Monday, July 11, 2011

Gateway Beers?

Mull. A Hebridean island. Mull. The process of heating, sweetening and flavouring wine or ale with spices. Mull. The activity of pondering or thinking about something. I have spent quite a bit of time mulling this weekend, mulling in the third of those three possibilities that is. What is it that I have been mulling? The term "gateway beer".

Like many words and terms that getting bandied about, we all have an idea of what it means - loosely speaking a "gateway beer" is the type of beer that gets people started with drinking something other than the ubiquitous pale lagers produced by multinational corporations. I have seen pretty much every kind of beer described as a "gateway beer", whether it be a craft pale lager, an IPA or even a stout which isn't Guinness.

Being me though, I am intrigued by the imagery behind the very concept of a "gateway". According to the World English Dictionary, there are 5 definitions of the term "gateway":
  1. an entrance that may be closed by or as by a gate
  2. a means of entry or access: Mumbai, gateway to India
  3. ( modifier ) allowing entry, access, or progress to a more extreme form: gateway drug ; gateway drink
  4. computing hardware and software that connect incompatible computer networks, allowing information to be passed from one to another
  5. a software utility that enables text messages to be sent and received over digital cellular telephone networks
I am sure that most of us, when using the term, have definitions 2 and 3 in mind, a gateway beer being the access point to the wider world of craft beer. Perhaps, if you are of such mind, you could use definition 4 so as to infer that big beer and craft beer are mutually exclusive and thus people need a gateway beer to make the transition from one to the other. Personally I think it is arrogance of the highest form to believe BMC drinkers are in some way in need of beer salvation just because they choose to drink something other than I would.

The thing that bothers me about the idea of the gateway beer is that in can appear at times to reinforce the image of craft beer being a higher form of beer existence, something that you have to "get", rather than a drink in a pub with mates. It seems as though the craft beer world is building a wall around itself, a ghetto if you will, so as to keep the nasty big boys out, but at the same time to keep the devoted in.

I know I say this a lot, but beer is just beer. It is not some spiritual movement offering enlightenment, world salvation or even meaning to life. Let's not be having gateway beers as a method for snaring the unexpecting into our craft beer ghetto. Rather let's tear down the beer wall, dispense with the self-appointed guardians of taste and just enjoy beer for its own sake.

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