Yuengling Traditional Lager, the flagship brew from America’s oldest operating brewery, has arrived in my hometown of Boston. And everyone is losing their goddamn minds about it.
I’m not here to rain on anyone’s parade or criticize anyone’s taste in beer, but I do not get the obsession with this beer. To quote my buddy Will from Deadspin and his ranking of 36 Cheap American Beers:
25. Yuengling. Why are people so into Yuengling? It’s quite popular among the Pennsylvania ex-pat community, which is odd given that the beer sucks and Pennsylvanians don’t strike me as an excessively prideful or self-important lot.
That might be slightly harsh – 2 kinds of Busch, 2 kinds of Natty and Milwaukee’s Beast (no typo) are all ranked better – but it’s not far from the truth. I once referred to Yuengling as the “beer that bros from Penn State drink when nana put an extra fiver in their care package and they feel like splurging.” I’m assuming a lot of mine (and Will’s) vitriol stems from the zealous fervor surrounding what is – if we’re being a honest – a fair-to-middling beer.
My theory on Yuengling is that its popularity is due in large part to kids who went to college in the Mid-Atlantic area and could get Yuengling for a few bucks more than Bud/Miller/Coors or any of their lesser cousins (Natty, Busch, Icehouse, Beast, etc). Going to college in Vermont, I had the same affinity towards Labatt Blue (though I probably paid a tinge more, what with importing costs and whatnot). It’s not that these beers are any better than Bud/Miller/Coors (though, subjectively, they are), but more that they simply aren’t Bud, Miller or Coors.
I was a loose cannon for drinking Coors Original; a decision I made purely out of a desire to be different and because no one steal a beer that smells like piss. Which leads me to another point: college kids are no good crooks. No one keeps tabs on how many Bud Lights are in the fridge, so if you put your 30-rack in there, hey man, it’s fair game. You toss a sixer of Yuengling in there, and you’re the guy who brought the fancy beer and you know exactly how many of them you’ve had. It becomes a financially prudent decision.
Because when you’re paying $50,000 a year for college, you don’t want anyone taking your $0.86 beer, bro.
And of course the biggest draw for Yuengling was that you couldn’t get it. DG didn’t distribute to New England (and much of the rest of the country) until now. People often ask with beers like Heady Topper, Pliny the Younger, or Kate the Great if they are as good as their hype, or if it is just a matter of scarcity. Well, Heady Topper is still my favorite beer, and usually get to have 3-5 cans a year despite its scarcity, so the answer to that question is a rousing “it depends.” I think Yuengling isn’t as good as these “white whale” beers, and I believe that the wide distribution will ultimately prove that it isn’t as good as people remember it.
Nostalgia is a powerful thing. My favorite beer in college was Switchback Ale. I went back to Burlington, VT not too long ago, singing the praises of Switchback and dying to have my first pint since college. In the years since college, I got into craft beer, and my palette became more refined. So when I had a pint at Manhattan Pizza (related: I remember their pizza and wings being much better), I was really disappointed*. And I think a lot of people in my age who have expanded their best tastes since college will have the same reaction to Yuengling.
Look – if you like Yuengling, that’s awesome. I like Yuengling. I don’t love it, I don’t understand the massive love for it, but I’m certainly not turning down a pint of it. My point in all this rambling isn’t that Yuengling isn’t a good beer or that people who like it are saps. Not at all. My point is that if you’re a regular craft beer person (and if you’re reading this blog, you probably are), you should expect that Yuengling won’t be the beer you remember from college (or whenever). And if you’re a Bud/Miller/Coors drinker, but love Yuengling… maybe it is time for you to venture (or take a second look) into that equal parts scary and pretentious world of craft beer.
And if you still think I’m wrong about Yuengling, well… you can always buy me a pint and try to prove me wrong. Like I said, I wouldn’t turn it down.
* In the interest of full-disclosure and in fairness to fine folks at Switchback, I heard later that there was some kerfuffle over watered-down beers at Manhattan. I haven’t had a chance to try a Switchback on draft or in bottles (new for them) since then, but I resolve to return to my old stand-by with an open mind and a fairer expectation level.