Friday, September 18, 2009

A Tribute to Gateway Beers

If you read this, you have probably already tried at least one craft beer - probably several. We're part of a continuing growing trend, but our dollars spent on beer are still only about 5% of total beer expenditures in the US. Yet despite the higher prices of craft beer, and while the macros raise prices, craft breweries are experiencing continued growth even in an economic downturn.

More & more people are being exposed to craft beer, whether by friends, news stories, promotions at the store, or growing curiosity about this whole "craft beer" thing. While there seems to be a clear divide between American craft and large-scale breweries - even down to the organization of bottles & cans at the liquor store - some beers fit neatly in-between. They're balanced, not too heavy on malt or hops or "weird" (like Rauchbier), affordable, and generally easy to drink. I'm thinking Leinenkugel, Yuengling, Boulevard Wheat, Samuel Adams Boston Lager, Fat Tire, Blue Moon, Pete's Wicked Ales, Pyramid, and so forth. These brands offer an approachable and non-intimidating introduction to craft beers and styles. I'd put some Belgian beers in here as well - Hoegaarden, Chimay, Leffe, and Duvel. Gateway beers, so to speak.

I caught this on Twitter the other day:
If your eye espies a Michelob sampler 6-pack at a grocery story in the next few months, take a close look. It may contain a rye IPA, or India Pale Ale.
Michelob's always tossed out the occasional different style, but I wasn't expecting a Rye IPA (a style I very much enjoy and highly recommend due to the depth of flavor that the rye grain lends). I have to give credit to Anheuser-Busch (or, perhaps, InBev) for keeping alive a brand that does push the palate of the general beer drinker, as far as macro beer is concerned. I'd bet the Michelob brand has sent many people on the path to craft beer. In fact, the beginning of my dad's discovery of American craft brews (and, thus, my own) included Michelob's Amber Bock. Their beers are rarely (if ever) the hallmark of a style, but I do think the people at Michelob deserve a nod for reaching out to a macro-beer market and encouraging those within it to drink something outside their comfort zone.

So this brings me to my question for the weekend - what was your gateway beer? Was there a beer (or brand) that really got you in to craft beers? I'll go first: Deschutes Mirror Pond Pale Ale. I haven't had it in a while since we don't get it out here, but I remember lots of caramel and citrus. Truly a well-balanced and enjoyable beer.

Your turn.


  1. My gateway beer was definitely Karl Strauss' Amber Lager. I was going to a Navy school in San Diego in the summer of 1992 when I encountered this beer. My "wetting-down" for my first promotion included 2 kegs of this beer.

    When I visited San Diego in 2005, I actually avoided trying the beer again so as not to mess up my memory of it. Instead I went straight from the airport to AleSmith where the beer I enjoyed there was light-years different.

  2. Having come of age at the same time Boulevard gained city-wide popularity, Boulevard Wheat was definitely my gateway out of domestics, but not really into craft beers. I've always liked Leinenkugal as a gateway beer thanks to the number of styles they put out and the usually cheaper than most price point. It's not the greatest stuff in the world, but a nice door opener.

    I think what really flipped the switch for me was going from drinking Boulevard Wheat to 75th Royal Raspberry one night at Old Chicago. That nudged me into joining the WBT and getting out of my comfort zone.

  3. "the number of styles they put out and the usually cheaper than most price point. It's not the greatest stuff in the world, but a nice door opener." <-- I think that's the key right there. This type of beer isn't usually ever best of class, but it's cheap and inoffensive but still tastes pretty good; if you don't like it, you're not going to cry over the fortune you just handed over. And if you're used to macro or import lagers, they're usually a pretty memorable experience a la Barry's. AND, I think one clever thing these larger breweries do is the sampler pack. Package up a bunch of appealing brews and stick a few "adventurous" ones in there. It's a good way to get people to try something new at close to no risk.

    I remember my very first experience with Sierra Nevada, actually. I was at a party drinking Sudwerk Maerzen (Sudwerk being the college town's brewpub) and someone gave me a Sierra Nevada Porter. I took one sip and thought it was horrible and bitter and I'm sure I exclaimed, "how can you drink that?!!". Funny how tastes change.

  4. Like chimpo, I exposed to craft beer through Boulevard. From Unfiltered Wheat to Pale Ale, to Bully Porter, to the Seasonals. Not only did it taste better than Bud, the local angle had a big influence. Another one, not so local, was Paulaner Salvator Doppelbock. I had know idea what a doppelbock was at the time. I just grabbed it out of the cooler because someone in my D&D group had a character named Salvator

  5. Count me in with Boulevard as well. Fan of Pale Ale and that lead into trying IPAs which lead me into trying other craft brews. Then came the belgiums.

  6. Boulevard Wheat & Ten Penny (Pale) Ale, New Belgium Fat Tire & Sunshine Wheat, Michelob Amber Bock and JW Dundee's Honey Brown. Those are the craft beers that were on tap when I was at Pitt but I think I mainly drank them to be different. It wasn't until I moved to Lawrence and started drinking at Free State that I really started to appreciate craft beer.

  7. I was introduced to Guinness on tap by a friend and I would often order it when out with friends. I was driven by my pocketbook, though, so I thought buying a sixer of Heineken or St. Pauli Girl was really adventurous. At one time I went on a Labatt's Blue kick, and I remember friends showing up with an occasional sixer of Boulevard. The reality for me was that until about three years ago, I was strictly a social beer drinker. An example of my disinterest: I think it was Thanksgiving 1999, someone left a mix of about a dozen micro seasonal ales in my fridge. I remember there was Boulevard Nut Cracker and Sierra Nevada Celebration. I put them in my second fridge then forgot about them. Eventually threw them all out about 8 months later.

    I guess if I you put a gun to my head, I would say Fat Tire was my pivotal gateway beer, but Rolling Rock would be neck and neck for that distinction. Mostly because they were usually available in 22 OZ bottles at Quik Trip.

    The biggest turning point came when I stopped drinking beer straight out of the bottle and became aware of the full spectrum of flavors that micro brewed beer had to offer.

  8. Boulevard Bully Porter was my gateway. I shared an apartment with 2 guys across the street from a Tanner's after graduating college. We drank and ate dinner there nearly every night and drank a crapload of Boulevard Wheat. But, Wheat wasn't the most satisfying and didn't give me the want to try all beers in the spectrum. It did get me to try Bully Porter and I was hooked. For about 3 years Bully Porter was my favorite beer and it remains in the conversation. But it definitely opened my eyes to all that beer could offer and made me more curious about beer.

  9. Bully! is such a great beer. I think it's vastly under-appreciated in their lineup and wish it were more widely available in bars around KC. I've been thinking more about it lately & ought to pick some up.

    Owd, Free State is doing wonderful things for Lawrence in the world of beer! I've never been to Manhattan, but Little Apple's beer is also really good.

    Seems having a prominent craft brewery in town makes a big difference regarding getting into craft beer - Boulevard, Free State, Schlafly, Sudwerk... There is a lot of loyalty behind these companies to boot, especially in comparison to, say, A-B or even Boston Beer Company.

    DM - I had to chuckle over Salvator. I bet most people don't know D&D leads to drinking. ;-D

  10. Owd - I almost forgot about Ten Penny Ale! I remember hanging out in a Blues bar in St Louis drinking pitchers of the stuff, uber-drinkable. It would be nice if Boulevard brought it back

  11. Guinness was an important "gateway" beer for me, as were the beers of New Holland Brewing Company. I credit Craft Beer Radio, the podcast, for most of my beer education, though.


Tasting Notes