President of Beers: #43

Fat Tire: New Belgium Brewing Co., Fort Collins, Colorado

We're drinking the flagship craft beer from every state in the Union, counting down from 50-1, to find which is home to the President of Beers.

#43 Fat Tire: New Belgium Brewing Co., Fort Collins, Colorado

State: With it's swoon-inducing vistas, thriving snowboarding and skiing scene, and a beer culture rivaling Oregon, it's easy to see why Colorado is routinely voted one of the most livable states in the Union—as long as you are willing to build an altar to John Elway in your house.

Brewery: New Belgium is the third largest microbrewery in country. It all started when a young homebrewer named Jeff Lebesch rode a bike through Belgium in 1989. He got ideas, knowledge and experience and worked with his wife to found this behemoth of a brewery. They made a shitty website, too.

Beer: This flagship brew was named "Fat Tire" after Jeff rode through Belgium on fat-tired mountain bike—get it?—learning centuries-old local techniques from celibate monks who spent years perfecting the secrets of their craft. This humble young American, schooled by Europe's most skilled brewers, would one day go on to brew a run-of-the-mill amber ale available at grocery stores in the western United States.

Difficulty of Obtaining in Oregon: Easy. Your local grocery store has it.

Rating: 55.6

This crystal clear, pale amber ale comes with a sweet, malty aroma. The deceptively light appearance masks a full-bodied beer that coats your throat and mouth. Fat Tire doesn't have a strong flavor—it isn't particularly hoppy, and only vaguely sweet—but it lingers, long overstaying its welcome.

Fat Tire is a good starter beer. It's a bland, welcoming, and comfortable entry point to the exciting world of Real Beer when you've finally outgrown Natty Ice, Keystone Light, or, God forbid, Keystone Ice. I bought a six-pack of it when the pain and misery of downing 40s finally outweighed the price. It had a stronger, heavier taste than cheap beer and, unlike malt liquor, did not make me want to vomit. Albeit faint praise, it started me on the path towards Beervana. But I've never gone back to Fat Tire.

Colorado's beer culture grew out of an odd system of laws, which falls under attack seemingly every year. Any brewery that produces less than 300,000 gallons of beer per year can sell its brew directly to restaurants, bars and liquor stores. All liquor stores are privately owned and many owners develop personal relationships with the small breweries. Grocery stores and convenience stores are only allowed to sell beer with a 3.2 percent ABV or lower. This has all worked together to create a culture where people go to a liquor store if they want to drink and encounter a treasure trove of beers from small breweries too small to afford a distributor—beers you'd never find in the beer section of a grocery store. 

Grocery stores and convenience stores have long sought to end the 3.2 percent ABV requirement and be able to stock up with real beer. The most recent attempts to tinker with these laws, H.B. 1284 and senate bill 194 in 2011, were shot down in the state legislature. It's actually protectionism, though, benefitting the little guys. Coloradans like their own beer, and they're not willing to risk it so 7-Eleven can sell Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. 

That's all well and good, but it's time to address the elephant in the room. Colorado and Oregon are both widely considered to be the beeriest states. But who deserves the crown?

The Brewer's Association lists the two as having roughly 120 active breweries each. Portland has the most breweries per capita in the country. More beer is brewed in Denver than in any other city. Both states are in the top 5 for breweries per capita, surrounded by states that benefit from no one living in them.

And they aren't afraid to fight about it, duking it out round such small events as the Colorado Buffaloes' initiation into Pac-12 football by the Oregon Ducks. That taste-off in a bar ended with the dry hopped Mirror Pond Pale Ale from Deschutes proving Oregon to be the superior state in a hard-fought, clean match. The same cannot be said of the game—the Ducks beat them 45-2 without their starting quarterback or running back. In Boulder. Whoops.

Some say Oregon and Colorado are 1A and 1B in rankings of beer states. And maybe they are. But not today.

In the blind President of Beers taste-off, Colorado comes in an unimpressive 43 of 50. We can't tell you where Oregon came in yet, but we fared better. Significantly better.

Coloradans' love for bland, uncharismatic amber ales lands them squarely in the bottom 10. Sorry, guys.

You'll always have Elway.

Click on a state to read more President of Beers posts:

WWeek 2015

Willamette Week’s reporting has concrete impacts that change laws, force action from civic leaders, and drive compromised politicians from public office. Support WW's journalism today.