Beer and Pavement

Gateway Beers (and Bands)

Posted in Beer by SM on December 22, 2010
Get it?

Image blatantly lifted from the blog I link to in the first sentence.

One of those beer and whiskey loving brothers[1] posed the following question:

Is Blue Moon good for craft beer, or is it a soul-sucking vortex of all that is good and holy?

Basically, the best selling “craft-style” beer[2] is Blue Moon. For the uninitiated, Blue Moon is hardly considered a craft beer. It is brewed and bottled by the monolithic Coors corporation, maker of all things rice adjunct-ed. So, crafty, Blue Moon is not. It is not the typical American industrial lager brewed with corn or rice, but that still doesn’t make it a craft beer.

However, that’s besides the point. Blue Moon’s status as mistaken craft brew makes it a prime candidate as a gateway to craft beer nirvana. Consumers who typically purchase cases of Budweiser or Coors, might take a chance on a Blue Moon. It’s light in color, not particularly offensive in flavor. So, it won’t scare anyone away. With some clever marketing, Blue Moon even feels like it could be a craft beer or the old-school “microbrew” to the craft beer ignorant. A beer with flavor that’s perceived as crafty might be a short jump to more ambitious brews, but I have yet to witness this effect. Let me illustrate…

Let’s just say that your PBR-guzzling bro orders the BM[3] at Friday’s or Chili’s or wherever BM is the most enticing option. He takes a swig (most likely from the bottle[4]) and holds the bottle out and inspects what he’s just dumped down his gullet. Cirtus. Bubblegum. This beer actually tastes like something other than beer.

“I might have to give some of these microbrews[5] a try.”

The night ends and eventually, your bro finds himself in the beer aisle with yet another case of PBR in-hand when he suddenly notices a display. On the display are some strange beers he’s never seen before tonight, before his craft beer revelation. They’re from exotic locales like Portland, San Diego, and Milton. The styles are even more interesting: India Pale Ale, Russian Imperial Stout, Saison with Brett. He realizes that these are the microbrews he was after. He drops the case and grabs what he thinks is a six-pack, only to find that it’s just a four-pack. That seems cool to him; this bro is low on cash after the trip to TGI Friday’s. Then he’s sees the price tag. “TEN FUCKING DOLLARS?!?”

Your bro carefully puts back the four-pack as if it’s his grandmother’s heirloom ceramic angels that he just super glued back together before she returns from the store. Then he eyes a bomber. “Hey, that’s like a forty. I love me some forties,” he thinks to himself. However, this “forty” is more expensive than the four-pack and has a cork in it. He nearly drops the beer before placing it back on the shelf, grabs his case, high-tails it out of the supermarket, and vows only to drink Blue Moon on special occasions, like eating at Chili’s.

And scene.

Of course, the vignette above doesn’t even address the surprise the craft beer curious experience when they do take a chance on a true craft beer. Imagine the same look the old dude with the bitter beer face from those ads in the early nineties upon a noob’s first sip of and IPA or DIPA in the neighborhood of 85+ IBU’s. Or think about that guy who drinks energy drinks instead of coffee because he doesn’t like the taste of coffee testing a big Russian Imperial Stout. Don’t even consider what happens when the craft beer ignorant try sours or Belgian beers. Forget it. This is not their father’s Blue Moon. If the prices don’t scare them off, the flavors will.

That’s why I think the best gateway into craft beer is…well…CRAFT BEER.

Take my gateway into craft beer, for instance. I started out on rice adjunct, industrial lagers like the rest of you. I tried to mix it up with a Rolling Rock[6] here, some Little Kings there, and maybe a Sapporo now and again. None of those beers satisfied and most imports of the day were skunked. Guinness and Sam Adams soon dominated my beverage choices by the end of college. After that, I often chose these beers or the periodic microbrew, thinking my palate was expanding but never really finding anything that challenged.

Then, the craft beer epiphany[7] happened.

