This week I’m reviewing Yuengling Traditional Lager. You most likely know it simply as Yuengling or, if you live in Pennsylvania, “Lager”. Normally I start out my reviews with a story or fun antidote about the beer or brewery I’m reviewing, but I’m going a different route with this one. Since Yuengling is America’s oldest brewery, the facts stemming from the brewery’s history make for a pretty good story itself.
It all started when David Gottlob Jüngling came to the US from Germany in 1823. Like many immigrants of the time, he anglicized his name to Yuengling. Six years after arriving in the US, he opened the Eagle Brewery on Centre Street in Pottsville, Pennsylavania. Being a small mining community, there were plenty of thirsty blue collar workers with money to spend and not many other things to spend it on. The brewery only operated at this location for three years until it burned down in 1831. The company stayed in Pottsville but relocated to the corner of W. Mahantongo Street & 5th Street, where it still resides today. During this time, David’s oldest son David Jr. left his fathers brewery to open his own in Richmond , Virginia called the James River Steam Brewery. This left only his other son Frederick to help run the company. This also prompted the name change from Eagle Brewery to D. G. Yuenling & Son in 1873. This name was accurate for 5 generations as the brewery would be run by the elder Yuengling with help from his son until the son would purchase the company from his father at full market value. This tradition will actually come to an end soon because the current owner, Richard Yuengling, has two daughters. They will be taking control of the company just as their ancestors did before, however the family name will die with Richard.
Throughout Yuengling’s history, they have endured some trying times. The most notable were the darkest 13 years in American history; Prohibition. During this time Yuengling produced 0.5% ABV beers called “near beers”. Also, they opened a dairy across the street from the brewery where they made ice cream until 1981. When prohibition finally came to an end in 1933, Yuengling sent President Franklin D. Roosevelt a truckload of beer aptly named “Winner Beer” that arrived the day the amendment was appealed. This did however raise some red flags considering a batch of their beer takes about three weeks to brew and age meaning all the delivered beer was actually produced and shipped illegally.
Although being one of the few breweries to remain operational throughout prohibition gave them an advantage in the time that followed, it wasn’t long before they started to feel the pressure from the rise of the large commercial breweries. Time came once again where they heavily relied on the consumption by local residents to stay in business and it stayed that way for quite a while. Up until 1999, Yuengling was only distributed to three states, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware. That year they purchased a defunct Stroh brewery in Tampa, Florida and built a new brewery in Port Carbon, PA (same county as Pottsville). With the new production facilities they were able to expand distribution from Florida to New York and every coastal state between. Ohio recently joined Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Tennessee as the only land-locked states on the distribution list.
Yuengling Traditional Lager had actually been out of production for several decades until being reintroduced in 1987. It quickly became the flagship beer for the company, accounting for 80% of their annual sales. I was excited to have one since it had been quite some time since my last. I used to drink them fairly regularly when I would visit my parent’s vacation house in the Poconos. It was always surprising how cheap they were but at the same time seemed to be better quality than the Miller, Bud and Coors (MBC) of the world, which are all the same style and about the same price. I wanted to see if I felt the same way after years of drinking craft beers. When I grabbed a bottle, I immediately recognized that they were at a disadvantage in my eyes. The bottle was green and, if you don’t know already, I hold this as one of the biggest disservices a brewer can do to his beer. I poured into a pint glass and noticed a darker, reddish amber color that would stand out against its other American Lager counterparts. There was a very minimal tan head that dissipated almost immediately. The smell was predominately caramel malt with the presence of yeasty bread and corn. The taste was along the same lines and was a lot sweeter than I remember. I could taste some corn adjunct like in MBC, but unlike them, it was somewhat masked by the addition of the caramel malt. There is also a slight grassy-hop bitterness that could be noticed but not much beyond that. The combination of the sweet, only slightly bitter and very mild carbonation made this beer extremely drinkable, which I inadvertently proved by finishing the beer in about three “sips”.
Most of the people I have talked to about this beer seem extremely polarized, either loving and raving about it or hating and spewing disdain about it. I find myself somewhere in the middle, not willing to buy it but inclined to drink one over a MBC if those are my choices. Yuengling also offers several other styles of beer (porter, bock and black & tan) which I enjoy and do purchase from time to time and really enjoy when I do. Auf Dich!