Monday, August 11, 2008

What’ll you have?

There’s a very interesting article over at that focuses on a vitally important issue facing Americans today: And the next great American beer will be…? Since Anheiser-Busch’s sale to Belgian beverage giant InBev, there’s been a lot of speculation as to which U.S. brand of brewski can replace Budweiser as the best classic domestic beer. Pabst Blue Ribbon, according to author Edward McClelland, would seem to have the inside dope:

Since the beginning of this decade, Pabst Blue Ribbon's audience has changed from old guys with refrigerators in their garages to arty young urbanites. An unexceptional and declining brand, a former top-three beer turned redneck also-ran, Pabst reinvented itself as the coolest of brews in a movement that began in a Portland, Ore., dive bar and spread to indie-rock shows across the country. But now Pabst is trying to move on from its success with hipsters to conquer a far larger and very different demographic: all-American beer drinkers alienated by Anheuser-Busch's sale to a Belgian corporation. In its campaign to snatch Budweiser's title of Great American Lager, Pabst is already employing the kind of slick, misleading marketing that's bound to turn off hipsters who've embraced it as the anti-Bud. It may be exactly the right move.

"Pabst Brewing Company will be the last of the famous iconic U.S. brewers to be fully independent and American-owned," the company gloats on its Web site. "Most of our brands ... have been around since the 1800's."

In an online survey, Pabst asked customers this question: "Would information about Pabst's American ownership on packaging, like bottles or cans, impact your decision to purchase our products?"

If it does, they're either chumps, or they're already drunk. First, Pabst isn't even a brewer. It closed its Milwaukee brewery in 1996, and now does business out of an office in suburban Chicago. Second, its beers aren't made in American-owned breweries. Pabst farms out production of its brands to Miller -- which belongs to a South African corporation.

So what beer is tabbed as “the Next Great American Lager” by McClelland and the Salon crew?

Yuengling. Yuengling has been making beer in Pottsville, Pa., since 1829. It's the oldest brewery in the United States. After all these years, it's still owned by a guy named Yuengling, and he intends to keep it.

"We just never chose to divest ourselves of it," said Dick Yuengling Jr. Yuengling has been courted by beer-making giants, but selling out would mean closing the brewery, and "there's not a lot of employment here. We're loyal to the area."

Yuengling is also cheap. You can get a case of premium for $14.35 at Riverside Beverages in Pottsville. (But hurry. That's a sale price.)

I have only one reservation about handing this crown to Yuengling. I've never had a Yuengling. The beer is available in only 10 states: Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Delaware, Maryland, Washington, D.C., Virginia, North Carolina, Florida, South Carolina and Alabama. To verify Yuengling's quality, I called a friend who used to tend bar in the mountains of central Pennsylvania.

"It's a little richer and deeper than Bud or Coors," he said. "It's got a little more body. It's halfway between a craft beer and a production beer. It's still a lager, so it's got that crisp, uni-dimensional taste. I'd drink a Yuengling before I'd drink a Bud or a Miller or a Busch."

I got a tremendous kick out of reading this, primarily because my mother loves Yuengling. (She almost went into a coma when I informed her that I saw Senator Barack Obama chugging it during a photo-op in PA.) She gets a little perturbed when people refer to it as a cheap beer (“It’s not that cheap”) but she pays a bit more for it because she had to frequently cross over to SC to get the stuff. Personally, I’ve tried Yuengling and it’s not a bad little brew (I prefer Rolling Rock, to be honest—which definitely ain’t cheap) but I can safely stay out of the fray since I have no dog in this fight.

This article is complemented by “an incomplete, biased guide to this great piss-beer nation” that lists a fistful of cheap brews across the great land of ours—many of which I haven’t thought of years and a goodly percentage are either extinct or owned by Pabst. So, if you’re looking to reminisce over the past glories of “favorite legal beverages” like Narragansett (“Hi, neighbor—have a ‘Gansett!”), Genesse Cream Ale, National Bohemian, Iron City, Stroh’s (my college pal Mike Hart’s brew of choice), Falls City, Old Milwaukee, Milwaukee’s Best (“The Beast!”), Schlitz, Hamm’s, Falstaff, Lone Star, Pearl and Olympia—check out this article; it’ll fill you with nostalgia…followed by a unslakable thirst.


Anonymous said...

When it comes to Yuengling, I grew up on the wrong side of Pennsylvania. I left Pittsburgh in 1977 and they had yet to pour their first glass of Yuengling in Western PA.

I can't remember when I was back in my home town and one of my friends suggested I try a glass of the brew. It's been my favorite ever since. Whenever I'm anywhere close to the Carolinas, I cross the border and stock up.

I've communicated with the brewers in Potsville. They assure me that once they get enough production facilities in the southeast, they will begin marketing here in Georgia.

I can't wait!

Jim -

Ivan G. Shreve, Jr. said...

They assure me that once they get enough production facilities in the southeast, they will begin marketing here in Georgia.

Thanks for the inside dope, Jim. You just made my mother's day.

It does seem a little odd re: their distribution--they sell in NC, DC, FL and AL...we couldn't figure out how they managed to skip the Peach State.

Pam said...

Genny Creme Ale!! That's from my original neck of the woods. I didn't know it was still around. Even as a child I remember Genny had the reputation as being the horrible cheap stuff. I do seem to recall that the Genesee brewery had a higher level beer ... Black Horse or Black Label or Black Something. I'm not a beer drinker (and never have been), but it was a staple on television and in stores when I was growing up. As was Utica Club (the beer of Schultz and Dooley) and the now defunct Koch's (which was brewed down the road from my college). If memory serves, Genny Creme Ale was considered the good stuff compared to Koch's.

Anonymous said...

Genesee's premium was 12 Horse Ale.


VP81955 said...

Pam, as a native Syracusan, I well remember Schultz and Dooley and those charming Utica Club commercials (the upstate equivalent of Bert and Harry Piels). In fact, I've visited the Matt's brewery twice -- once as a child with my family in the mid-sixties, then again in the mid-eighties on a side trip to Cooperstown. I live in Virginia now and so don't get much of a chance to drink Utica Club, but the few times I do, it's still satisfying.

comicsnstories said...

Currently at my bar of choice, where my pals play music (Northside Tavern in Cincinnati. See, I enjoy the PBR because it's only $2 a bottle. I used to drink Lone Star when it was $1.75 a bottle, but now it's $2.75 (same as any other domestic) and for just a quarter more, I can drink Great Lakes Elliot Ness. I do really like Yuengling though, and wish that I could get it around here and not just when I go to Pittsburgh to visit my wife's family.

Ivan G. Shreve, Jr. said...

I was in an Athens bar sometime in the latter part of April, and the only beer on the menu that I recognized was PBR. I couldn't figure out why they were selling it there--so the Salon article kind of put that into perspective for me.