I had ordered a sub sandwich to be delivered and figured I could wash it down with a beer. Of course, I didn’t really need a ton of beer, just a few before I settled in for the night. So, I sauntered down the street to the beer shop, the Pace-High Carryout. After looking around a bit, I noticed a cooler of these big beer bottles. Right at my eye level was a beer with a gargoyle looking back at me with the words “Stone Ruination IPA” etched on the bottle. I liked pale ales and the like and thought a couple of these bottles would do the trick for the evening. Plus, it seemed easier than lugging a sixer down the street.

Upon opening this beer and pouring it in the tumbler I once stole from a bar, the aromatic hops hit me like a ton of bricks. Then the huge malt backbone and tremendously intense hops pummeled my tongue into submission. How was this beer? Where had this kind of beverage been all my life? This was my gateway beer, not effing Blue Moon blandness in a bottle.

Of course, it took me a while to fully figure out this whole craft beer thing. It didn’t help that my local beer retailer had issues restocking their shelves. Either way, I was constantly in search of that big flavor and aroma Stone’s Ruination thrust upon me. The search never stopped, even after finding many, many fine craft beers. Bland beer did not make me a craft beer fan. Craft beer made me a craft beer fan.

The same goes for music[8]. My gateway band was Nirvana. Sure, I had flirted with the likes of U2 and REM, but it was Nirvana that exposed me to indie rock[9]. By the time I discovered Nirvana, they were no longer on Sub Pop, but Kurt Cobain and co’s feet were still firmly planted in the underground, choosing to tour with unknown indie bands, touting Dinosaur Jr on MTV and The Breeders in the pages of Rolling Stone.

I fell in love with indie rock because of indie bands, not bands marketed as indie or alternative. Bands who obviously came from and still supported the underground showed me a whole new world of music that corporate whores could not. Bands developed by major labels for the masses have never made me want to try out new bands the way indie bands have.

The point is that quality is not something one can fake through slick marketing or copying an aesthetic. You can’t beat the real thing, whether it’s music or beer. So, the next time you see your buddy reaching for the sixer of Blue Moon, direct him toward a Jolly Pumpkin Calabaza Blanca or Allagash White[10]. Or, really blow his mind with something else entirely, like an Arrogant Bastard or Maharaja. There’s no need to settle for the corporate thing that supposed to taste like the indie thing. Just go with the indie/craft product and we’ll all be happier.

Oh, and as an added bonus, there’s this.

Notes:
1The little one.
2Read “craft-style” as “blatantly ripping off good, hard-working folk trying to keep tradition alive while still innovating and stretching boundaries in order to keep beer real” as that’s really all macro breweries are doing by marketing “craft-style” beers. Check the ratings for such beers on RateBeer or BeerAdvocate. You’ll find that the copycats only resemble craft beer in marketing and image, not flavor.
3I used this abbreviation for Blue Moon on the Brothers’ blog comments and it was pointed out that a “BM” is also a bowel movement. Freudian indeed.
4Because if you drink mocro beer, you don’t care what it smells like. In fact, you may actually hate the smell. I always ask people who drink a good beer from the bottle if they would smell a rose through a straw. Drinking a beer from a bottle has the same effect. Why is drinking from a beer bottle so accepted, but if I drink straight from a bottle of wine or liquor, I’m a lush? Avoid drinking from the bottle if you want to enjoy the beer. Pour it in a glass.
5I use the term “microbrews” as this is what peopel mistakenly call craft beer. I don’t know when/where this started, but I remember first calling them “microbrews” back in the nineties. The problem with the term is that it insinuates that these beers are somehow just smaller versions of the larger macrobrews or industrial lagers. Aside from the crazy numbers corporate beer pushers produce, nothing could be further from the truth. Sure, the macros are big, but their beers are not. Craft brewers brew the biggest beers and they are anything but smaller versions of Budweiser et al.
6At the time, Rolling Rock was still a pretty small, regional brewery. I thought I was drinking a microbrew at the time. Little did I know how similar they were to the big boys. Eventually, Rolling Rock was bought out by said big boys. The rest is rice adjunct history.
7Just learned this term in an interview by one of my favorite beer blogger/Buckeye fans, The Beer Wench. Her interview of The Dude from It’s a Fucking Beer is a must read.
8Sorry. This is where my argument gets a bit week. I still contend it applies, but I’m too lazy to really make it work. I’ll tie it all up with a reference back to the beer. Don’t you worry.
9This is a bit unfair to REM as they were and have always been a true ally to indie rock. I think it had more to do with the fact that I wasn’t old enough nor possessed the ability to know about REM and the bands they came up with. For me, they were not a good gateway as they were presented as something so separate from the underground, unlike Nirvana.
10Seriously. If someone likes a Belgian-style white ale/witbier that much, they should try what the style is really supposed to taste like. If they don’t like that, they should try other styles…or just quit pretending to like craft beer with real flavor.

