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Published: 11/8/2011 - Updated: 2 years ago

Yuengling leaves 'em foaming

BY DANIEL NEMAN
BLADE FOOD EDITOR

Well, that could have gone better.

For months, we’ve been hearing that Yuengling beers would be coming to town on Oct. 31. The popular beer from Pennsylvania — it’s America’s oldest brewery, you know — had never before been available in Ohio. Finally, they were coming after 182 years.

Make that 182 years and two weeks. All of the stores and a lot of the bars in town will not be getting the pride of Pottsville, Penn., until Nov. 14, though some select bars in the area have it on tap now.

What happened? According to Larry Munshower, the state manager of Yuengling for Ohio, the roll-out was a victim of its own success. The eastern half of the state got the beer as scheduled on Oct. 1. And it was so spectacularly popular, so vastly exceeding the brewery’s expectations, that the company started running out of things to put the beer in. They have plenty of beer, Mr. Munshower said, but they needed extra time to order more bottles and kegs.

It’s just two weeks, but the delay is only adding to the Yuengling-mania. There was already a fevered fascination with the stuff, and now it has only become worse.

All of this sturm, all of this drang, all of this angst, and it’s only about beer. Just water, barley, hops, yeast, and corn.

Yes, beer purists, Yuengling is brewed with corn. That means it would never pass the Reinheitsgebot, the strict German Beer Purity Law, but the corn does impart a certain smoothness and unique flavor that makes the brew so popular and so widely desired.

Until now, whenever someone from the area headed east for a few days, he was inevitably asked to bring back a six-pack of Yuengling, or a case. I brought a 12-pack to a friend once myself, as a gift. He was most appreciative.

But let’s be serious: It’s only Yuengling. People around here have been acting as if this were the second coming of beer, as if it were perfection in a bottle.

When I lived in Virginia, Yuengling was my go-to beer, the brew I would keep in the fridge when I wanted to wash down a sandwich or to bring to a poker game or a chili party. At the ballpark, it was my beer of choice even though it was a little more expensive and it meant standing in a separate line after I got my burger.

But if I wanted something special, I always turned elsewhere. They cost more, but beers that were hoppier made me happier.

Ohio’s reaction to the news that Yuengling was coming here — and the reaction of Michiganders poised at the border, ready to swoop down and buy cases of the stuff — reminds me of a similar beer frenzy in the 1980s, when Coors began expanding beyond its regional distribution around Colorado. That beer had a following that was almost like a cult, and had serious beer drinkers around the country clamoring for it.

Remember the 1977 movie Smokey and the Bandit? Do you recall the contraband that Jerry Reed was hauling in his truck? It was a load of Coors.

Finally, and after much hoopla, the brand came to the whole country, and everyone got to try it. And they found out that it was … just Coors. Neither particularly better nor particularly worse than any of the other mass-produced American beers, and certainly not worth the hype.

My fear, based on no evidence whatsoever, is that local stores might notice all the pent-up demand and price Yuengling like a premium beer. It’s good, but if it goes above six bucks for a six-pack I’ll stick with Buckeye and Labatt for my go-to brews.

Meanwhile, in the rush to get Yuengling, don’t overlook the Irish cream ale Kilkenny, which also recently entered the local market. It’s creamy, full-bodied, and smooth as only beers that are brought to the tap with nitrogen can be. It’s a special-occasion beer and it costs more, but it is worth every penny.

Yuengling is excellent. But Kilkenny is amazing.

Contact Daniel Neman at dneman@theblade.com or 419-724-6155.



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