.
Therefore, since Fat Tire meets the requirements of the BJCP for American amber ales, it can be classified as such. Yes, that’s even despite falling slightly short of the IBU requirements. Note that sub-classifying beers require assessing all factors and not just one. This explains the classification as other types of ales by many.
Has Fat Tire Always Been An American Amber Ale?
Fat Tire has always been a Belgian ale, with the sub-term American amber ale coming much later. The concept of Fat Tire started on a bike ride in 1989 by Jeff Lebesch. During his travel through Europe, he often stopped to sample beer.
On one of his beer sampling experiences in the city of Bruges, Jeff talked extensively with a bar owner about the history and manufacture of Belgian beers. This was the inspiration for making Fat Tire a Belgian ale, drawing inspiration from the flavor profile of Belgian beers in the 1930s.
Aside from being an amber ale, Fat Tire is the United States first certified carbon neutral beer. This term describes beers that balance the amount of carbon dioxide they release with the amount they absorb.