03 May 2008

Five Great Gateway Beers: The Hoosier Beer Geek Alternative

For someone new to craft beer, advanced topics like styles and ingredients can be a little overwhelming. Even a trip to your local craft beer seller can seem like a test. What's with all the weird beer names? What's the difference between ale and what I normally drink? Where does all this beer come from?

Believe it or not, we're not here to make fun of what you drink - we all started where you're at now. But if you're really looking for a way in, you best bet is to start by just drinking better beer. Here's Hoosier Beer Geek's list of five proven and readily available "gateway" craft beers to make the adjustment as easy as possible:

A Beer Geek alternative to Budweiser, Miller, or Coors:

Brooklyn Lager - If you've tried craft beer before you may have been struck with how different it tastes to the beers you grew up on. With Brooklyn Lager you won't have to worry about that - it's the same Lager style beer you grew up on, except with a fuller, more flavorful taste.

See also: Sam Adams Boston Lager, Sierra Nevada Summerfest, Schlafly American Lager

A Beer Geek alternative to Guinness:

Goose Island Oatmeal Stout - If you're a fan of the roasty flavors of Guinness, other beers in the stout family might be right up your alley.

Goose Island's Oatmeal Stout is a nice second step into the stout family - the same sort of roasty flavors you'll get from a Guinness, with the addition of oatmeal to the beer to give it a little more heft. Don't worry, this isn't the slimy soupy stuff of breakfast - the oatmeal used is (usually) no more that 5% of the total composition of the beer. You'll notice that the beer has more body, but you probably wouldn't know it came from oatmeal if it didn't say so on the label.

See also: Samuel Smith's Oatmeal Stout, Left Hand Milk Stout, Barley Island Brass Knuckles Oatmeal Stout

A Beer Geek Alternative to Blue Moon:

Bell's Oberon - If you're drinking Blue Moon, you've already made a step towards beers with a hint more spice and fruit flavors. Bell's Oberon is a light and crisp ale with hints of orange and wheat. Oberon is a seasonal beer, available from late March through October, and is a fantastic summer day companion.

See also: Harpoon UFO Hefeweizen, Three Floyd's Gumballhead, Goose Island 312 Urban Wheat, Brugge White (Indiana)

A Beer Geek Alternative to Killian's:

Rogue American Amber - Killian's drinkers have already taken a deliberate step away from the big three American lagers (Bud, Miller, and Coors) toward a beer with a bit more taste. But you can take an even bigger step with Rogue's American Amber - a beer brewed in Oregon. Rogue's beer has even bolder amber flavors, features hints of coffee, and finishes clean and refreshing.

See Also: Bell's Amber, Baltika #4 Dark Beer, Wabash Harvest Amber Ale (Indiana)

A Beer Geek Alternative to Newcastle:

He'Brew Messiah Bold - As with the other beers on this list, Messiah Bold is a fuller flavored beer. You'll experience full balance flavors - fuller roasty malts, a slight hint of nut, chocolate, and caramel, and a little bit of a bitter bite on the back end from the use of hops to balance out the beer.

See Also: Samuel Smith's Nut Brown Ale, Bluegrass Brewing Company Nut Brown Ale, Avery Ellie's Brown Ale

Final Thoughts:

No one would claim that the beers listed above are the best beers in the world. But craft beer aficionados would claim that they are much better than your everyday brew. By being stylistically familiar to what you currently drink, they can serve as a bridge into the bigger Craft Beer world. Craft beer is about fuller flavors, bigger mouthfeels, and stronger scents. With a proper start we're confident you'll be a craft beer geek in no time.


  1. I really like that you put Samuel Smith's on there twice. They are one of my very favorites.

    Nice writeup.

  2. Baltika #4? Really? I consider that whole line of beer awful.

  3. Consider where you'd be coming from though - Baltika is reasonably easy to find and rates pretty decently on most beer review sites, especially when you considered style.

    This entry was a sort of first attempt at directly addressing entry level craft beer drinkers and a sort of Digg.com audience - hence the slight difference in style and tone. We don't want to forget where we came from, either.

    Would Baltika 4 be my first choice? No. Would I chose it over Killian's? Definitely.

  4. oberon my favorite seasonal beer - good call and it is readily available at nearly every liquor store and every Marsh I've walked through

    for traditional lagers I'm a fan of Yuengling - found this beer during a business trip to RIchmond, VA.

  5. Now that we've tried Wittekerke, I'd add that as a Blue Moon substitute. Oh, and Bell's Winter White.

  6. Very nice list. There are two sections where I think some of your alternates would make better first choices.

    First, if you're looking for an alternative to Guinness, I think the GI Oatmeal Stout is going to be too different. I think the Left Hand Milk Stout is a much better stepping stone. It has the smoothness of Guinness with a more complex flavor profile.

    And the second is the alternative to Newcastle. He'Brew Messiah Bold is a pretty strong step away from the light taste of Newcastle. I think your alternate of Samuel Smith's Nut Brown would be a much closer comparison to Newcastle, followed by the Avery's choice (which I find to be an excellent, easy drinking brown, but pretty heavy compared to Newcastle).

    All things considered, this is a really great list.

  7. do people really like sam smith? everything they make has a serious acetaldehyde issue. it all tastes like granny smith apples. plus the stuff is so expensive.

    i'd go with goose island nut brown. why it's not called hex nut anymore is anyone's guess.

  8. I'm generally not a huge fan of Samuel Smith's either, though I usually keep my mouth shut because everybody seems to be gaga over them. It mostly has to do with the price for me, but even if the price were lower, I'm not crazy about the taste. Their Imperial Stout might be one exception.

  9. I love Sam Smith's. I honestly haven't had a bad beer from them. Even their Organic Lager I liked. Their oatmeal stout, RIS, and brown ales are my favorites.

  10. I would add the Leinenkugel Sunset Wheat to the list as an alternative to Blue Moon, although maybe it was excluded for the ties to Miller Brewing? All in all, I think a general nod to the Leinenkugel lineup would be good to the uninitiated. They do make a number of nice beers that that are stepping stones towards better stuff, and generally you can find it in the $5/ six pack range.

    Sam Smith's.. I have had great stuff and had skunked. I think the clear bottles is a huge detriment to their brand, especially in the Indy area. I have bought a bottle of Fuller's ESB that not until I cracked it open did I realize there was a best by date that was already a year past.. I think the same thing happens to a lot of the Sam Smith beers depending on where you make your purchase.
    Very nice list and I like the idea. I think you will see a lot of bantering back and forth on this as you just can't make a list that will appeal to everyone, but 5 or so years ago, I would have loved to have seen something like this.

  11. I suppose I should have posted something more positive-

    Everything you put on there was an excellent choice, except Baltika #4, although that is just my opinion!

    There, that's a hell of a lot nicer :).

    One of my favorite blog posts of late, right here. Yummy, yummy stuff.

  12. Hahaha! Don't worry that I've taken offense - I haven't a lot of the beers I listed as "see also". At least I think, anyway - Gina serves as my beer memory.

    In a few cases I looked at those other beer sites for beers by style and then considered availability and ended up with what you see today.

    I'm really happy there was this much discussion because this took a lot more work than I expected when I started the post.

    Lastly, Gina tells me that I like Sam Smith beers - so there are my thoughts on that.

  13. congrats on recognizing brooklyn brews! they make some excellent craft beer, one of my favorites. chocolate stout, awesome.
    I have to admit, having only tried one Hebrew beer, i was not impressed. just my thoughts.