April 29, 2009

Mug Shots

Fat Tire rolls into Indiana

In 1991, Coors belatedly added Indiana to the list of states where the Colorado brewer legally distributed, paving the way for Hoosiers to be just as exposed to Coors “Silver Bullet” Light advertising as the rest of the nation.

Almost two decades later, the fermented wares of another Rocky Mountain brewing company have arrived in the Hoosier state, and the hysteria is tangible, if misplaced. New Belgium Brewing Company, a widely admired exemplar of the green ethos, is rolling out selected beers in 22-ounce “bomber” bottles, with cans and draft soon to follow.

Am I sensing quizzical looks? Permit me to add that New Belgium’s flagship ale is the humble yet thoroughly cultish Amber ale known as Fat Tire.

Nothing goes quite as far to promote niche products as simple word of mouth, especially when availability is restricted. Before Coors rolled out its barrels nationwide, conniving vacationers returned home from Colorado with forbidden cases of elicit beer stashed under sleeping bags, camp stoves and life-sized souvenir jackalopes.

The essence of the beer itself mattered far less than the sheer excitement of its procurement, with the added bonus of lifting a can to lips parched by fetid Ohio Valley humidity and being reminded of pleasant, crisp, mountain holiday memories. While Fat Tire can’t be compared to Coors in terms of style — it is different in all my ideological respects — certain aspects of consumer behavior never, ever change.

Do you know what makes Fat Tire an Amber ale? Here is an excerpt from the Beer Judge Certification Program’s judging description:

 

“[Amber] can overlap in color with American pale ales. However, American amber ales differ from American pale ales not only by being usually darker in color, but also by having more caramel flavor, more body, and usually being balanced more evenly between malt and bitterness. Should not have a strong chocolate or roast character that might suggest an American brown ale (although small amounts are OK).”

 

Now for the truth: Ambers seldom excite me, and Fat Tire is no exception. Amber has always struck me as an indistinct, catch-all category, lazily infringing on Pale and Brown Ale territory, and all too often without a hopping rate sufficient to suit a “hophead” like me, yet also lacking the overall complexity of richer, maltier ales. Perhaps it’s a good choice for introducing drinkers to new taste sensations, and if so, I suppose that’s acceptable.

Of the three New Belgium ales currently available north of the river, the pick of the litter is 1554, a black beer that probably is best described as a Belgian-style Porter — even if the brewery uses lager yeast to ferment it.

Verily, New Belgium is universally respected for brewing a full roster of interesting beers. It’s just that none of them are called Fat Tire. 

•••

Visiting Louisville for Derby? Looking for locally brewed beer? Louisville’s five top-quality brewing companies are described below, in alphabetical order.

Bluegrass Brewing Company (BBC) is Louisville’s longest-tenured brewpub (founded in 1993), and remains a neighborhood institution at 3929 Shelbyville Road (899-7070). A second, non-brewing BBC pub and eatery is located on Fourth Street downtown (660 S. Fourth St., 568-2224).

At the BBC Taproom (636 E. Main St., 584-2739), there is a full-scale production brewery with draft BBC beer that’s as fresh as it gets — but there’s no kitchen, so bring your own food or have it delivered.

Even hardcore temperance fanatics are impressed by the grandeur of the three-story brewhouse at Browning’s Brewery, situated inside Louisville Slugger Field at 401 E. Main St. Brewing has continued through an ongoing ownership change, and reports suggest the brewpub will reopen in mid-May. 

Intimate and eclectic, Cumberland Brews anchors one of Louisville prime restaurant and entertainment corridors at 1576 Bardstown Road (458-8728). The tiny brewing kit has been augmented by a larger production facility nearby, with no loss of funky charm.

The New Albanian Brewing Company has two locations in New Albany: The original Pub & Pizzeria at 3312 Plaza Drive (812-949-2804) and the brand new, completely different Bank Street Brewhouse at 415 Bank St. (812-725-9585).

 

Taken together, they’re components of a truly outstanding craft-brewing scene in the Louisville Metro area. Enjoy.

 

Roger Baylor is co-owner of the New Albanian Brewing Co. in New Albany. Visit potablecurmudgeon.blogspot.com for more beer.