Ah, the gateway beer. You see the term all the time. It’s a term stolen from “gateway drug,” generally referring to the beer that will turn someone from BMC lite lagers to good, craft beer in a “if you have this, you’ll probably step up to the other stuff later” kind of way. But does it really exist?
I’ve made reference to a gateway beer here before, in reference to Blue Moon. And even the good folks at Ad Age, in their bullshit craft beer psychographics column mentioned that “Blue Moon drinkers probably donâ€™t know itâ€™s a Molson Coors Brewing Co. family product made in Colorado” which, to me, suggests that even they’re thinking of it as a gateway beer, but the more I think about it, the more I’m not so cool on the idea.
A quick Google search comes up with Guinness, Smithwicks, Sam Adams Boston Lager, and even New Glarus Spotted Cow as examples of gateway beers, and I’ve run into a few moderately sexist blog posts wherein people suggest that women either have no taste buds or only enjoy fruit-flavored things. They suggest gateway beers that include Corona, Heinekin Light, Red Stripe, Sapporo, Stella Artois, Lindemans Framboise, Fruli or (and this is my favorite) Sol.
Sol? Really? Guatemalan light lager?
The last woman who told me point blank what beer converted her to craft beer was said it was Stone Arrogant Bastard. I’d hardly call that a “gateway.” I, personally, have converted multiple people to good beer on Oud Beersel Oude Gueuze Vielle alone.
But! It illustrates a point. For whatever reason, people seem to think that craft beer is something that you have to be trained into. You can’t just jump into liking it, you have to step yourself in through small points of slightly less shitty beer. It’s like walking into the swimming pool slowly because the water isn’t really cold and you’re afraid of getting comfortable too quickly.
I deny this. I think all of this stepping stone stuff is total nonsense. Is there a gateway wine? How many people that start with Night Train graduate to $130 bottles of aged Bordeaux by going through those 2L bottles of crappy grocery store merlot? No. You never hear someone saying, “Mussels are great, but you may like them more if you take an intro path through imitation crab, first.” Please.
If someone’s going to like craft beer, they’re going to like it. If you really feel like they need convincing then educate them and give them something good, don’t give them slightly less shitty beer than they’ve tried before.
I’ve written before that finding beer for people is an individualized process that involves finding out what flavors people actually like, and I want to reinforce that.
Gateway beers are a myth. We don’t need them.
Beer has a vast multitude of flavors and is incredibly accessible. It just needs you, as the person who enjoys it, to adequately explain why it’s good, instead of cheaping out on people and giving them a Blue Moon when you could be giving them a Hennepin, a Guinness when you could be giving them an Oskar Blues Ten Fidy, or a Sol instead of.. well.. c’mon.. anything else. On the other hand, you can’t just give them your favorite beer because they are different than you. It doesn’t matter of they’re a man or a woman, black or white or brown or purple or whatever. What they will want out of a beer is going to be different based on their personal experiences and personal tastes. Those might lend themselves toward fruit and light lager, but they may also lend themselves toward coffee, or chocolate, or sours, or strong bitterness, or piney flavors or so damn many other things.
Don’t shortchange their experience by trying to trudge them in through the shallow end of the pool; let them take a dive. Just show them where to jump from and be ready to act as a lifeguard.