Wednesday, April 6, 2011

"Yingling" - America's Oldest Brewery

Beer: Yuengling Traditional Lager
This bottle couldn't be more American if Teddy Roosevelt
personally spit in every bottle after eating apple pie at a
Boston Beaneaters match.
Brewery: Yuengling (Pottsville, PA)
Type: Red Lager
ABV: 4.4%

It's hard to have a conversation about American beer without bringing up the name Yuengling. 

Wait a minute, what am I saying?  It's very easy! Well, it's easy to forget about Yuengling if you happen to reside somewhere other than the American northeast, a place I currently happen to be.  Up until a few years ago, I had not even heard of this legendary Pennsylvania brewery, and I still cannot find its products in Ontario shelves anywhere.  Such is the advertising power of the big breweries in the US of A - other smaller, but no less important, players in the evolution of American beer culture are pushed outside of the public consciousness, replaced instead by Clydesdales, the Milwaukee Brewers, and buxom brunettes in thin Coors t-shirts. 

Yuengling (pron: "Ying-ling") is, as the bottle boldly proclaims, is America's oldest continuously operating brewery, first putting water and grain to the boil in 1829.   The brewery was founded by German immigrant David Juengling, who brought with him (along with other brewers of Germanic origin) the tradition of lager brewing.  For decade after decade, Yuengling was - and still is - the official beer of Pennsylvania, and has attracted a following outside of its homestate as well.   Like other large breweries of the time, Yuengling managed to survive the Prohibition years by selling low-alcohol near-beers and sodas, before returning to its former status of pre-eminence for a time.  Yuengling celebrated the end of Prohibition by sending President Roosevelt a case of freshly brewed "Winner Beer", thus beating the Charlie Sheen fad by nearly eighty years.  The postwar years were not kind to Yuengling, however;  the process of brewery consolidation and the growth of mass-advertizing campaigns pushed smaller, local breweries like Yuengling out of the public consciousness outside of their region.  Yuengling's extremely dedicated following kept the brewery afloat, however, and a culture more kind to local breweries has allowed the Pride of Pennsylvania to return to a strong national position (currently sitting as the second largest American-owned brewery, after Sam Adams).  Indeed, according to the brewery website demand for their products in the late 1990s exceeded their production capabilities to the point where Yuengling had to withdraw its out-of-state distribution somewhat.

To return to my previous point, I have never seen Yuengling outside of the United States - it seems to be a very regional thing, though I'm sure it's availability has increased as more beer-specific shops open up across the country.  The first time I had any Yuengling product was in Florida a year ago, and I have to say, I really wasn't impressed it.   Turns out I had tried their "Premium Beer", a cheaper lager offering that didn't really do much for me and probably wasn't designed to do so.  Plus I had it at the Olive Garden, which isn't really the best venue to explore new craft brewing options.   I would not encounter their flagship Traditional Lager until this month, when my father brought me back a couple bottles to try. 

What a difference a brew makes.  Rather than a boring, run-of-the-mill pale lager as I had anticipated, Yuengling's Traditional Lager had some real meat to it.  It's no small wonder that - according to Wikipedia - most Pennsylvanians need only say "lager" to their beer salesman in order to receive a case of Yuengling.  It's that popular.

I poured Yuengling into a tall ale glass.  Like Creemore of Ontario, the Traditional Lager poured a nice, clear golden-copper hue that displayed lots of visible carbonation.   The pour left behind a thin white head, which dissolved into a fine ring.

Nose is mild, but pleasant.  Malt, grassy hops, a bit of citrus.  A nice bready character as well. Certainly nothing artificial or funky here.

Damn, this was one decent-tasting brew - certainly something I would enjoy in great quantities.  Slightly malty and bready, citrus and grassy hops.  Mild carbonation, thin-bodied.  I'm really digging this, and I'm not sure why!  This tastes like beer, an elusive concept I've attempted to identify over the past few years.  Though I truly relish beers of a myriad of styles, there's an unmistakable appeal in a beer that tastes like something your father would drink, something you happily crack open and drink straight from the bottle, rathern than pouring out and inspecting for lacing patterns and head retention (which of course, I just did - this is a beer-reviewing site after all...). 

Would that other big-name US lagers could taste as good as this; certainly several cuts above your standard BMC fare, that's for damned sure. What the beer lacks in definition, it makes up for in sheer drinkability.   Indeed, this was definitely a beer I would certainly be happy having around the fridge for casual patio and backyard drinking.  This is the kind of beer I like - it's got a masculine, Monday Night Football, Levi Jeans, Americana appeal - something you'd feel happy offering to friends and well-wishers on their way in the door - but unlike other brews that attempt to project this image, Yuengling doesn't taste like corny crap.  It actually has flavor, colour and texture.  I'm beginning to see why Pennsylvanians would panic if their supply were to run short because of thirsty out-of-staters.  This is good stuff indeed.  (Grade: B)

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