Brewing, Cideries & Spirits  February 3, 2023

Fat Tire taste test: Is New Belgium nuts to mess with a classic?

FORT COLLINS — A group of 30-something friends gathered on a Saturday afternoon in mid-January for a showdown. 

The matchup pitted a well-respected, familiar commodity against a scrappy upstart that seemed to appear on the scene out of nowhere.

I’m talking, yes, about the Kansas City Chiefs and the Jacksonville Jaguars in the Divisional Round of the NFL playoffs. But I’m also talking about New Belgium Brewing Co.’s classic Fat Tire and the Fort Collins brewery’s newly released Fat Tire redux. 

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After tens of millions of beers sold over more than three decades, New Belgium, which was acquired in 2019 by Australian brewer Lion Little World Beverages, shocked the beer-drinking world last month with its decision to replace its flagship beer with an updated version.

“Fat Tire has spent three decades at the center of the craft beer movement. Now, it’s time to widen the circle and inspire the next generation, too,” New Belgium Brewing CEO Steve Fechheimer said in a prepared statement. “We’ve made Fat Tire even better at what it’s always done best — taste delicious, bring people together, and spark our customers to engage in the climate movement. It’s our sincere hope that beer fans — whether they love the planet, simply love great beer, or both — will embrace the chance to change along with us.”

The prevailing sentiment among BizWest reporter Lucas High’s assembled taste-testing crew (many of whom are Chiefs fans, so take their opinions with the appropriately sized grain of salt) was, “Why?” 

If there exists a market of beer drinkers clamoring for a new version of Fat Tire, none of Lucas’ friends were among that demographic.  

“I love Fat Tire,” taste-tester Drew said before tasting the updated version. (BizWest is using only the first names of taste-test participants to shield them from retaliation related to their choices in NFL fandom). “So to switch it up, I’m a little afraid.”

Branding

The first thing New Belgium drinkers are sure to notice about the new Fat Tire is its branding.

Fat Tire’s classic dark blue and scarlet color scheme with serif font and off-center bike 12-pack design has been swapped for a bolder, royal blue design featuring san-serif font and a centered image of bike, mountain and sun.

For the most part, Lucas’ friends were complimentary of the new case branding, but expressed confusion over the decision to move away from something as iconic as the old Fat Tire aesthetic. 

The mountain image in the center of the case proved most controversial, with tester Taylor suggesting that it “reminds [her] a little bit of a gigantic mound of poo.”

Judges were more critical of the new can design, which eschews the traditional white lettering on a blue and red field in favor of blue lettering (and the bicycle logo inlaid upon the “mound of poo”) on a white field. 

“They give me PBR [Pabst Blue Ribbon] vibes,” Alex said of the new Fat Tire cans. While PBR is a fine beer in its own right, it’s unlikely that New Belgium’s goal in rebranding its flagship craft-style offering is a comparison to mass-produced discount brews from Milwaukee. 

The beer

When poured in a glass, the differences between the old and new Fat Tire are as stark as the branding distinctions.

The old version of Fat Tire has a darker, almost reddish hue, while the new offering is lighter and looks as much like a lager or pilsner as it does an ale. 

Testers were mostly split on which tint was preferable, with those who prefer ales, stouts and porters siding with the elder version, and those who imbibe mostly in offerings such as Coors Light showing favoritism toward the newcomer. 

The taste

The good news for New Belgium is this: All of the eight taste testers (who sampled each version without knowing which was which) enjoyed the new Fat Tire.

The bad news: Five out of the eight testers preferred the old version. (For transparency’s sake, Lucas High, the author of this story, preferred the new Fat Tire).

Taste tester Megan summed up the feelings of the majority: The new Fat Tire “tasted a little more like any other light beer I could pick up anywhere — more mass produced. While [the old version] feels like it has a more distinct flavor — like a local microbrew.”

After both the old and new 12-packs of Fat Tire were enjoyed by all (and the Chiefs unfortunately vanquished the Jaguars), the question of “why” still loomed large over New Belgium’s decision to alter its flagship brew.

“It’s a good beer,” Drew said of the updated Fat Tire. “Why didn’t they just make this a new…hmm…,” he added mid-sip of the new iteration, thoughts trailing off before sipping again.

FORT COLLINS — A group of 30-something friends gathered on a Saturday afternoon in mid-January for a showdown. 

The matchup pitted a well-respected, familiar commodity against a scrappy upstart that seemed to appear on the scene out of nowhere.

I’m talking, yes, about the Kansas City Chiefs and the Jacksonville Jaguars in the Divisional Round of the NFL playoffs. But I’m also talking about New Belgium Brewing Co.’s classic Fat Tire and the Fort Collins brewery’s newly released Fat Tire redux. 

After tens of millions of beers sold over more than three decades, New Belgium, which was acquired in 2019 by Australian brewer…

Lucas High
A Maryland native, Lucas has worked at news agencies from Wyoming to South Carolina before putting roots down in Colorado.
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