The beer this week is one familiar to the vast majority of my audience: Yuengling Traditional Lager. This beer fills a special place in Philadelphia, as well as American brewing history, and is one of the best bargain beers on the market.
The Yuengling Brewery was founded by David G. Yuengling in 1829 in Pottsville, Pa., as the Eagle Brewery. The original building burned down only four years later, and the new brewery was built in its current location on Mahantongo Street. The brewery survived prohibition by producing “near beer”, a low-alcohol malt beverage, and by starting a dairy across the street to produce ice cream. When prohibition ended, Yuengling sent a truckload of beer to President Roosevelt, which arrived the day the amendment took effect. This is particularly amusing because the beer in question takes several weeks to brew and age. Yuengling suffered during the massive consolidation of the beer industry in the 1970s, managing to survive due to the loyal patrons in the surrounding countryside of Schuylkill County.
The brewery was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1985, and two years later, Richard L. “Dick” Yuengling, the fifth-generation family owner, reintroduced Yuengling Traditional Lager. This lager is one of the only pre-prohibition style American lagers in production and is debatably the best example available. One of the defining characteristics of this style is the use of corner as an adjunct. This was a readily available local ingredient, and lends Lager its distinctive body and sweetness. Yuengling has been rapidly expanding since the 1980s. In 1998 the company built a second brewery nearby the original and bought another brewery in 1999 from Stroh, located in Tampa, Fla. The additional capacity has allowed Yuengling to expand distribution from only Pennsylvania to most of the Eastern Seaboard, from Florida to New York and as far west as Indiana.
Yuengling Traditional Lager is available on tap, in 12-ounce green glass twist-off bottles and in 12-ounce aluminum cans. I personally buy the cans for several reasons. The first is that I don’t really like green glass bottles, or bottles in general. Bottles let in air because they never seal perfectly, and they let in light because they are transparent. Light and air are both detrimental to the beer. Beer bottles are also fragile and are somewhat challenging to recycle. Cans, on the other hand, seal perfectly, don’t shatter when I drop them in the creek while canoeing, and are very easy to recycle. Unfortunately, since canning lines are more expensive to set up than bottling lines, beer cans get a bad rap because of the swill that normally comes in them.
Lager poured a clear, light copper color with a finger of light tan head. The head was quite fine in texture and lasted for a significant period of time, especially compared to many microbrewed ales. The aroma was malty and slightly sweet, with low levels of sourness, yeast and hop characters. The beer was above all clean, with a strong maltiness and low hop character. Up front the beer was quite sweet, although the finish dried out with a nice biscuity and nutty character so that it was not cloying. The carbonation was moderate, and the body was fairly thick.
Overall, Yuengling is one of my favorite beers. It is clean, malty and cheap, serving as the saving grace of dive bars across the state. Lager is one of the beers that I always have on hand in my fridge, and I often have one with dinner, or just about any other time of the day when I want something to drink. I cannot recommend it enough, especially for people just beginning to branch out from Bud, Miller or Coors.