Does every serious beer drinker know the moment when they transitioned from being a casual beer drinker? I cannot pinpoint an exact moment, but there are two watershed events that definitely signify my conversion from the unwashed masses of pale lager drinkers.
The first was my introduction to Newcastle Nut Brown Ale my first year of college. Until that point beer had been Old Style or Natural Light or Busch Light…you get the idea. It was all about copious quantities of questionable quality. That first bottle of something other than insipid swill was like going into hyper drive on the Millennium Falcon—all rush of starlight and what not. Okay, maybe it was not just like that but after one bottle there was no going back. I still have a Newcastle bar mirror in my basement by the homebrew corner as homage.
The second was my several yearlong love affair with New Belgium Brewery’s Fat Tire Amber Ale. In the dark days of craft beer’s emergence in the United States it was difficult to get many beers outside of their locales. You could Rogue in the Pacific Northwest or Sierra Nevada in California or Dogfish on the eastern seaboard, but you might be stuck with nothing if you lived in a small college town in southeastern Minnesota.
Fat Tire became like a unicorn or white buffalo. If a friend was coming back from Colorado…beg some space for a case or two. Once distribution started in Kansas City my sister-in-law became a conduit every couple of months for sought after six packs. I used to ration out the beers like a prepper consuming the last bottles of Coca-Cola on Earth. Once distribution became widespread in Iowa, my love affair waned. Absence makes the heart grow fonder and all.
All that being said, I still maintain a special place in my heart for the beers of New Belgium Brewery even if I do not frequently buy them anymore because so many new-to-me options exist. It’s the same story with Summit Brewing out of St. Paul, Minnesota. It’s less a commentary on the beer being produced by these trailblazers and more a story about the emergence of so many excellent breweries. The carboys bubbling away in my basement may also have something to do with my infrequent visits to purchase commercial beer as well.
Light on bottles of homebrew due to my zealous sharing over the Memorial Day holiday, I found myself in the liquor store staring at a sampler pack from New Belgium. My love of the sampler pack is well-documented. As is New Belgium’s way the sampler is named a Folly Pack because…well…the marketing department decreed that the theme of the brewery is to “follow your folly.” I will play along. This particular Folly Pack contains a beer in the Revival series. My pack contained Loft, but others this year have contained Springboard, Giddy Up, and 2 Below. In addition to the Revival series beer the Folly Pack contained Fat Tire Amber Ale, Sunshine Wheat, Ranger India Pale Ale, and Blue Paddle Pilsner Lager.
Fat Tire Amber Ale is a classic:
Like Samuel Adams Boston Lager, Fat Tire Amber Ale is a classic that has stood the test of time. A mild beer (18.5 IBU) with a moderate alcohol level (5.2% ABV) is easy, easy drinking. Willamette hops provide a nice aroma and lingering bitterness in the back of your mouth that really make you think of “American craft beer.” It’s hard to imagine a time when a beer with 18.5 IBU would have been considered on the forefront of beer making, but when the choices were Miller High Life or Miller Lite this was groundbreaking.
Sunshine Wheat is even lighter:
Like the wheat that is it namesake, this beer pours like the color of recently harvested shocks. It’s an amazingly light beer (14 IBU and 4.8% ABV) that reminds me a lot of the departed Mothership Wit, which by the way was one the impetuses behind me starting to brew my own beer.
Blue Paddle Pilsner Lager feels like a hop bomb after those two:
In relation to the two previous beers, Blue Paddles mild bitterness (33 IBU) and light alcohol (4.8% ABV) comes across more like what we think of as craft beer right now. Using a hop like Czech Saaz, however, moderates any numerical bitterness because it is such a mild aroma.
Ranger India Pale Ale is a total departure:
The drawings of hop clusters should have been the giveaway. Ranger is a strong beer (6.5% ABV) and fairly bitter (70 IBU), so it was a totally different experience from the other three beers. The bitterness feels just about right for this kind of beer. When IPAs start tickling 100 IBUs the bitterness gets overwhelming. If you have ever had a beer with Simcoe hops, you know it because the aroma and lingering taste in your mouth is very distinctive.
What about Loft?
Apparently, Loft came out in the early 00s but I cannot ever remember seeing this beer on the shelf or on a tap handle. Described as Belgian pale ale the beer is pretty light (4.2% ABV) and mild (25 IBU). For anyone who remembers New Belgium’s Skinny Dip this beer will be really familiar.