Once in a while Edmontonians are graced with something special. One such noted arrival appeared a few weeks ago. How special? Well, I can tell you I haven’t seen this kind of buzz about a new beer import in this province in years.
The source of such commotion is the first shipments from the New Belgium Brewing Company. This Colorado brewery has developed a reputation as one of the hippest breweries in the US, and it is one of those cases where I firmly believe there is some real substance behind the hype. The beer is good (more on that in a minute), but what makes New Belgium so special is its business approach.
First, it is entirely employee-owned, a rarity in the beer world. The brewery was formed in 1991 by a husband and wife team, and over the years they sold more and more of the company to their employees collectively, eventually becoming 100-percent employee-owned last year.
New Belgium is deeply committed to producing beer in an environmentally friendly way. Sure, they actively promote cycling as a mode of transportation (a red bike is a central part of their logo), but that is easy. How about being one-third powered by solar power? Not enough? OK, how about a state-of-the-art energy-efficiency program, causing New Belgium to use less power per litre than any other brewery in the US. Still not impressed? Then take a look at their bio-gas co-generation facility, which uses the gasses produced by the cleaning of their waste water to produce electricity, which supplies an additional 10 percent of their power.
And did I mention the beer is good? Currently two beer are in Alberta but I wanted to highlight the beer that built the brewery. Fat Tire Amber Ale is an unassuming beer but finds a way to be a marvelous example of a subtle style.
It pours dark gold verging on light amber. It builds a thick, rocky white head with lots of active bubbles. The aroma offers light toffee, nuts, touches of fruitiness and some biscuit background. It is just like a sweet scone fresh from the oven.
The taste starts with a fresh biscuit, some light graininess and a generic fruitiness that reminds me of a British pale ale. In the middle the body increases just a touch, enough to draw out some toffee and nuttiness. The finish brings just enough hop bitterness to keep the beer in balance and refreshing. Hints of hop flavour are left in the linger, but they intertwine with a nutty, biscuit malt as well.
I find this a delicate, unbelievably well-balanced beer. It finds a way to impart complex flavours, but on a very light, palatable body. Nothing is too strong—this is a beer all about subtlety. I love how each sip brings a different aspect to the beer, yet it remains perfectly suited for tipping in the pub with a few mates or watching a period of hockey.
Plus it can only make it taste better, knowing how much New Belgium is doing to run the company ethically. V
Fat Tire Amber Ale
New Belgium Brewing Company, Fort Collins, Colorado
$18.50 for a six-pack
Jason Foster is the creator of onbeer.org, a website devoted to news and views on beer from the prairies and beyond.