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Octobeerfest

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Tonight was beer club, a meeting of beer minded individuals from my work who get together once a month to share good beer, a good meal, and good company! We typically congregate at a local BYOB, and this time we hit up America's Pie, probably the best pizza joint in West Chester. Lots of food and beer and mirth was had by all. Things started small but grew as the night progressed, so this picture doesn't quite capture all the beers that arrived later:

beerclub1012.jpg
(Click for bigger image)

For the sake of posterity, some thoughts on each beer are below. As per usual, these beers were not consumed under ideal conditions, but hey, these were really fun conditions, which, come to think of it, are ideal enough for me. But you may want to take these notes with a giant rock of salt. Anywho, here's the impressions I'm left with (in the order of drinking, not necessarily from the picture above):

  • Lakefront Pumpkin Lager - A strangely muted flavor profile that features all the typical pumpkin pie flavors nonetheless, this was actually a decent way to start off beer club. Very aromatic, light, spicy, straightforward beer. Not going to light the world on fire, but a worthy brew. B
  • Duvel - This is generally considered to be a classic beer, but I have to admit, I've always come away somewhat underwhelmed by Duvel. I feel like this bottle was much better than any of my previous tastings. Sweet, spicy Belgian yeast character in the nose and taste. Last time I had this, I was a little turned off by what I perceived to be tart, lemony notes, but that didn't appear to be in tonight's bottle at all. Strange. I still wouldn't call this one of my favorites or anything, but I could bump it up to a B
  • Original Sin Hard Cider and Dana's Homemade Applewine - I tend to call this event "beer club", but lots of other alcoholic beverages make appearances. This usually amounts to wine, but some folks who don't like beer will go for some cider too (especially this time of year, I guess). Me, I don't really care for that sort of thing. I tried a couple offerings and thought, yep, that's got apple flavor, and left it at that.
  • Cigar City Guava Grove - One of my contributions for the night, this is a big, delicious ball of spicy, fruity saison goodness. Great orangey color, spicy Belgian yeast character in the nose and taste, with a level of fruitiness, presumably coming from the guava. Generally considered to be the best beer of the night, I jokingly mentioned that I wished I kept it all for myself. But I kid. Anywho, exceptional beer. I really must figure out how to get my hands on some more Cigar City stuff. A-
  • War Horse India Pale Ale - Probably suffered a little in comparison to the Guava Grove, but yeah, it's an IPA, focusing on the earthy, floral notes, with a strong malt backbone and a fair bitterness in the finish. I found it to be somewhat unremarkable, but it was generally enjoyed by the group (we are easily amused). B-
  • DuClaw Mad Bishop - Ah, it was about time someone broke out the other major seasonal style, the Oktoberfest. Not one of my favorite styles, but as these things go, I found myself enjoying this one quite a bit. It seemed a little sweeter than your typical, authentic examples of the style, but that's not a horrible thing in my book. Very nice. B
  • Lindemans Framboise - Another offering that was popular with the cider/wine crowd, I found it a little on the cough syrupy side of things. Nice raspberry flavors and it's pretty thick and sweet for such a tiny ABV beer, but I don't know, maybe I'm spoiled by better lambics at this point. B-
  • Great Lakes Nosferatu - This is one of them Imperial Red Ale beers that goes heavy on the citrus and pine hops, certainly a welcome development at this point in the night. Even with my palate probably being in pretty bad shape, I found this to be quite good. And you've just gotta love the label/name of this beer too. I should pick up a bottle of the stuff and give it a fair shake, though I'll still hand it a B+ rating, making it one of the better beers of the night.
  • Lagunitas New Dogtown Pale Ale - One of those late arrivals, this one actually held its own against some of the bigger beers I'd been drinking. Big citrus and pine character in the nose and taste, making it seem more like a straight up IPA than a lowly Pale Ale. Quite enjoyable and again, one of the better beers of the night. B+
  • St. Bernardus Tripel - Another beer I've actually reviewed before, though this time my feelings on the beer haven't changed much. I didn't have a lot of it tonight, but it's pretty much exactly what I remember about it. Excellent Belgian Tripel, if not quite my favorite.
  • Yuengling Oktoberfest - At this point in the night, my palate is pretty well wrecked, but again, it seemed like a really solid, traditional take on the Oktoberfest style. Not exactly my thing, but I could probably put a few of these down in a session if duty called for such. Indeed, I might even prefer this to the ubiquitous Yuengling Lager... B
  • Lavery Stingy Jack Pumpkin Ale - My other contribution for the night, I think this one comported itself quite well. It's got that big, chewy pumpkin pie thing going on here, but the balance of malt, pumpkin, and spice was pretty well honed here, as I really enjoyed it. Now, again, I was pretty well in the bag at this point, but the bomber I brought seemed to go pretty quickly, and folks seemed to enjoy it. I'll give it a provisional B+
Phew, that ended up being quite a list of beers. Oddly, they were all pale colored - not a single stout to be had. The closest thing to a dark beer was Nosferatu, which probably couldn't be counted as pale, but it's no stout either. Not that I'm complaining. Indeed, I shall declare this gathering yet another success. I'm already thinking ahead to our next meeting...

