The Ultimate Guide To New Belgium Brewing's Fat Tire Ale

First brewed in 1991 in the Fort Collins, Colorado home of New Belgium co-founders Jeff Lebesch and Kim Jordan, Fat Tire Ale is a craft brewing legend — and deservedly so. The light-tasting, pale-amber-colored beer has delighted beer aficionados since its arrival, providing a quality alternative for anyone uninterested in consuming cheap, generic, mass-produced beer. With a delicate flavor profile inspired by the various beers Lebesch tasted whilst biking across Europe in 1988 (hence the bicycle-themed name), and containing a respectable 5.2% alcohol by volume (ABV) content, this easy-drinking beverage has more than earned its place as a beloved force within the U.S.

Now, while Fat Tire Ale's status within the craft brewing world is indisputable, there's far more to New Belgium Brewing's first (and best-known) beer than meets the casual eye. With that in mind, we compiled a list of everything you need to know about this pioneer of the U.S. craft brewing world.

It's a light-tasting, amber-colored ale inspired by Belgium brewers

Considering more than 100 different types of beer exist across the globe — including pilsners, lagers, and hefeweizens (oh my!) — there tends to be a fairly wide variation in flavor and appearance from beer to beer. Now, given its name, there's a good chance you're already aware Fat Tire Ale is a light-tasting, well, ale. But did you know it's an amber ale — one that uses a Belgian-inspired house ale yeast in the brewing process?

To be clear, Fat Tire Ale doesn't appear to be classified as a Belgian-style beer specifically, like the famed Belgian-style wheat sold by Blue Moon – though it does taste remarkably similar to its fellow Belgium-inspired, U.S.-created craft beer. Both alcoholic beverages offer a hint of fruitiness, after all, alongside a crisp-yet-smooth finish. But Fat Tire's light-as-air body and pale copper-esque color — two attributes New Belgium amplified when tweaking the beer's recipe in January 2023 (hold that thought) — indicate its amber ale status and help set it apart from other Belgian-inspired beers.

Clearly, there's no denying Fat Tire Ale is a refreshing, well-balanced, easy-to-drink beer. Brewed with a collection of different hops (Triumph, HBC-522, Barbe Rouge) and malts (Pale, C-80, Munich, Raw Barley), we'd say it's ideal for the snob-adjacent beer fan — one who's eager to enjoy several rounds without feeling like they've chugged cement.

Fat Tire Ale is New Belgium Brewing's signature beer

Just because a product was the first one developed by a company doesn't mean it's automatically destined to become that business' flagship. Then again, there are plenty of instances where a company's initial offering does in fact become its bread and butter in the long run (think Colonel Sanders' fried chicken from the first KFC). Unsurprisingly, then (as eagle-eyed readers may have surmised from the title and topic of this article), that list includes New Belgium Brewing's original drink, Fat Tire Ale.

The driving force behind New Belgium's development into a craft brewing giant, Fat Tire Ale's consistent stature within the company has paralleled its continual popularity since its 1991 debut. In fact, despite the exponential rise of craft beer in the 21st century (with the number of craft breweries operating in the U.S. increasing sixfold between 2006 and 2021), Fat Tire has withstood the evolving tastes of consumers — with the amber ale remaining the company's top-seller as of August 2020.

Quite frankly, no matter what the future holds for New Belgium Brewing, Fat Tire Ale will always be inextricably linked to the brewery. Fat Tire may not always be the bestselling beer produced by New Belgium, but its importance to the company can never be replaced (or duplicated).

Fat Tire was originally brewed in the New Belgium founders' basement

It's easy to understand why so many businesses (even those that become enormously successful) begin operations based entirely in the founder's house (it's all about the Benjamins, baby). In that regard, it's hardly unusual that New Belgium's co-founders, Jeff Lebesch and Kim Jordan, first brewed Fat Tire Ale from the confines of their own home; or, more specifically, the entire brewery was originally based in the formerly-married couple's basement.

If this story sounds familiar, that's because it is. After all, no matter the person or company, the trek from rags to riches almost always starts in the same place. In that sense, it's no wonder Jordan and Lebesch's first foray into the craft brewing sphere came while working out of their home's lowest level.

Now, while New Belgium's history taught us a European biking trip by Lebesch led to Fat Tire's creation, it appears Jordan was mainly responsible for everything else outside of the actual brewing process (which she surely assisted with as well). This deviation of duties seemed to work for the couple, though, and Fat Tire's parent brewery moved permanently into its current-day location by October 1995.

