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Gateways aren't just memorable computers from the '90s packaged in cow-colored boxes. Whether a work of art, a food dish, or an entire system of beliefs, a “gateway” item can open your mind to a seemingly limitless world of options in an otherwise seemingly boring category. Hell, I had a gateway book (Infinite Jest), jam band (Phish, ‘96 in Philly), and even falafel (Taim in NYC). Of course, I also had a gateway beer. (Breckenridge Brewery Vanilla Porter, thank you very much.)

I’m certainly not alone, either -- even some of the best and most creative brewers from all around the country were once clueless to just how varied and versatile beer can be. So we asked some of our favorite brewers to talk about the one beer that inspired them to say out loud, “Wow...I didn’t know it could taste like this.”

Here are some beers that have the ability to change lives:

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Sierra Nevada Porter

Porter, 5.6% ABV

“My intro to craft beer was Sierra Nevada Porter. In college, I would load up my camping gear and dog in my truck, and head off to Big Sur to camp in the redwoods and sea air. Food was nothing fancier than a stick of salami, cheese, and crackers, but paired alongside Sierra Porter with the baby blue label? That was my happy place.”

-- Veronica Vega, Deschutes Brewery (Bend, OR)

Harpoon Ale

Amber Ale, 5% ABV

“I’d been drinking Miller Lite pretty much exclusively, but when I came to Harpoon in 1990 and tried Harpoon Ale, it turned me on to craft beer. By today’s standards, an amber ale with 23 IBUs doesn’t seem dramatic, but 27 years ago it was an eye opening experience. And it put me on the path that brought me here today!”

-- Al Marzi, Harpoon Brewery (Boston, MA)

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Samuel Smith Nut Brown Ale

English Brown Ale, 5% ABV

“It’s honestly hard to say which beer really provided that gateway into craft beer. I’m originally from Connecticut, so beers like Long Trail Double Bag, and Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA jump to mind…. But the beer that really started it all was Samuel Smith’s Nut Brown Ale. I was in college, drinking Beast or Beast Ice at fraternity parties. A good friend found a local natural grocer…[and] in my fuzzy memory, I remember Sammy Smith being the only beer they sold. It definitely opened my eyes to the potential depth and complexity of beer. I distinctly remember pushing back the ragged edges of golden foil after popping the top. It was just a different experience, and while I didn’t know it at the time, it would change the direction of my life.”

-- Darren Boyd, Spangalang Brewery (Denver, CO)

Newcastle Brown Ale

English Brown Ale, 4.7% ABV

"I grew up in Philly, a Coors Light city, which meant my beer flavor threshold started at ground level. When I went off to school in Vermont, I discovered Newcastle Brown and its subtle caramel and nuttiness. This was the ‘gateway beer’ for me to discover full-flavored beers. That lead me to brands like Long Trail Ale, Otter Creek Copper Ale, and Harpoon’s IPA and Catamount Porter, to name a few. But it was that simple English nut brown ale that created an addiction I continue to feed to this day."

-- Jimmy Seifrit, 10 Barrel Brewing Co. (Bend, OR)

Left Hand Haystack Wheat

Pale Wheat Ale, 5% ABV

“The first real ‘aha!’ moment I had was with Left Hand Haystack Wheat (Hefeweizen). I had been getting into craft a little at the time, but we did a beer dinner at which one of the owners of Left Hand spoke. After describing the clove and banana character of a Hefeweizen, I couldn't get over that those flavors were entirely yeast-derived. It was eye opening on a whole other level.”

-- Chris Davison, Wolf’s Ridge Brewing (Columbus, OH)

credits:"Bernt Rostad / Flickr"

Dortmunder Export

Dortmunder, 5.4% ABV

“Before the craft beer scene was born (and exploded), I was into imported beer like San Miguel Dark, Heineken Dark, and Dortmunder. But my true gateway craft beer was my very first home brew!”

-- Dean Coffey, Ale Asylum (Madison, WI)

Chimay Red

Dubbel, 7% ABV

“This is what I like to call an ‘epiphany beer.’ I’ve always enjoyed beer -- I have relatives in Germany and drank a lot of local pils and export beer because of that. But I still remember that time in the early ‘90s, sitting in the Toronado bar in San Francisco and ordering a Chimay Red. It arrived in a stemmed chalice with a cottony head of foam and the aroma of dried fruits and nutmeg spice. It tasted somewhat sweet, like brown sugar, and was as effervescent as Champagne. I sat in the dark bar as a celestial light surrounded this magical elixir. A few years later, I became a brewer.”

-- Brenden Dobel, ThirstyBear Organic Brewery (San Francisco, CA)

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Magic Hat #9

Pale Ale, 5.1% ABV

“When I was younger, I found myself at a party where there were the usual culprits in cans; I did not play well with that old guard. I did find a couple of older friends that every once in awhile helped me procure other beers like Magic Hat #9, which is one of those products that opened my eyes, and led me to try to figure out how to scratch a creative itch for the rest of my life. Later, when Dogfish Head starting appearing in my neighborhood shops, I was hooked on the industry -- but more importantly, what I knew the industry was going to become once everyone realized four main ingredients could be pushed further.”

-- Richie Saunders, Schmaltz Brewing (Clifton Park, NY)

Got a story of your own? Leave a comment below to let us know which one beer got you hooked!


Note: Breckenridge Brewery and 10 Barrel Brewing are members of The High End, owned by Anheuser-Busch.