The Keys to the Kingdom


Introducing someone into the world of craft brews can be a delicate thing. A couple of years ago my friend Steve started to show an interest in craft beers, most likely because I couldn’t stop talking about them. He was primed for crossing over; he had grown tired of mass-produced beers and had started to sample international brews like Peroni and Stella Artois. He was looking for something better.

So I gave him a bottle of my favorite beer, Victory Storm King Stout. In doing so, I almost turned him off to craft beers entirely. It was way too big a beer for a guy who was used to drinking (quite literally) the Budweisers of the world. That’s when I realized a more gentle approach was required for proper, long-lasting indoctrination into the ways of beer geekery. So I came up with a foolproof strategy for turning newbies onto craft beers, and it involves what I call gateway breweries.

A gateway brewery has the following properties:

  • It’s not mainstream, but is widely available
  • It brews a broad selection of well-crafted beers in most of the major styles, but none of its offerings are too wild
  • It has a strong brand character, one that a newbie can embrace and enjoy

These characteristics provide a newbie a selection of beers that will be way better than mainstream, without stretching the comfort zone of their palate. It also gives them a brand to look for in the sea of beers so they aren’t overwhelmed at their local craft beer store.

long-trail-logoIn my neck of the woods, there are a handful of breweries that fit the bill. Long Trail is great place to start, and I usually lead off with their Double Bag Ale. It’s nutty and complex and satisfying, but it won’t blow your head off.

Troegs-Brewery-LogoThen there’s Troegs, who make a fine selection of sweet and interesting beers. For these guys, I’ll recommend their Pale Ale or their sweet and rich Troegenator Double Bock.

FlyingDogLogoFlying Dog is another good one, especially their Tire Bite Golden Ale. I’ll also work in a classic big Belgian if it feels right, usually Chimay Red, to test those waters as well.

Once these starter brews and breweries have been mastered, I’ll recommend the more big-character breweries like Victory (my favorite), Stone (my other favorite) or Dogfish Head (my other other favorite).

In Steve’s case, it worked out well. After the initial bump in the road, he discovered a handful of beers he really liked and has used that as his “basecamp” to explore the wonders of the craft beer aisle.

So how do you give someone the keys to the kingdom and start them down the path of exploring really great beers?

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Categories: Beer


Craft beer nerd, frequent beer blogger and occasional home brewer.

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9 Comments on “The Keys to the Kingdom”

  1. Don
    September 24, 2009 at 7:32 pm #

    I also heard that Flying Dog has a Bourbon beer. It is a beer that is aged in old bourbon barrels. I’ve been dying to find some, but to date no luck. I think I will have to break down and get a co op membership, just for the beer!

  2. Steve
    September 24, 2009 at 8:50 pm #

    Jim is dead on. As the afforementioned “Steve” of this posting, I have to say that Troeggs has become my go-to, particularly their Hopback Amber Ale, which I’ve passed on to several friends.

    I still get nightmare from the Victory Storm King Stout, but their Prima Pils is fantastic.

    • Jim
      September 24, 2009 at 8:54 pm #

      Ahh, yes. It was the Hopback that tickled your fancy. I had a Prima Pils the other day and it was marvelous. Funny, too, because I prefer big-character beers (like Storm King) but the Prima was just perfect.

      Now you’ve gotten me in the mood for a Hopback! Maybe I’ll do that review after all…

  3. nostawetan
    September 24, 2009 at 9:59 pm #

    We wrote a post a while back called beervangelism 101 addressing this topic. Sometimes it’s hard to remember that you weren’t always “there” with your beer choices. My path was a slow progression and I try to be mindful of that. The best thing one can do is listen to what they like a push ever so slightly.

    • Don
      September 24, 2009 at 10:16 pm #

      I think the other thing you need to realize is that sometimes people just aren’t going to change. I have a friend who I have been trying to get off the Bud(weiser) for almost 20 years now. It is still his go to brew, and it is absolutely everywhere. There isn’t a bar I’ve been to that doesn’t have it on tap or in the can or bottle or what ever. So I have to just grit my teeth whenever we are out together. He drinks crap, and I drink much better brew. I can’t even get him to try whiskey! I guess you can take the boy out of St. Lewis, but you can’t take the budweiser out of his cold dead hands!

  4. September 25, 2009 at 2:14 pm #

    All good points. Some people are locked-in when it comes to their beer. I had someone tell me just yesterday that “craft beer is fake junk”. Huh? So much ignorance is out there. But, when you find someone who is looking for advice on what to try, I think Jim makes some good points. Give ’em something that they will enjoy but not freak them out.

    I actually suggest Blue Moon to a lot of people, Guinness sometimes too and they see dark beer is not ‘thick mud’.

    • Don
      September 25, 2009 at 2:36 pm #

      I had my cousin ask me what to try. He lives in Milwaukee, WI so I tried to pick something that I knew had a wide enough distribution that he would be able to easily find the brew. I recommended Chimay Grand Reserve (blue label). I think it is a very good, well balanced Belgian, and a good intro beer to get someone away from Miller and Pabst!

      • Jim
        September 25, 2009 at 3:36 pm #

        Our folks are in Milwaukee and I was out there this summer. I have to say, it’s a great beer city. Sure it’s the land of Miller and Pabst, but there’s a really robust beer culture there, with some pretty amazing local breweries and great selections at the mom-and-pop beer stores.

        On top of this, it’s a permissive beer culture. In NJ, you’ll get arrested for walking around with a beer. In Milwaukee, beer is part of the tapestry of local culture. When you call your baseball team the Brewers, it’s a pretty clear sign that you have your priorities straight! It’s really a terrific place for beer lovers.

    • Jim
      September 25, 2009 at 3:47 pm #

      Blue Moon scares me a bit to recommend, because it’s a potential dead end. It’s easy to drink one and think you’re enjoying a craft beer, but style aside, it’s akin to drinking a Heineken or a Beck’s. It’s brewed by Molson Coors after all.

      I want to introduce folks to the craft beer culture and I guess I feel Blue Moon is a little too mainstream to achieve this. I want to get people off of the beer superhighway altogether and onto the windy country road that is craft beer, with all its wonderful twists and turns.

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