Gateway Beers Part 1

GATEWAY BEERS.  Yes, like Marijuana is a gateway drug to heroin, cocaine and LSD AS WE HAVE ALL LEARNED AT SCHOOL, so too are there beers that can get you hooked and lead to something more complex.  Sure, you might be at a party and someone offers you a Chimay or St. Andrew’s Ale.  What’s the harm?  It’s a party after all and you want to be cool.  Plus that girl Sandy you’re sweet on is drinking a La Fin Du Monde and SHE seems pretty on the ball. But in two month’s time WHAMMO. You’re at a local shindig and creating a scene because the bar doesn’t serve any reputable Abbey ales.  You’re kicked out.  You’ve alienated all your friends, your family doesn’t understand you and your local priest thinks you’re beyond hope.  It’s a sad, horrible life.

I’ll stop now.

Basically, this was inspired by the friends and family I have who have said “I don’t really drink beer, but when I do I usually drink _______.  What should I have?”.   So to start off, We’ll hit the most common one I’ve heard.

I USUALLY DRINK HEINEKEN (or Bud, Molson, Steamwhistle, Labaat, Busch…)

We all have at some point.  As a Canadian, it almost seemed like my duty to drink Molson.  My old drinking buddy and I used to buy Steamwhistle by the pitcher and during my senior year at high school I drank nothing but Heineken. But as I discovered myself, there is so much better out there.

If you are used to these light coloured (and flavoured) beers, stepping towards something darker and richer might be too much too soon and have you running away.  You might want to take baby steps.  And with that, I’m going to suggest a good Pilsner.

Pilsner is a style of beer in the lager family and is named after the city it was created, Plzen, Bohemia (now Czech Republic) and was made by people who were sick of these dark cloudy brews that, at the time, seemed to go sour a lot. They dreamed of a beer that didn’t seem like a meal and this was their answer.  The combination of the lager yeasts, the pale grains and the natural soft water of the region made for one delicious brew.  If you want a damn good pilsner beer, throw away that Heinie and grab a brew made in Plzen.

Going by what’s available in the LCBO stores here in Ontario, my main suggestion in this style is going to be the Plzen-based Pilsner Urquell, which can be found anywhere in bottles, cans and sometimes on tap in pubs.  The first thing that will hit you about this beer is the colour.  A beautiful golden wheat colour that will make you instantly thirsty.  When you try it I guarantee it will be a whole new world for you.  The crisp, biscuity quality to it, the subtle spices thrown in…yeah, there will be no going back.  As Christina Perozzi and Hallie Beaune said in their fabulous book The Naked Pint, it’s like going your whole life eating waxy halloween chocolate and suddenly taking a bite of an 80% cacao chocolate bar.  You really never knew something so light could taste so GOOD.  And why should you?  You’ve been drinking Molson or Bud.  It’s all you’ve ever known.

And that’s the first Gateway Beer I have for you.  There will be more in the future and then we’ll move on up.

But for now, I’m off to have a drink.

6 Comments Add yours

  1. Den Patrick says:

    Great opening paragraph. Made me laugh. Keep it up.

  2. Dave Fireball says:

    Excellent post friend, Pilsner is the best Czech lager you can generally get exported, although in the UK it definitely doesn’t get the respect it deserves. If a bar has any Czech beer on draught it’s generally Staropramen or Budvar, both decent beers but inferior to Pilsner in my opinion – It’s amazing how such a hoppy beer can be so light and drinkable. You can feel it mellowing in your mouth, the initial bitterness sweetening out and achieving a lovely balance a few seconds after you taste it. And the smell, what a good, strong, beery smell it has, even when drinking from a bottle you get that hoppy aroma up about your nostrils. I always think it makes sense that this is the original pilsner beer that all the others copied, because everything, from its colour to its smell to its taste, is such a prime example of what a beer should be. It’s an archetypal beer.

    I was primarily a Gambrinus man when I lived in the Czech Republic, but in certain bars you had to have the Pilsner. Man, I don’t miss the beauty of Prague, I don’t miss the people, I don’t miss the food or anything about the cultural life, but I can genuinely get almost tearful when I remember the beers I drank in that city. Even the tramps there drink good beer, they drink Branik which is about a million times tastier than any Budweiser or Miller. And it costs buttons.

    1. Robin says:

      Hey, Dave! Thanks for the awesome response! Urquell really is a good one, I’ve found.
      But really, Budvar is inferior? That’s wild to hear, although I suppose the history of it more overshadows the taste.

      1. Dave Fireball says:

        Yeah man I much prefer Pilsner to Budvar, mostly because Pilsner is more bitter . . . Budvar is good beer,extremely well put together and drinkable, but I think it gets it’s smoothness at the expense of ‘big’ taste. There’s much more going on in a mouthful of Pilsner, a real lingering aftertaste that Budvar doesn’t have to the same extent.

        Man I’m such a beer wank.

  3. Allana says:

    So excited about this blog. Are you going to make it Ontario/Toronto-centric? ‘Cause I’d love to know where I can go to try things.
    (Ooh! Throw a “release” party and do a beer-tasting thing!)

    1. Robin says:

      Hey Allana,

      Well, as you know, being in Ontario kind of limits what’s available to us (in stores, anyways), so as far as buying something goes, yeah. It’s stuff that should be available in LCBOs. Other brands I talk about will be stuff I’ve had at bars, breweries or when I go on a trip to, say, the US.

      And a party would be great. If anything, an excuse to drink!

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