Gateway to beer heaven

By LOU PAPINEAU  |  January 26, 2012



Growing up in Maine, Shipyard, Oak Pond, and Katahdin were surely ones I reached for. But my gateway beer was the science of fermentation, so I can not really nail down a single beer to choose. I got into the whole industry via home brewing. So the answer to the question is literally my own brews, but even then I can't nail down a certain one! I just loved the feeling of doing something neat and fun in Colby College's labs and dorm rooms and the summers that followed college!

My favorite beer is still the Amber Ale I designed. So I would take that to wherever. It's in perfect balance so if it's hot or cold, on the desert or in the bomb shelter, our Amber Ale will go with anything!




My gateway beer was actually Seadog Blue Paws Blueberry Wheat Ale. I can't say that I was inspired or blown away, but it was the first beer that I ever had that didn't taste like fizzy, semi-bitter-yet-mostly-bland lager. It was just so different from anything that I had previously had that I then wanted to try other craft beers to see what flavors I would discover.

I would not necessarily suggest the same beer as a gateway as some people don't like fruit beers at all. I would probably suggest something like Harpoon UFO or Sierra Nevada Pale ale as they are nice, easy-drinking brews.

If I had to choose one beer, I'm not quite sure what [it would be] since my taste tends to go through phases. At the moment I think I'd go for North Coast Old Stock Ale. It is a wonderful, tasty old ale and it ages well, which could come in handy if I'm stuck somewhere for a long time.



It's funny looking back now, but for the longest time I thought I didn't like beer. I always had to force down the first one (ice cold) and then the next would go down a lot easier. I'd always pick wine or a mixed drink instead. Like most people in this area, my first experience with a "craft" beer was Sam Adams. I remember thinking, "Wow, this is different. I can actually taste the beer and not just the 'aftertaste.' "

But I wouldn't consider it my gateway beer. I think the first beer that did it for me was Weihenstephaner Hefeweissbier. It was the first time I can honestly say I thoroughly enjoyed a beer. At the time we were just starting to get into selling craft beer at Nikki's. I was bringing home samples of everything from Three Floyds Alpha King to Rochefort 10. I specifically remember trying my first Dogfish Indian Brown Ale and was hooked. That began my obsession with craft beer.

Working at Nikki's, I get asked every day for beer recommendations. I try to get as much information as I can from [customers] before suggesting anything. I ask what they have tried before, what they liked or didn't like about it. Do they want to try something similar or something new and different. What types of foods they enjoy. There's no one "magic" gateway beer. Everybody's palate is at a different stage of development. It's my job to figure out where they are and point them in the right direction. The worst thing I can do is recommend the latest "hop bomb" or crazy sour Gueuze and turn them off from drinking good beer forever.

If it's an absolute novice beer drinker who hasn't tried anything yet, I [pick] a variety of beers, that way they can figure out what styles they like. Usually a Hefe like Ayinger Bräu Weisse or Weihenstephaner Hefe; a lager — Brooklyn Lager or Blue Point Toasted Lager; a Belgian White — Allagash White or Wittekerke; maybe an easy-drinking IPA or Pale Ale to give them a little taste of hop bitterness — Harpoon IPA or Sierra Nevada Pale Ale; and always throw a stout or porter into the mix.

My all-time favorite "desert island" beer would have to be North Coast Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout. I could drink it every day and never get tired of it. Of course, the 9% ABV should make that desert island a lot more tolerable as well.

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