Reviews, Commentary and Opinions on Midwest Craft Beer and Microbreweries

January 21, 2008

Beer Diary:

Get Outta My Back Yard

Why import Fat Tire all the way from Colorado when we have plenty of great amber brews here in the Midwest?
by Eddie Glick

I like my beer like my women: pale, strong, full-bodied, and extremely bitter.
Contact Eddie»
In case you weren’t in the Midwest this past weekend, let me fill you in on the weather: cold. In most places, the thermometer didn’t get out of the single digits, and bottomed out with numbers that have a dash in front of them. Personally, I love this weather. Nothing tells you you’re alive more than the stinging cold of a true Midwestern winter wind.

Which is why when these cold snaps come, I like to go out on what I call “ice walks.” I get bundled up—and, yes, I wear long johns—and head out to a usually semi-secluded spot to march through the snow and/or over the frozen-solid turf. It’s both peaceful and invigorating. There’s also an element of danger, since when it’s this cold all you need to do is fall into an unfrozen creek and you’d be dead within a matter of minutes. When that wind knifes through your four layers of clothes like they aren’t even there, it’s another way Mother Nature reminds us who the real boss is.

You can also see tons of neat stuff—giant-ass icicles, deer, coyotes, wabbits, frozen poop—but on my walk this weekend I stumbled across something a little shocking. And, imagine that, it had to do with beer.

Sitting in the grass along my travel path was an empty bottle of Fat Tire Amber Ale. As you are probably thinking right now, finding trash just about anywhere in this universe shouldn’t be in the least bit surprising, let alone “shocking.” In fact, I sincerely believe that when humans land on Mars they’ll find cigarette butts in the craters. But a few things about finding this particular bottle did strike me as a bit odd. Like, what was someone doing out here in practically the middle of nowhere drinking a Fat Tire in January? And who drinks Fat Tire—brewed by one of the most eco-conscious breweries in the world—and then mindlessly throws the bottle into the weeds? And, lastly, exactly what the fuck is a bottle of Colorado craft beer doing here in the Midwest?

There’s a short answer to that last question: New Belgium Brewing began distributing Fat Tire east of the Mississippi about two years ago. Since then its popularity in the Midwest has literally exploded. On a recent outing in Chicago, it seemed every other bar sported a Fat Tire neon sign in the window. Even neighborhoody dive bars—which usually carry the Bud-Miller-Coors trifecta of shit, plus Old Style—had Fat Tire behind the bar. And let me tell ya’, it pisses me off.

Not that I’m mad they’re carrying a craft beer like Fat Tire. A lot of times it might be the only drinkable beer a bar’ll have. And I’m not going to go into an anti-Fat Tire rant for two major reasons. One, I think Fat Tire is a very good beer. Despite its brewer’s name and the promo copy on the bottle declaiming it “Belgian-style,” it’s been so bowdlerized for mass distribution that it’s lost any flavor aspects that used to make it “Belgian.” But it is still a very good amber, and I have no problem drinking one now and then when the opportunity presents (or demands) itself.

The other reason I won’t rip on Fat Tire is because there is a large group of Fat Tire lovers out there who would kill a member of their own family for daring to disrespect their favorite beer. If you feel like taking your life into your hands, go onto a beer forum on the internet or walk into a bar where people are drinking Fat Tire, and say the beer sucks. Terrorism, nuclear war, bubonic plague, Paula Abdul—all those things are child’s play compared to what you will unleash. There are people out there, all around the country, who worship this beer. It’s mainly for the mystique of its provenance, and the fact that until the last two years, many of its fans couldn’t easily get the beer (kind of like back in the ’70s before Coors became nationally distributed, people actually thought it was different than other industrial swill just because they couldn’t buy it outside of Colorado). Plus it is extremely “cool” to drink it right now (All About Beer magazine proclaimed it “America’s hippest beer” in their latest issue). All this has little or nothing to do with how the beer actually tastes, which, I remind you, is still very good. Please don’t kill me.

But why do we need Fat Tire circulating here in the Midwest? It’s not like we have a dearth of craft ambers and we need to truck in stuff from Colorado to fill the gaping void. Besides—and remembering that I think Fat Tire is a very good beer—there are better ambers in the Midwest anyway. The first to come to mind are Sprecher’s Special Amber and Bell’s Amber Ale. Dark Horse’s Amber is pretty damn good, too, and sports that Belgian flair that Fat Tire has lost. If you’re in Illinois Dark Horse and Bell’s is out of the question because of the crooked distribution system, but that doesn’t mean anyone needs to resort to “imports.” Capital’s Wisconsin Amber is a decent, if mainstream, amber, and available in Illinois. Plus there’s Great Lakes’ Eliot Ness Amber Lager, widely distributed in the Midwest, even in distributor-challenged states.

Outside the Land of Lincoln, there are tons of options. Headless Man Amber Ale from Tyranena, Ale Asylum’s Ambergeddon, New Holland’s Sundog, Lakefront’s River West Stein Beer. That’s off the top of my head. Thirsty Dog, out of Independence, Ohio, has their Hoppus Maximus, an “American-style” amber. Dragonmead’s massive lineup includes an amber, Crooked Door. Also in Michigan, over in Detroit city, Atwater Block has their Rost, which is German for amber. Frog Island in Ypsilanti (what is it with Michigan and weird/cool city names) has an amber, called, cleverly, Amber Ale. Although resident Beer Dork Jill found Millstream’s Schild Brau Amber a tad too sweet, I like my ambers malty as a sumbitch and would recommend it to any fans of the style. And if you just have to get that Fat Tire fix, well then just buy some Mile Rock Amber from Harbor City in Port Washington, Wisconsin, an unabashed clone of Fat Tire. Failing all that, brew your own version. So there. No bitchin’ about New Belgium withdrawal anymore.

And when you get finished drinking one of these Midwest ambers, don’t just chuck it into the weeds. Leave that to the idiots drinking Bud Light. God knows we’ve got enough of that shit polluting the world already.

Drinkin’ And Thinkin’

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