Monday, June 21, 2010

Is Fat Tire the Next Sam Adams?

You would certainly think that Fat Tire, the wildly popular Amber Ale from Colorado's New Belgium Brewing Company, is on it's way to becoming the next Samuel Adams Boston Lager based on both how often and where I saw it available during a recent drive down to Florida.

Until recently, Fat Tire had been a mystery to much of the East Coast, almost like a craft brewed counterpart to Coors, which was similarly mysterious to and sought after by East Coasters 25-30 years or so ago. And while the Coors brand has been well entrenched nationwide in the world of macro beers for quite some time now, Fat Tire has been the little-craft-brewery-that-could, slowly crawling across the Mississippi River and finally finding it's way into some East Coast states within the past year or so.

North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia are amongst the latest states to fall under the Fat Tire distribution footprint, and while I did spot the beer here and there during a similar trip around this time last year, it's presence has grown amazingly since then: from bars and restaurants to packaged goods stores and even gas stations, Fat Tire is everywhere. On tap, in six packs, twelve packs and 22 ounce single bottles as well, the marketing blitz that this beer has made at the retail level is insane.

This is a great step for the overall availability and acceptance of craft beer and I hope that New Belgium continues to push Fat Tire further into more states with a strategic growth plan. That said, there's still a long road ahead.

Fat Tire is currently not available anywhere in the Northeast/New England regions, and both will be tough nuts to crack. Craft drinkers from these areas are not only typically fiercely loyal to the breweries from their respective regions, but are generally also more loyal than the rest of the country to the Samuel Adams brand as a whole, especially New England where there roots of the Boston Beer Company of course remain. And while it's neither a full on craft operation nor craft beer, Yuengling's Traditional Lager has a dominant hold on much of the "tweener" market in the Mid-Atlantic states.

Regardless, I think such a push can be successful, and they've got one huge advantage that the Sam Adams brand has intentionally ignored thus far: Fat Tire in cans.

Canned craft beer is making a huge push (nearly 100 American Craft breweries can their products now), and canned beer can be taken any number of places where glass bottles are neither allowed nor practical: music festivals, camping, fishing and the beach are just a handful of said places. Plus, by keeping out both light and oxygen, cans help to keep beer fresh for a longer period of time.

So, while New Belgium has got a long way to go before Fat Tire catches up with Sam Adams (and hell, maybe that's not even their intent, but it certainly seems like that's the long term goal), it's doing a bang up job now in the states that it does have distribution in, or at least the ones that I've been to. If you live in a state where Fat Tire is not yet available, keep your eyes peeled and shoot the brewery an email if you want to see it sooner rather than later. If you live in one of the newly added or long standing distribution states, keep on drinking that Fat Tire and help to make a better case for it's continued, successful growth.