Last Beer I Drank: Molson Golden
So far this is the "cheapest" beer that I have drank and "reviewed" for this blog. As this post is about "gateway beers", I wanted to revisit some of my favorites. I was feeling nostalgic about my last visit to Canada and so the lot fell to Molson. Molson labels this brew as just "beer". The body of it is much less than that of an ale and so I guess it's more comparable to that of a weak pilsner. The initial sip offers a light body with a hint of tang (the flavor, not the orange space-drink). As I progress through the beer the body has little complexity or texture, and finishes somewhat dryly with a slight lingering sourness. Bottom line? If you don't want to be bothered with pesky things like a depth of character in your beer, but don't want to fall all the way down to a Bud, then this is the beer for you: easily drinkable if you don't mind the slightly tangy taste that seems to pervade the whole sip.
Despite that somewhat mediocre review, I would consider this to be a great gateway beer. Now "gateway" is one of those words that has been unfortunately changed and somewhat ruined over the years. Either it refers to a literal entryway thorough a gatehouse, or it refers to a substance that leads you inevitably to destruction.
(Courtesy of Flickr)
I'm sure we all remember the staunch warnings in our health classes about "gateway drugs", whose intake would irrevocably destroy our bodies and cause our minds to melt out our ears, as we imbibe harder and harder drugs until we end up drinking bleach. The only part of this definition which I would like to take away is the fact that a gateway is the beginning of something; in my case the beginning of something great.
After one of my first beer blogs I wrote, my buddy Bryon (the fine fellow behind the fine CT Beer Trail site: www.ctbeertrail.net) mentioned something about "gateway beers" in the comment section. I began to consider the beauty of this definition: beer that one drinks to wean into more and more complex brews. I love the definition because it allowed me to wear my "elite beer dude toque (Canadian for 'hat')" on my head, while holding a Molson in my hand. Brilliant.
This line of thinking lead me to consider what classifies a good gateway beer. How does a beer's characteristics help foster a sense of intrigue in the greater beer spectrum? If I had to pull three gateway beers off the top of my head I would say something like Killians, Sam Adams, and Newcatle. I jumped to these beers using following bullet points which classify a good "gateway beer." It needs to be affordable, available, comparable, and (most importantly) it must have a modicum of good taste.
Take my Molson Golden for instance. Affordable and available? Absolutely. Most package stores that I visited (obviously for serious research purposes only) had Molson Golden in-stock, and a few even had grand displays of them on sale. Perfect. So the beer is easy to get to, and that's important. If you're trying to get doubtful friends to try new beers, the last thing they will want to do is drive to this "really cool package store that's only like 25 minutes away."
So I have the Molson and my friends are drinking it. They are pleased with the fact that it has (some) discernable flavor. This is very important. A gateway beer cannot (usually) be an "economy" beer (see last week's blog). The beer needs to be good enough to fascinate, but not good enough to startle. Think of it this way. If you want to get into professional cake tasting you can't very well start with a 5-layer butter cream monster packed with fruit fillings and fancy sugary decorations.
A cake to embarrass smaller, weaker cakes.
What taste do you critique first? What makes a candy-orchid better than a confection rose? What the heck is that weird red fruit preserve in the 3rd layer? When an inexperienced taster encounters way too much complexity, it leads to nothing but frustration. Taking on a project like this is a great way to get an eager newbie cake taster to throw down the tasting apron and stick to nothing but boxed cake mix for the rest of their life. If only they had started with a gateway cake: like a carrot cake with cream cheese frosting. It only has a few taste sensations, but enough interest to warrant further experimentation into cakes.
Alright I'm cutting the cake metaphor off as it seems to be running completely out of control. Back to beer. So the Molson fascinates my imaginary inexperienced-beer friends. And they ask, "Brian, this is pretty good. Are there any other beers like this out there?"
And this is where the idea of being comparable comes in. Since Molson is essentially a weak pilsner, I can be ready to suggest some pilsners that have depth and real character. To continue my Canada kick I would suggest my friends have a "Steam Whistle" (http://www.steamwhistle.ca/), as it is an amazing pilsner with a nice mellow pull and great subtle nuances in the flavor. Good luck finding it state-side, but if you're ever up in Toronto, Ontario it is well worth checking out the Steam Whistle brewery to get a ton of free pilsner samples and to look around an old historic train yard. Plus their brewmaster used to work for Pilsner Urquell Brewery, so you know it has to be good stuff.
An artifact from the Great White North. Alas, it is empty.
A good gateway beer, in this case, becomes something more than just great beer to bring to a party; it is also a great conversation starter, and an educational opportunity. Of course the benefits of its cost and decent flavor factor in as well (mediocre beer quickly becomes great when it is affordable!). Plus, a good gateway beer can bring back fond memories and the simple enjoyment of a simple beer.
So how about it? What are your favorite gateway beers?