Why do breweries use green bottles?

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One of the things I don't really understand about the beer world is why so many beers use green bottles. When beer is exposed to ultraviolet light for a certain period of time, certain molecules (basically the stuff contributed by hops) start to break down and cause bad flavors. This is what's called "light-struck" beer, but it's more commonly known as "skunked" beer. Brown bottles provide a large degree of protection, but apparently don't make the beer invulnerable (unless you've got your brown bottle baking in the sun for a long time, you should be ok). However, green and clear bottles provide nearly no protection from UV rays, and thus those beers can get skunked rather easily. Incidentally, cans? They actually provide the best protection, which is one of the reasons you see so much talk of craft beer in cans these days.

This begs the question: If light is so bad for beer and if green and clear bottles don't provide any protection, why do breweries use green or clear bottles? Sure, some of the crappy imports do, but even really good beers use green bottles. A while ago, I got drunk and sent out a series of pedantic (but polite!) emails to a bunch of my favorite breweries that nevertheless use green bottles. I asked why they used the green bottles and if it had anything to do with cost, tradition, or marketing. I didn't get a response from Dupont, but Yuengling was very responsive and provided a very forthright and honest explanation:

Thanks for your recent inquiry regarding our usage of green glass.

We make 7 year round beer brands and 1 seasonal Bock Beer. Currently, 2 are offered in green glass.....Lager and Lord Chesterfield Ale. The others are in a standard brown.

Your questions are great...let me address a few as I go. First, green is definitely not less expensive. It's actually harder to source in the quantities we need.

Originally, when Dick Yuengling reintroduced Lager in 1987, he placed it in brown glass and had a very different label designed than what we know today. In the early 1990s he decided to redesign the packaging entirely.....he knew he had a great beer that was different than other full calorie beers on the market at the time. But the brown glass and original label just didn't make it look "special". It looked like every other beer on the market. There was no point of difference.

When the label was redesigned to what we know today, Dick also considered a change to green glass. First, no other domestic brand was in green. Miller High Life was in clear. So was MGD back then. But the "special" beers of that time were mainly imports. Becks, St Pauli, Lowenbrau, etc. All green glass.

So the shift to green was a marketing shift.....a point of difference for this special beer.

You are accurate....green is less protective of the product than brown. We have been working closely with our glass supplier who has developed a UV coating to apply to the outside of the bottle. This is in early stages of development. We are also considering a "high wall" six pack carrier to protect the bottles on the shelf. But there are also other packaging considerations to sort through. But the bottom line is that it's always a concern to protect the integrity of our products. Luckily, our Lager turns very quickly on the shelf so we rarely get complaints about this product. We do sometimes get off taste feedback on chesterfield ale, which we make good to our customers on a case by case basis.

With all that said, cans are actually the best vessel for packaged beer. Very many craft breweries are figuring that out now. Luckily nearly all of our brands are available in cans.

Thanks again for the email and for your support of our brewery!

Ah Marketing! The Alehead's worst enemy. It is funny because I've always noticed that I enjoy Lager the most out of the can or on tap, but until I started getting all beer nerdy, I never really put two and two together. Also, it's rather heartening to see that they're researching UV coatings for their beer, though I'm guessing it will be a while before that happens (and honestly, at this point, switching to brown bottles would probably be fine).

I'm still a little baffled when I see beers from Dupont or Fantôme in big green bottles though (even more confusing - Dupont sells smaller bottles of Saison Dupont that come in capped brown bottles!) During Philly Beer Week a while back, I asked an importer why so many good beers use green glass. He said he didn't know, but he always assumed it was tradition. I would bet marketing probably has more to do with it (especially given Yuengling's response), but I'll still be forever confused as to why a brewery with the reputation of Mikkeller would use green bottles for something (seriously, I just bought a bottle of Mikkeller barleywine, and it came in a green bottle).

