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":
- an entrance that may be closed by or as by a gate
- a means of entry or access: Mumbai, gateway to India
- ( modifier ) allowing entry, access, or progress to a more extreme form: gateway drug ; gateway drink
- computing hardware and software that connect incompatible computer networks, allowing information to be passed from one to another
- a software utility that enables text messages to be sent and received over digital cellular telephone networks
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.