written by Jeremy Storton illustration by Linda Donahue 


There is a moment in every beer drinker’s life when we shift from “meh” to “wow.” I remember mine very clearly. My beachside college days were rife with ingloriously pale dollar drafts. These beers became so loathsome that I began searching for something better. I experimented with early craft beers like Sierra Nevada Pale Ale and Pete’s Wicked Ale. Nope—couldn’t do it. Too much too soon. Then one day, I picked up a Newcastle Brown. Maybe it was my post-surfing bliss, but that first sip forever opened my eyes to what beer could taste like. The beer I had been drinking with a fake I.D. was pale, bitter and watery. But Newcastle was dark copper and full of bready malt and a rich caramel with just a note of smoke that drifted through the ocean air. It was like eating a wood-fired Milk Dud sandwich without the chocolate. That was my “gateway” brew. That was the day I fell in love … with beer. Although we have access to better beers just in the state of Oregon, every time I enjoy a Newcastle (despite the oxidized notes of cardboard) it still fills me with a sense of reminiscent joy. I know there are other born-again beer drinkers out there, so I asked a few to share their “gateway” stories and the beers they are in love with now.

block 15

Notable Oregon Beer Drinkers’ First Loves

John Maier—Brewmaster, Rogue Brewery 

“Anchor Steam was the beer that changed my life. I took one sip and the flavors exploded in my mouth. I didn’t know why it was so different but I was determined to find out why. The beer I look forward to the most, other than our Yellow Snow IPA, is Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale. I’ve been drinking it since it was released in the early 1980s.”

Gary Fish—Founder and President, Deschutes Brewery 

“The first beer I fell in love with was Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. While I was working on helping a friend open the Rubicon Brewing Company in Sacramento, before moving to Bend, it was our ‘go-to’ beer. Still a staple today.”

Dan Gamber—Globetrotter and Portland-based travel consultant, Airtreks International

“The first beer I fell in love with was Red Nectar from the original Humboldt Brewing Company in Arcata, California. It was at this pioneering brewpub I got my first taste of the microbrew future. My current favorite would be Sticky Hands Hop Experience Ale from Block 15 Brewery in Corvallis. This is a true gem of a beer.”