Yuengling Bock

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I've long professed my love for Yuengling Lager. It's not a face-melting beer by any stretch of the imagination, but it's solid and dependable and locally ubiquitous. Over the year's I've tried most of their other beers - the porter, the black and tan, the premium lager, and various light varieties - but none of those really stick out. Then I see this new beer with a fancy vintage label design that I don't recognize. Yuengling makes a Bock? And it's a seasonal release? Wow, I had no idea.

Apparently this seasonal beer was once a staple release, but it hasn't been brewed for nearly 40 years. To celebrate Yuengling's 180th anniversary, they did a limited, keg-only release that was so popular that they decided to make it a regular thing. Since I was in the market for some non-face-melting beer to drink during my Lenten coke fasting, immediately picked up a sixer of this.

Yuengling Bock Beer

Isn't that label awesome? It's apparently based on artwork from the 1941 release. I love the Billy Goat, apparently a staple of Bock style labels (I'm sure I'll cover that convention at some other time). It pours a clear, dark brown color with a reddish tint and a small, tan head. As you'd expect, it smells malty, but not particularly fruity or sweet. The taste is not especially powerful, but there's some malty sweetness there, perhaps a tiny bit of roastiness, and it finishes a bit dry (though it's not really bitter). It's not dissimilar to a Scotch ale, though this isn't quite as impressive as the Scotch ales I've had lately. Mouthfeel is a bit on the thin side. It's very easy to drink and not disagreeable, but it's not particularly special either. A nice change of pace, but nothing that will unseat the mighty Lager. C+

Beer Nerd Details: 5.1% ABV bottled (12 oz). Drank from a tulip glass.

I suspect this is exactly what Yuengling was going for though, and I certainly wasn't expecting anything overly special, but it would be interesting to see what Yuengling could accomplish if they put their resources behind a more unique and powerful beer. I don't really expect that anytime soon though. Yuengling isn't a craft brewery, after all. But they're certainly better than other macros!

Yuengling Traditional Lager

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In Pennsylvania, if you want a Yuengling, all you need to do is ask for a "lager". This seems to amuse outsiders quite a bit, but for us, it's just normal. Yuengling is pretty much my default beer. It's available everywhere, it's dirt cheap, and it actually tastes good (a thousand times better than macro beers like Bud, Miller, etc...). I've drank so many of these that I don't know that I can really write a review, as its taste is pretty much hardwired into me. I take a sip, the muscle memory kicks in, and I grin. Does it knock my socks off like something out of a Trappist brewery? Well, no. But I can drink 6 of these without having to take out another mortgage. And I can actually find them in a bar. (I'll give it a B.)

Yuengling Poster

Once you leave PA, it doesn't seem anywhere near as ubiquitous, though everyone seems to enjoy it. Friends at school would often load up their cars on the way home, not just so they had their own secret stash, but because their pops wanted some too. (Of course, when the default beer at college is Natural Light, Yuengling actually does seem like some sort of Trappist rarity, but I digress.) There's something about the Yuengling brand that's just endearing. Perhaps it's the storied history - it is America's oldest continuously running brewery, after all. Or maybe it's just local pride. Whatever the case, it seems to strike a chord with people around here. Would it continue to do so if the brewery expanded their distribution?

A few years ago, Yuengling expanded their operation to Florida, effectively covering the entire east coast. I remember seeing it on tap in Florida once and being shocked (alas, they didn't quite have the "lager" lingo down, earning me a confused look from the bartender). I assume west coasters have never even heard of it. Well that will probably be changing soon:

Now, the fifth-generation brewing scion and sole owner is poised to make his riskiest move yet to expand the nation's oldest beer maker. Yuengling (pronounced ying-ling) announced last week that it signed a letter of intent to buy a former Coors brewery in Memphis, Tenn. The facility would be the Pennsylvania brewer's largest and could more than double the company's overall capacity and allow it to expand distribution into multiple states beyond its 13-state footprint in the Eastern U.S.
Will it make it all the way to the west coast? I wouldn't be surprised either way. The company is apparently quite conservative when it comes to expanding (which makes sense, considering their longstanding history), so maybe this will just be a mid-west thing. I'd be curious to see how west coasters like this beer though. The storied reputation in this area and limited distribution elsewhere could end up being its downfall if expectations get too high. In any case, if you've never heard of it and you start seeing it popping up, give it a shot. It's not liquid crack or a transcendent experience or anything, but it is a great session beer. (thanks to Jay for the link)

Update: Funnily enough, the beer nerds at BeerAdvocate call this an "American Amber / Red Lager". I just labeled it as a "lager" without even thinking. Heh. I was also expecting the judgement of the beer nerds to be a bit harsher, but a "B-" is probably about as good as I could ever hope for here.

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Hi, my name is Mark, and I like beer.

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