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The term “gateway beer” is used to describe a craft beer that is similar in appearance and style to the American adjunct lagers produced by large brewing companies like Miller-Coors and AB-InBev. At this point, the non-craft convert is likely asking, what the heck is an American adjunct lager? Known widely as “lawnmower beer” or “fizzy yellow beer,” it’s the bastardized version of pilsners the aforementioned macrobreweries produce using cheap fermentable matter such as corn in place of quality malted grains. Until the American craft beer movement gained momentum, these shallow, bland brews were about the only thing Americans knew of beer outside of imports that, largely, were also subpar adjunct lagers.

There’s no shame in not ever having craft beer, but it can be hard to make the adjustment from such an unimposing, water-like substance to a product with the high quality and bold flavor of craft beer. That’s what makes gateway beers so important. They allow those with whose palates are attuned to Budweiser and High Life to taste something made to similar specifications but with much more care and much better ingredients, resulting in, not surprisingly, something that tastes a hell of a lot better.

A number of gateway brews are produced locally. In fact, with the session beer renaissance that’s currently underway and bringing drinkers’ attention back to lower alcohol ales and lagers, there are more than ever before. However, one of the best on the market has been around for three years. That inviting, a-ha moment-inspiring number is Iron Fist Renegade Blonde. Produced by Iron Fist Brewing Company, a Vista brewery mostly popular for its variety of Belgian-inspired beers, it’s a take on a kölsch that’s fizzy and yellow, but by no means low on character.

The beer smells of straw and hops, with a bit of grass and honey in the back. It’s a much more inviting aroma than the one-dimensional, dull Noble hop aroma of macro-pilsner. Then there’s the balanced, flavor. At first, like an adjunct lager, it’s easygoing on the taste buds, refreshing more than anything. But immediately after swallowing, a flavorful graininess makes itself known along with a gentle hoppiness; the type that can set the uninitiated down a road leading to pale ales, India pale ales, and double IPAs. That, friends, is the gateway beer experience, and its delivered beautifully by this often-overlooked North County beer.

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