It's one of the most popular beers in the U.S.

We're clearly not alone in saying Fat Tire Ale: you make the brewing world go 'round. Even after three-plus decades on the market, the beer's bright, Belgian-inspired flavors are still widely enjoyed by millions. Of course, declaring Fat Tire to be an enormously well-known and beloved product isn't a matter of mere speculation; rather, it's a bonafide fact that the amber ale is one of the most popular beers in the U.S.

Now, considering Fat Tire's set-in-stone legacy as one of the nation's first craft beers, we can't imagine anyone is surprised by this so-called revelation. But seeing how Fat Tire remained one of the best-selling beers in the U.S. in 2022 — a year that New Belgium Brewing shipped and sold more than one million barrels for the first time in its history — it's clear the nation's adoration for this alcoholic beverage has hardly diminished.

We do want to note that, internally, Fat Tire may have been edged out (ever-so-slightly) in recent years by its New Belgium sibling brand Voodoo Ranger IPA — but maybe not. After all, while we couldn't find the exact sales numbers for 2021 or 2022. As of August 2020, Fat Tire remained the jewel in the brewery's cap, and the company's bestselling product at that time.

The beer was first sold at the Colorado Brewers' Festival in 1991

We mentioned at the start that Fat Tire Ale was first brewed in Fort Collins, Colorado — the same city that New Belgium Brewing's headquarters are located in, as of 2023. Of course, we're not just mentioning Fat Tire Ale's Centennial State birthplace for the heck of it. Rather, we're alluding to the very first venue where Fat Tire was sold to the public: the 1991 Colorado Brewers' Festival, which occurred several months after its basement brewing operation had begun.

Interestingly enough (or, at least, we find it interesting), Fat Tire wasn't the only beer that Jeff Lebesch and Kim Jordan had available for sale at that year's festival. In fact, the couple had also brewed a Belgian-style dubbel beer named "Abbey." Now, given its roots, it's not remotely shocking to learn New Belgium's second brewed beer was a Belgian-inspired creation as well. And while we're sure the brewery's dubbel was top-notch (as is the case with its entire repertoire), well ... only one of those two remains a prominent, actively-sold beer in 2023.

We're not entirely sure how guests at the 1991 Colorado Brewers Festival reacted to their first sip of Fat Tire. But given the brewery's path from that point forward, we'd bet it was welcomed with open arms.

New Belgium produced an ice cream-flavored beer with Ben & Jerry's in 2016

Did you know Yuengling — aka the oldest craft brewery in the U.S. — has a companion brand that sells ice cream under that same name? If you did, you might think it was the only time an ice cream and beer collaboration hit store shelves. But the brewery responsible for Fat Tire Ale (New Belgium) has taken its own stab at the suds-based dessert game in recent years, as well. However, when New Belgium teamed with Ben & Jerry's in 2016, it wasn't to produce a beer-centric ice cream ... but an ice cream-flavored beer.

That year, the two sustainability-focused companies (along with the nonprofit company Protect Our Winters) partnered for the "100 Days to Change Our Ways" campaign. Hoping to reduce its own negative impact on the environment (while concurrently increasing awareness about the ever-worsening state of climate change), New Belgium released a Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough ale — as in, a beer brewed to evoke Ben & Jerry's stupendously-delicious ice cream flavor.

Now, if you're a fan of Fat Tire's light, refreshing, unimposing makeup, the odds you'd have enjoyed the Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough ale are slim to none. Still, since life's short, we wish we'd had the chance to try this unique beer when it was around — even if others might be less enthused about the over-the-top beer and ice cream combo.

The beer has won several awards over the years

Any time we find ourselves researching a long-running beer brand, it seems we inevitably discover the brewery in question will have earned an award (or several) in its past — and New Belgium Brewing's Fat Tire Ale is no exception. In fact, Fat Tire has received a handful of awards throughout its existence, including a Silver medal once won at the World Beer Cup.

Now, we're not entirely sure what year (or category) Fat Tire earned its World Beer Cup Silver medal. But considering New Belgium media relations director Bryan Simpson told Craft Brewing Business in 2013 that "Fat Tire (had) won four awards" during its history by then (including the World Beer Cup award) – perhaps because the amber ale isn't "overly malty, hoppy, bitter, alcoholic or sweet" — we have no reason to dispute the claim.

