Considering its massive popularity, it's easy to forget how young the American craft beer movement is - it's only been around in a big way for the past decade or so. There was, however, a vanguard. Way, way back in the 1980's ('88, to be precise), Jeff Lebesch was riding his bike through the villages of Belgium, visiting brewery after brewery in search of inspiration. When he got back to the States, with the help of his marketing-savvy wife Kim Jordan, Lebesch launched New Belgium Brewing with a beer whose name you probably already know: the Fat Tire.
It's hard to overstate the impact of that simple amber on American beer culture. Fat Tire set the precedent for the line of delicious and mouth-watering beers New Belgium brewed as they evolved from basement experimentation to internationally acclaimed brewing. We sat down with their Folly Variety Pack, brought to our Brooklyn HQ from their Colorado HQ, to see how the classic still compares.
A lot of the time, we discuss a beer's color with a bunch of adjectives, to hedge our bets. But Fat Tire is amber. It's the definition of amber. Think tree sap oozing from between the bark. A thick, buttermilk head rose to the top, leaving tight lacing along the edges of the glass. The aroma was appropriately nutty, almost bready, like a walnut loaf fresh out of the oven - an aesthetic that matched the rich warmth of the color.
To round out the experience, the nuttiness continued on the tongue, with a smooth and light texture that complimented its malty notes. Fat Tire, if simple, is still a classic: well-balanced, soft, and incredibly versatile. It could ostensibly pair well with anything, but if we had to narrow it down, we'd recommend a sharp countryside cheddar or a cream of broccoli soup.
This beer is a tribute to New Belgium's employees in the field, researching beer around the globe. Ranger is clear as day, with a light, golden sheen and a pure white fuzzy head, looking more like a light pilsner than an IPA. With one sniff, though, the hops made themselves known, lifting us away with the pungent & piney aroma of traditional Big C varietals.
True to its appearance, Ranger crossed the palate with a thin body, light mouthfeel, and a delicate mossy flavor. It was explosively hoppy, but without any thickening resin aspects, closer to "hop juice" than "hop syrup" (we just made those up, but we'd definitely buy both). The resulting brew was unlike any we'd had, yet still proved to be crisp, wet, and refreshingly bitter.
We went into Citradelic hoping it would have a bit of psychedelic funk to it, as per the name, and we were not disappointed. Brewed with tangerine peel, Citradelic poured a bit yellower than Ranger, like a glass-blown sunflower or fake-Rolex gold, but with an equally light white head. It smelled terrifically juicy, like freshly squeezed tangerines misting into the air. Thankfully, the flavor followed through on the promise of the aroma, revealing an extremely fruity IPA, with juicy flavor dancing across the palate on every sip. Citradelic was nothing short of delicious, a beer you'll crush in a heartbeat and come back to again and again.
Trippel poured a clearish, golden wheat color, adorned with a tight fluffy head, leaving sticky lacing on the sides of the glass. The Belgian yeast seeped through, giving off the smell of doughy, unbaked bread, spiced banana, and caramel, with an underlying bubblegum aroma. That last scent was the one that converted most strongly on the tongue, blasting our tastebuds with straight up, old-school Bubble Yum flavor, followed by hints of herbal spice and cardamom. We imagine pairing Trippel with a freshly baked pie, filled with candied apricots and peaches.