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6 Responses

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  1. Pizza Cottontail said, on December 22, 2010 at 7:23 pm

    I’m with you about halfway on this one. I agree that Blue
    Moon isn’t the best but that it might lead people to something
    amazing. I agree that the Blue Moon: beer :: Nirvana:music analogy
    isn’t the strongest, because Nirvana is arguably as good as anyone
    from the alt/indie movement, but Blue Moon doesn’t compare to, say,
    Dogfish Head. But I see your point, and I can’t really think of a
    better example of a not-great band that might lead people to
    something bigger and better. Maybe a band featured on an iPod
    commercial; maybe that indie-esque band that keeps selling me
    Hyundais…I don’t know. The last line of the last footnote is
    where I disagree most strongly…how can you determine if someone
    is “pretending to like craft beer with real flavor” or genuinely
    likes something that’s a little bland? My uncle’s a huge James
    Taylor fan. It’s mostly bland to my ears (except for this, which just makes me laugh). It’s
    probably the weakest folk rock there is, but my uncle is pretty
    diehard. Can we my uncle of pretending to like music just because
    he’s a fan of something you and I would both agree isn’t full
    flavor?

    • builderofcoalitions said, on December 23, 2010 at 9:29 am

      I think you misunderstood what I was saying about Nirvana. Nirvana was my gateway. They’re an example of a good gateway as they were good and led to even better things. Blue Moon certainly does not equate to Nirvana. I was thinking that Stone Ruination IPA is the same as Nirvana. I actually had a hard time coming up with crappy gateway bands, but I think that proves my point as those bands didn’t last very long because they were…well…crappy. Beer, on the other hand, has proven time and time again that crappiness can be enjoyed by millions for an eternity.

      • Pizza Cottontail said, on December 23, 2010 at 9:36 am

        I got the picture. I did misread.

        Yeah, it is hard to come up with a decent gateway band. I was thinking a lot about it last night. Weezer, maybe?

  2. Steve said, on December 23, 2010 at 4:17 am

    Great post. I agree that BM isn’t the best way in. Much better to try the real thing.

    I think the real challenge is finding people who are open-minded enough to try something new in the first place. I’ve encountered plenty of people who just want the refreshment and the buzz and don’t really want any taste.

    I may have told this tale before, but I went on a stag weekend/batchelor party and we went to a few places with a great selection of beers. The groom-to-be bought a round of this IPA that had been brewed on the premises. It was lovely, not challenging or particularly strong, yet most people complained about it. I bought one guy this pretty easy-drinking real ale afterwards and he complained that “it tastes of stuff”. Not that it tasted bad, just that it had a degree of flavour. I gave up my beer missionary work for that evening right then. I might as well have given him a cold glass of meths.

    Oh, and Nirvana were my gateway too. I sometimes wonder where I’d be and what I’d be doing if I’d never heard Nevermind. That record led to so many other bands, then books, then films and so on. They were the first step in culture shaping my life, if that doesn’t sound too pretentious.

  3. Daniel said, on December 23, 2010 at 7:04 am

    Really dig this post, man. I was with you on the U2 and REM
    back in high school, though I was about a decade late. Also, thanks
    for the shout in the liner notes. It’s always weird to be reading
    along and see a link to the blog. Glad you enjoyed the
    interview.

    • builderofcoalitions said, on December 23, 2010 at 9:31 am

      Hey, thanks for stopping by. For some reason, this blog appeals more to your demographic than my own. What does that say about me?


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