Beer Writer of the Year Adrian Tierney-Jones writes about the importance of the first beer that opened your eyes

Think about the first time you enjoy a certain beer style that you normally shudder at, a beer that you usually declaim ‘I hate this kind of beer’ with the venom usually reserved for whenever Donald Trump appears on the TV. However, the world has been turned upside down and this beer in your hand is rather delicious and the intricacies and attractions of the style are suddenly totally understandable. Congratulations, you have discovered and enjoyed a gateway beer, a beer that will open up your senses to a whole new journey of beer.

Gateway beers are usually not the most exciting versions of their style and they won’t break new records for flavour and aroma, but they are beers whose character is the olfactory and gustatory equivalent of a large light bulb flashing off and on above your head. Finally, the gateway beer drinker gets the meaning of, say, Belgian-style abbey ales or English bitters.

It’s easy, especially when one is deeply embedded in the beer world, visiting breweries around the world and getting all excited in debating the difference between a West Flanders Red and an East Flanders Brown, to scoff at the idea of gateway beers. The very term gateway suggests an easiness, possibly even a dumbing down of a beer style featuring beer yokels exchanging banalities whilst leaning on this imaginary gateway.

Gateway beers are not explosively flavoured and certainly not on-trend opportunities for Instagram or Twitter (though some contrary souls might like the idea of letting the world know how down with the people they are). They can be mass-marketed beers, produced by a large brewing operation, but they can also be part of a smaller brewery’s portfolio, a seductive outreach to the beer-drinker who always plumps for a pint or glass of the same. They can be beers as different as Blue Moon’s Belgian witbier, a pleasant and inoffensive thirst-quencher, or Thornbridge’s Tart, an ideal starter sour beer for anyone who pulls a sour face at the very idea.

Furthermore your gateway beer doesn’t have to be just one style; there can be several beers for several styles. For instance, one beer I recall that opened up the world of cask bitter to me was Young’s Ordinary. Its ringing, chiming peal of English hops in conjunction with an enveloping, embracing depth of malted barley, was a revelation that the beer style I had been avoiding for years was rather special.

Then there was Leffe Blonde, a beer that I don’t really drink these days, but, when I first had it in the late 1980s, it was replete with the bittersweetness and alcoholic surcharge of Belgium beer. Again this beer was the start of a journey that would lead to a massive appreciation of Belgian beers, which included an appreciation of gueuze and lambic. Cantillon Gueuze was my gateway to this most enigmatic and envious of beer styles — though don’t tell anyone I used to put a cube of sugar in my gueuze when I first drank it to balance the tartness…
Adrian Tierney-Jones