Obviously, no one knows whether Fat Tire Ale will need to clear room on its trophy shelf for any additional awards in the future. Yet with no signs of slowing down in the short (or long) term, we wouldn't wager against New Belgium Brewing's signature product — and neither should you.

Fat Tire Ale was available for purchase in all 50 states as of 2017

With so many craft breweries operating throughout the U.S. in the 21st century (there were 9,118 as of 2021, to be precise), some consumers may be relatively clueless about their favorite beer's origins. Then again, if you can't get enough of Fat Tire Ale, you may be less interested in knowing where it comes from — just where you can buy it. Thankfully, as of 2017, you can find a case or pack of Fat Tire Ale at liquor stores in all 50 states, including Hawaii and Alaska.

Now, to be perfectly honest, we were somewhat surprised to discover this nationwide expansion occurred before New Belgium Brewing was sold to Little Lion Beverages in 2019. But lo and behold, Fat Tire made the leap that so often eludes craft-brewed beers, and officially became available coast to coast (and then some) several years before the company's sale.

We'd imagine its national reach only made it more attractive to outside buyers — just as we're sure New Belgium has no regrets about its prior decisions regarding Fat Tire Ale's expansion.

The brewery was sold to Little Lion World Beverages in 2019

At first glance, some readers may mistakenly believe this slide explains how Fat Tire Ale (and New Belgium Brewing) was sold to a company owned by Mumford and Sons in 2019. Alas, the Australian-based Little Lion World Beverages has no connection to the British folk-rock band, or its 2009 hit song. Of course, regardless of the beverage company's ownership, the bottom line remains the same; because in 2019, New Belgium Brewing sold the company (and its brands) to Little Lion World Beverages.

There's actually very little mystery surrounding New Belgium Brewing's decision to sell itself (and Fat Tire Ale) to a subsidiary of the international conglomerate Kirin Holdings Co. After all, operating under the Kirin umbrella offers opportunities for additional (and international) expansion — the likes of which New Belgium was unlikely to reach as an independently-owned brewery.

Now, despite the knee-jerk reaction to criticize someone or something for selling out (so to speak), if we're being totally objective? It's hard to fault New Belgium for taking this route — or for cashing in on its immensely valuable brands (cough cough, Fat Tire, cough cough).

It became the first carbon-neutral beer in the U.S. in 2020

As Blink-182 reminded the world, "Earth is dying"; of course, we didn't need the legendary punk rock trio to remember the planet's not-so-gradual demise, and neither did the makers of Fat Tire Ale. After all, Fat Tire became the first certified, fully carbon-neutral beer brewed and distributed in the U.S in August 2020.

Now, when you consider New Belgium's commitment to reducing its carbon footprint (in hopes of mitigating the devastating environmental damage caused by climate change), this isn't what we'd call a shocking discovery. Then again, just because something is predictable doesn't make it irrelevant — or unworthy of praise. In other words, we have to applaud New Belgium's efforts to spur change by making Fat Tire completely carbon-neutral.

Obviously, some remain unconvinced about human beings' immeasurably detrimental (and ongoing) role in climate change. Thankfully, New Belgium recognizes the world is in dire straits, and we take comfort in knowing our next round of Fat Tire won't make the situation worse.

The beer's classic recipe was altered in January 2023

Imagine if Burger King suddenly decided to alter the type of beef used in (and the overall composition of) its iconic Whopper. Is there a scenario where that experiment would be anything other than an abject failure? It's tough to believe otherwise. In that regard, while it's clear New Belgium Brewing decided to tweak its Fat Tire Ale recipe in January 2023, well ... we're still not entirely sure why.

Actually, we do sort of understand the rationale provided by New Belgium Brewing for making this change, since the brewery appears dead set on courting a younger demographic (who can blame it?). Additionally, while we're unsure of its overall necessity, we can take some solace knowing New Belgium was supremely cautious in implementing its new formula — spending the "better part of the last two years working on this recipe refresh," as New Belgium brewmaster Christian Holbrook told CBS News in 2023.

So how does the new Fat Tire measure up to the original? It likely depends on the person. Some may find the new, lighter-bodied (and sipping) Fat Tire less enticing than the ale they came to know and love for three decades. But we didn't find anything remotely offensive (or unpleasant) when sampling the new Fat Tire Ale — and wouldn't hesitate to snag a case of Fat Tire on our next trip to the store.