If you’re a Fat Tire amber ale fan who observed Dry January, better stock up while you still can.
It’s been a few weeks since Fort Collins-based New Belgium Brewing Co. announced it was majorly tweaking the look and recipe of its iconic flagship ale, keeping the familiar name and vintage bicycle imagery but changing the style and dropping “amber” from the title.
The new, improved Fat Tire is a "bright and balanced” beer with 5% ABV and new statement packaging that touts its carbon-neutral footprint and “low impact” on the environment. The overhaul is hoped to expand the established brand’s appeal — and climate-friendly message — to a younger craft audience that’s been drifting away from (or just eschewing) the darker, maltier standards that helped launched the movement, toward lighter ales, lagers and fizzy, beer-adjacent adult beverages.
“We’re excited about the crisper and brighter profile along with putting our climate commitments front and center to inspire a new generation of beer drinkers,” said New Belgium Brewmaster Christian Holbrook. “We know a big change like this won’t please everyone. But we strongly believe in the new recipe and the new brand as vehicles to help Fat Tire gain renewed momentum and create a bigger positive impact for our partners, and for the planet.”
Inspired by a beer-y bike trip through Belgium, Fat Tire amber, or red ale, was among the first brews launched 32 years ago by a then-fledgling company that began in a basement and grew into an employee-owned craft darling with nationwide presence and limited global distribution. In 2019, the company was acquired by a subsidiary of Japan’s Kirin beverage group.
Fat Tire amber isn’t the only member of New Belgium’s menu to bid a fond farewell in recent years; the company phased out Abbey Belgian-style Ale in 2021. The 2023 revamp also includes a colorful new look and hazy version of the brewery’s seasonal Accumulation IPA, previously a white IPA.
Holbrook insists the changes are for the good. He said the brewery hopes the new Fat Tire will resonate with fans of the old, in taste and ethos, even if it doesn’t hit all the same notes.
“Longtime fans will be able to clearly recognize our original flavor in the new recipe,” Holbrook said. “It’s our sincere hope that beer fans — whether they love the planet, simply love great beer, or both — will embrace the chance to evolve along with us.”
The “wholesale reimagining” of the beer that helped put craft on the map and make Colorado an early independent brewing mecca isn’t sitting well with all fans, many of whom are asking, simply, why?
A sampling of reactions from social media:
It was one of the first beers that taught me what a beer should taste like. A serious travesty.
I don’t understand the concept of fixing something that isn’t broke??!!
Wow @newbelgium just ruined my whole life changing the flavor of the original fat tire.
I like my lighter beers but the new Fat Tire is awful. So mediocre. I give it 6 months before @newbelgium admits their mistake— L (@LoFasZz) January 27, 2023
Some early critics invoked that most (in)famous of rebranding cautionary tales, New Coke, an '80s overhaul of the classic Coca-Cola recipe discontinued in 2002.
The real fallout — if it comes — remains to be seen, as New Belgium dropped the news and began the rollout during one of the biggest annual doldrums in alcohol sales. Many longtime Fat Tire fans likely aren't even aware their favorite beer is no more.
“I know I’ve heard there’s been mixed feelings on it,” said Jeramie Fraser, manager of Downtown Fine Spirits and Wines, "but this is typically our slow time of year (when) typically people are doing Dry January or slowing down or quitting drinking at all, so it’s tough to tell.”
Fraser said Monday that he still had some of the discontinued amber-style Fat Tire in stock.
And when it’s gone, it’s gone.