American Amber Ale [Fat Tire clone attempt] (all-grain)

Amber_8-28-2013Fat Tire is an interesting beer to me. Over the past few years, it’s become a fairly common option at bars on the east coast. It offers up a fresh alternative to the standard American light lagers and is an all-around solid, approachable beer that doesn’t require a lot of thought to enjoy.  However, I find that many people who like craft beer are quick to turn their nose up towards it (at least around my local bar scene) and I don’t know why. Maybe because it’s not as edgy and/or super-hopped like many American craft beers? Or, maybe with its rise in popularity it naturally collects more nay-sayers that other lesser known brews?  I love New Belgium beers; FT isn’t my favorite, but I do enjoy its role as a casual easy-drinking beer and will order one time to time if it’s available on tap.  More importantly, I respect it from a brewing perspective. If you really sit and study this beer, it’s very, very well-balanced. No single component – malt, hops, or yeast – overshadows the others; they all compliment each other extremely well. You can tell it took lots of patience and iteration to get it just right. I like that.

I do realize that probably every homebrewer out there has attempted a Fat Tire clone at some point (and probably wrote about it on the internet, too). So, if nothing else, hopefully this is just another datapoint for someone else looking to make a rendition of this well-made commercial craft beer.

Onto making the recipe. Before I scoured over tons of brewing forums and message boards, I really tried to analyze what’s going on in this beer. First words to come to mind are: nutty, toffee, earthy, caramel. The nose is mostly of toasty malts, but with some resiny, kind of woody hops.. but, it’s hard to tell if it’s more hops or malts creating that sensation (again, the balance is so good!). The highlights that grab your taste buds are the nutty and caramel flavors, but there is a strong base of bready-ness underneath which provides solid flavor and body. I struggled with whether to add Crystal malts, and in the end decided that Victory and Amber would be the main specialty malts. A solid 2 lb of Munich will lend that bready base to sit on.  In terms of bitterness, it’s mild to moderate, again with some more earthy/dirty hops and not so much citrus/fruit.

I was fairly unsure about how to schedule the hops additions, so I got some advice from Greg B. over at foodandwineblog.com. We decided that finishing the boil with Willamette, and a touch of Columbus hops at the start of the boil would get where I want to be. I wound up choosing a pretty basic hopping regimen, shooting for around 30 IBU with a soft hop nose.

  • 8 lb US 2-row
  • 2 lb Munich malt
  • 1.25 lb Victory malt
  • 0.25 lb Amber malt
  • 0.5 oz Columbus hops (60 min)
  • 0.5 oz Willamette (15 min)
  • 0.5 oz Willamette (5 min)

// Mash 2 qt/lb @ 154-156 for 60 minutes. Raise to 168-170, hold 10 minutes. Sparge to collect ~6.75 gal 1.04 pre-boil wort. Boil 60 minutes, collect around 5.5 gal 1.05 wort. Chill to 70F, ferment at 72F.//

UPDATE (7/19): Yeast started to settle out in the primary, so I took a reading – just over 1.01 gravity. Nose is very on point – nutty, bready, with a soft earthy hoppy presence. I love it so far. The taste is a little weird, and I knew why instantly after the first sip. The columbus hop really sticks out like a sore thumb. I was hoping that it would just have bittering effect, but you can really taste the hop too (similar to the big red ale I did recently). It’s a sharp, almost tangy bitterness that’s a little striking up front (at least in this warm and young sample). If all goes like the red ale, this should subside after a few weeks and be OK. I hope so, because all the malt flavors are somewhat overshadowed by the columbus. Good color; light copper to amber.

UPDATE (7/22): Put the primary in the fridge to crash down to 34F. Left there for two days, then racked to the keg. Yeast settled out pretty well, with just a little haziness left.  The overbearing columbus really settled into the background and now just provides a fraction of what it was a few days ago. Still a tad bitter, but overall I like what it’s doing. It’s a little lacking in body (more on the lighter side than medium) and color (a very light amber/copper). However, it tastes extremely good. Most comments to follow when it’s carbed in a few days.

THE VERDICT

This was a great beer. If we’re grading for an amber ale’s style, I give it an A-. It’s super approachable and I’ve had numerous people who aren’t “beer drinkers” take a liking to it.  Extremely refreshing, medium to light bodied summer-style amber ale.  It could use a just little bit more caramel/malty sweetness – some medium crystal malt would do fine (just 0.5 lb or so) but it’s not a deal-breaker without it. It might actually benefit from a small addition of rye to give it a subtle “bite”, but I’m unsure what proportion would be right. The bitterness from the Columbus hop is not overbearing (in fact, I wound up really enjoying it in the end) but it is perceivable. Adding some Crystal will help balance that out, but I think switching to a more clean bittering hop would be beneficial and accentuate the malts a little more (if that’s the goal). If you wanted to take this beer down a hoppier road, Columbus would be a great fit for it. The malt flavor and aroma is  similar to FT, but overall mine had a tiny bit more fruitiness (probably from fermenting a little warm) and is not as clean, and again also lacks a little sweetness. After a few weeks in the keg the haziness cleared up nicely and tasted very clean. If we’re grading based on similarity to FT, I’d say it gets a C+. Another takeaway: the no-secondary approach worked out great! It went from brew-day to keg in about 1 week turnaround. PROST!

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Filed under All-grain, Amber, Balanced

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