New Belgium Brewing out of Fort Collins, Colorado was the first introduction to craft beer for many in Northwest Arkansas. I was in college at the University of Arkansas when Fat Tire – New Belgium’s legendary amber ale – made its way to Fayetteville. It was an intriguing beer – packed with toasty caramel flavor and a brand image linked to Colorado’s laid-back attitude and outdoor lifestyle. Many of my friends had tasted it while skiing on spring break and it was a big deal for us to get a “craft” beer like this in our state.
Nowadays New Belgium is the fourth-largest craft brewery in the United States, and its beer can be found from coast-to-coast and all points between. Though it is no longer considered a rare find, the brewery still garners high praise for its lineup of quality brews. New Belgium is also known for recipe experimentation, with many unique beers offered to consumers in the “Lips of Faith” series. La Folie – a sour brown ale – is a personal favorite.
Another favorite of mine, found in the brewery’s year-round lineup, is New Belgium’s Abbey Belgian Style Ale. Abbey is a traditional Belgian dubbel – a style originating in the Trappist monasteries of the Middle Ages. Chimay (red) and Westmalle are popular dubbels that have long been imported from Belgium. In recent years American brewers have begun producing excellent versions of their own. New Belgium Abbey is as fine an example as there is today.
I poured a recently-purchased bottle of Abbey into a tulip glass with a New Belgium logo on the side. The beer was a dark ruby in color, bordering on mahogany. Ultra-fine bubbles and a smattering of yeast could be seen when the beer was held up to the light. Abbey is bottle conditioned so the yeast sediment was not a surprise to see. A thick two-inch head of tan foam sat on top of the beer. The aroma was an interesting blend of banana ice cream and clove-like spiciness. I took a sip and found dark fruit – perhaps raisin or plum – along with white pepper and bready sweetness from the malt. Hops provided bitterness but not much in the way of flavor. As is characteristic of the style, the emphasis was on the malt and yeast contributions to the beer’s flavor profile. Abbey was smooth – almost creamy – and created a warming sensation with its noticeable 7% ABV. Despite the sweetness the beer demonstrated up front, it finished dry and left no lingering hop bitterness or spicy residue on the tongue.
New Belgium Abbey is an outstanding beer, with some considering it to be world-class. It works well as a desert – paired with chocolate, cheesecake, or Banana’s Foster. And at less than $9 per six-pack, Abbey provides a huge return on your craft beer dollar.