Gateway Beers: How We Got Here

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Becoming a craft beer lover doesn’t usually happen overnight. Most of us spend our college years drinking cheap “lite” beer — inexpensive, nearly flavorless and easy to get.

The transition can happen in a number of ways, whether gradual or more purposefully. Perhaps you just want to find out what the hype is with local beers, or you’re looking for an adventure in flavor.

For many, it’s the introduction of a specific beer that lures them in, that beer that is like nothing they’ve had before, the one that has them craving more and opens the door to the world of craft beer.

I like to call this your “Gateway Beer.”

The boss gave her stamp of approval for this story, so I reached out to some like-minded beer folks to find out what served as their Gateway Beer. I’ll start it off:

Intern Jimi – Tröegs Independent Brewing Perpetual IPA

Before I could drink, my parents were always dragging my little brother and me to craft breweries throughout the area and beyond. I distinctly remember taking a long taxi ride through Chicago to Goose Island Brewing and wondering why they were going through all of this trouble just for a beer.

While at college, I had the unfortunate pleasure of becoming quite familiar with Natty Light, as it was the official drink of any Penn State party. After countless experiences like this, I knew I wanted something more from my beer.

Then, I had my first real “ah ha!” moment when I had a taste of what was soon to become my favorite beer. PIPA, as it is now affectionately known, demonstrated what a real beer could taste like. I soon started to try anything and everything I could get my hands on.

Sara Bozich – Dogfish Head 90 Minute

I’ve been lucky enough to document the growing trend over my decade-plus tenure covering local food and drink, so I feel like my shift to craft beer happened more gradually rather than with an “Aha!” moment.

I was sneaking Yuengling Lager in high school, sipped Pete’s Wicked Ales in college on occasion, and celebrated my 21st birthday at Appalachian Brewing Co. with a tray of Water Gap Wheats.

Water Gap Wheats on my 21st Birthday at Appalachian Brewing Co.

I spent ample time drinking more ABC beers in my 20s, and I recall my first peach lambic, which kicked off a series of mixes with Guinness. I distinctly remember Troegenator being the first Tröegs beer I wanted more of (danger, alert, danger), and while Jersey Mike and I regularly drank Allagash White while recording our old podcast, Off the Record, my true “gateway beer” had to be an IPA.

Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA (which I never drink now because it’s 9% ABV) was the first craft beer where I went, Oh, this is what I like: hoppy with a creamy (or velvety, Artie tells me) finish.

Though I had been exploring craft beers for years, that was the one that secured my fandom.

Here are how some friends of the blog got into the craft beer game:

Tierney Pomone, Stouts and Stilettos, Victory Brewing Golden Monkey

Picture this: It was summer 2007, and a young Tierney was dating a much older man but found herself falling in love with his best friend. She learned a lot about herself that summer with the help of a friend named Golden Monkey.

The two men knew that she only drank Coors Light, yet offered her this persuasive nectar of the gods anyways. It was sweet and boozy plus it made playing Mario Kart much more interesting. She knew that it was no longer these men that she loved, but a craft beer instead.

Rich Hauk, Hauck InteractiveChimay Blue

I was introduced to Chimay around 2001 before craft beer really exploded. Back then, finding more exotic beers involved going to either Market Cross in Carlisle or Kclinger’s. The complexity of the beer made everything else I’d had pale in comparison.

I spent my years in grad school drinking more wine. I didn’t really give craft beer much consideration until I moved back to Pennsylvania in 2008 and brought a six-pack of Yuengling Porter to a friend’s house. Then I found this app and a girl that just BEGGED to be challenged. (See above for the girl in question)

Billy Bearcat, Bearcat on BeerTroegs Independent Brewing HopBack or Troegenator

As I transitioned from Beast Light and the ubiquitous Rolling Rock of a Latrobe college experience I took the seemingly universal journey through Guinness, with the addition of Yuengling Porter and Michelob’s Amber Bock.
Eventually, I wandered off the normal bar crawls of 2nd Street and stumbled into Troegs’ Harrisburg brewery. I am pretty sure I started with Hopback but I was totally in love with Troeganator after that first visit. I loved it and still do. From there it was all downhill. I became a frequent visitor to Troegs and developed a love for all craft beer and have made many, many friends just because of craft beer.

Chelsie Markel, Stouts and Stilettos and It’s A Brew LifeRogue Dead Guy Ale

I would have to give that award to Rogue Dead Guy Ale. It was the first craft beer I drank that had multi-dimension in flavor. It was complex and delightful with layers of raisin, caramel, molasses, brown sugar, grass, and a touch of pine and fennel. Plus, it was high ABV, something at the time I called “money well spent.” Drinking a full pint of Dead Guy Ale was all you needed to relax and unwind.

Derek Markel, It’s A Brew Life, Arrowhead Brewing Red Feather Pale Ale or Pete’s Wicked Ale

This is taking me way back to the early 1990s when I first started getting into craft beer. It is difficult to single out one beer, but two that I distinctly remember from that time are Pete’s Wicked Ale and Arrowhead Brewing Company’s Red Feather Pale Ale. I was fascinated by the flavors in the microbrewery beers and I have never turned back.

Colleen Nguyen, Stouts and StilettosMagic Hat’s #9

I remember ordering one at a Maroon 5 concert in Hershey, and I was amazed that beer could taste so unexpectedly different from what I had before in Yuengling, Guinness, and other light beers. I didn’t know that beer could have so much flavor! After that, I pretty much wanted to try everything!

Deuane Hoffman, Chimay Red

Chimay Red is, without question, the beer that opened up the floodgates for me. After Chimay, it was a 1993 trip to the west where I discovered Anchor, Widmer, Redhook, and Wynkoop. When I returned home I sought places here in Pennsylvania like those I experienced while on my trip.

Although Stoudt’s Brewing opened in 1987, it was still unknown to me. Well, after that trip in 1993 it was unknown to me no longer. From there, it was a landslide of places like Troegs, Bullfrog Brewing, and Selin’s Grove Brewing Company.

It’s clear that everyone has taken a different path to start their journey but somehow we all end up in the same place with a great craft beer in hand.

What was your gateway beer?

James Werner
Author: James Werner

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