Shortly after college I was gifted a bottle of Dom Perignon. On a Wednesday I cracked it and corralled my roommates in the kitchen of our Allston, Massachusetts apartment. “Cheers!”
“What’s the occasion?” they asked.
“We are having champagne,” I said with a crooked grin, raising a glass to serve as punctuation on the matter.
A fine beverage can very well be occasion for celebration in and of itself. Many enthusiasts recount stories of how a particular beverage was the catalyst for an obsession with seeking out, sampling, and pontificating about their beverage of choice. An occasion worth celebrating indeed!
Do you remember the first drink that made you consider more than the next sip?
As my love of beer has blossomed into an obsession over the past 12 years, I have had many moments like this. Over time, I have come to believe not only that beer is underutilized as an “occasion” beverage, but that that there is a beer out there for almost everyone. It is a great pleasure to spark someone’s interest or show them something new. From a young age making mixtapes and bringing my CDs with me most everywhere I went, the thrill of sharing and comparing tastes has always been my path to making connections, and Beardless Beer Guy is the latest iteration of this pattern.
We begin with a simple conversation about “gateway beers.” These are some of the beers that have changed—or have the power to change—your perception of what beer is like. The beers that made you realize—or will make you realize—that there is more to beer its occupancy in red solo cups. The beers that make you want to try another. And another, and another…
The Beardless Beer Guy (or BBG if you’re into the whole brevity thing) had his first beer, a Budweiser, at Dave Matthews Band concert when he was younger than the recommend age for consumes such a thing. Later in high school years, Icehouse became my go-to. Likely it was just one of many arbitrary decisions I made just to be different, but it was also helpful in ensuring my beer wasn’t pilfered at parties. But like many others, I owe my love of beer beyond Bud to Guinness. Assuming it was thick and gross, I told my older brother if he loved it so much he must share its characteristics. As much as I am “often wrong but rarely in doubt,”he is not shy about proving my ignorance. He asked, “have you had it?” and followed up by making sure I did. Thanks brother! The revelations that a) dark does not necessarily mean heavy and b) there is actually beer that does not require you to “get used to it” opened doors (particularly the one on my face that I use to consume beer). A staple for family gathering was Bass Ale. My campus pub also had Newcastle Brown if you were willing to spend $2 instead of $1 for Miller Lite. Ok, so England and Ireland make distinctive beer and I like it.
A year abroad introduced me to beers of Belgium. Uh oh, now I’m hooked. After quickly finding unique beers at London pubs and a friend who cared to talk about them, I planned some weekend trips. I soon found myself in a bar in Bruges with 300 Belgian beers, each one served in a unique glass with the name of the beer on it. The more you know, the more you realize how little you know. The only thing I knew for sure was that this stuff was awesome and unlike anything I had tasted before. Chimay and Leffe Bruin were on tap in the pub that happened to be our hostel and thus became the first familiar names. In Barcelona, I discovered Delirium Tremens with its pink elephants and strength that you could feel. Although these experiences were significant, I returned to senior year and the small spectrum of Busch offerings.
After graduating, a friend of mine took a job at The Publick House in Brookline, Massachusetts. At the time, I had never been to a bar with comparable dedication to craft and Belgian beer. A local restaurant called Sunset Grill & Tap had a massive, quality list. Here though, I had an inside guy. As he was educated, he passed the knowledge on to me. Before long, we were immersed—attending tastings and events, being on a first-name basis with the beer guys at multiple quality liquor stores, and choosing dinner spots based on the beer list rather than the food.
But enough personal history for now. What about “gateway beers?” Are there specific types that can make someone turn away from their favorite fermented corn/rice water (e.g. mass produced beer)? The key to conversion of those yet to appreciate beer’s magnificence is finding something that challenges expectations while still being accessible.
Here are five to pour for a craft beer tenderfoot looking to get more out of their pint:
- Guinness – Widely available, lighter than the skeptics think it’s going to be, and a definite contrast to their typical choice.
- Weihenstephaner Hefeweizen – Substantially distinguished from other beers by look, smell, and taste. A great push forward for people who like Blue Moon or Shock Top.
- Tripel Karmeliet – Belgian yeast strains impart flavors that distinguish beer styles like the Tripel and enlighten new imbibers. Put simply—it’s delicious, pretty, and common enough to become a habit.
- Lagunitas Little Sumpin Sumpin – I find that hops grow on people. Things that were once thought of as extremely hoppy are now commonplace and familiar. This beer introduces the hop in a sweet and refreshing manner and will stand the test of time as you try many hundred more.
- Brooklyn Local 1 – A lovely introduction to the world of Saison. I am not sure I have ever met someone that doesn’t like this beer.
Try one and let me know what you think! Oh, you’ve had all these already? Share your gateway beer or favorite for converting newcomers. Until next time, may you be full of cheer and accompanied by a beer.