For Roundtable 23, Knights Jim and Chris, along with Jason B., met Gina and myself at our house for a sampling of beers from New Belgium Brewery of Fort Collins, Colorado.
New Belgium is probably most famous for their Fat Tire Amber Ale - a beer not available in Indiana, yet still widely known by Hoosier drinkers. Gina and I had picked up the New Belgium beer on a recent trip to St. Louis, and then carefully (and under constant icey-cold temperature) transported them back to Indianapolis.
The beers for review were Fat Tire, 1554, Abbey, and Tripple. My personal goal for this meeting was to see if Fat Tire was deserving of its reputation, and to find out if New Belgium is doing better in its lesser known beer.
After warm ups from Brooklyn Brewery and Dogfish Head, we started with New Belgium's 1554 Enlightened Black Ale. It had a tiny malt nose, a dark reddish tea-like appearance, and very light lacing. A taste featured light chocolate notes, and at 5.6 ABV, the alcohol wasn't overwhelming. The overriding characteristic of this beer was its smoothness. It's an extremely drinkable beer - a good beer, but just good. 1554 gets a score of 3.5 mugs.
Back in June we visited Fat Tire by way of blind taste test, but felt that the beer may have been a bad batch. Although I didn't post a review on HBG then, I did post my thoughts on my personal blog - "diaper nose, can't believe they're selling this to people".
I'm happy to say that my feelings on Fat Tire are not as strong now - but they remain negative. Fat Tire has an orangey-apple juice appearance, medium lacing, and a weak sulfury malt nose. The taste reflects those same characteristics, thought it's not as bad as I remembered. It's not an offensive taste, but certainly nothing special. Just sort of blah. I'd give Fat Tire 1.5 mugs.
Next up was the Abbey Belgian Style Ale. It featured a fantastic Delirium Tremens like nose, but instead of Tremens apple taste, Abbey has a strong banana presence. This beer has a coke-colored appearance with slight lacing, and a banana and bubblegum taste, with strong alcohol notes - at 7.0 ABV, perhaps that shouldn't be a surprise. It's a very true to the Belgian style beers I've had previously, and gets better as it warms. But in the end, I've had much better beers in this style. I'd give the Abbey 3 mugs.
Our last choice from New Belgium was the Tripple Belgian Style Ale. It was not unlike the Abbey in having a fruity nose, though not nearly as strong. I picked up a slight malt note and a hint of apple that came through on the front once in my mouth. It was a very light with strong alcohol notes on the back, and a slight sourness. I'd give the Tripple a 3 mug rating as well.
All in all, I can't say that any of the New Belgium samples we had were bad beers - though Fat Tire barely crosses the line from undrinkable. These beers serve as fine samples of their respective styles, but none of them are really outstanding - and certainly not worthy of the hype. There's no reason to worry that you can't find these beers locally - you can find better choices in the products available in Indiana.