By Emerson Dameron
Launching a microbrew is a bit like founding an indie rock band. It needs to be good. More importantly, it needs an intriguing back-story and a lot of personality. And it helps if the name converts to a cheap pun—even if it’s a lightly derogatory one, it’ll serve as a pneumonic device.
Earlier this year, Fat Tire, an amber ale concocted by the New Belgium Brewing Company in Fort Collins, Colorado, got a ceremonious rollout in Chicago. The makers insinuated that, with the first bottles “served (legally) in the Second City,” they were displacing a black market. Local nightlife journalists and bloggers began to chatter, swapping tips on which bars were serving the beer. Predictably, some drinkers resisted the hype, and some brew enthusiasts are heard to say, “Fat Tire? More like Flat Tire.”
That isn’t quite fair. Fat Tire isn’t a snob’s microbrew and it doesn’t try to be. It’s a tasty, fruity, friendly beer, easy on the untrained palate. It’s got class. It doesn’t dominate the senses. It’s got a sour kick, but stays light. It’s nothing revolutionary, but the fans don’t mind.
“A lot of microbrews are too flavorful and heavy,” says Sara, a native Coloradan who loves the stuff. “Their taste is so strong that you can’t handle more than one or two before you get sick of it. But Fat Tire does have a complex, interesting flavor, and it doesn’t overwhelm you. It doesn’t get that sour, heavy taste that sticks to your tongue that most ‘good’ beers get, even if you drink, like, eight in a night… It’s an amber ale, but it’s got this nice, almost creamy sweetness to it. It’s perfectly drinkable and its flavor is perfectly balanced.”
Plus, Fat Tire packs a lot of marketing finesse. According to its readymade mythology, a brewer’s barhopping bike odyssey through Belgium inspired the recipe. The labels feature the charming words “toasty” and “biscuit-like,” along with a standing invitation to visit the company. It comes in twenty-two-ounce bottles, which pleasantly corrupts “one beer” as a unit of measurement.
Of course, when something gets this sort of concentrated attention out of the box, there’s a temptation to deride it, particularly when it disappoints. Blogger Seth Anderson writes that he “really wanted to like this ale” and rates it an overall “B+,” but describes the “bouquet” as “a hint of bleach, the odor of old sweat-socks, and pinch of nervous energy.” And when we feel as though something’s been pushed on us and we find that we enjoy it regardless, we’ll sometimes try to have it both ways.
A grinning man with a shaved head sits in a tavern, pouring his Fat Tire from the bomber to the glass. He sacrificed seven bucks for this pleasure. Why does he like it? “It’s made from tires,” he says. “It’s from Colorado. It’s made from mountain spring water… It comes in the most prominent bottle.”