Sunday, August 31, 2008

Beer of the Week: Yuengling Original Black & Tan

I tried several new beers on our recent trip to Holden Beach. The best, and most notable, of these was the pint of the Duck Rabbit's Milk Stout that I had in the hotel bar in Chapel Hill while I was sulking about not being able to make it to the Carolina Brewery. The most interesting, however, might have been the Yuengling Original Black & Tan, a pre-blended packaged beer (more on what that means later).

Yuengling, which traces its history back to 1829, advertises itself as the oldest brewery in America, and I won't argue with that. Based out of Pottsville, PA, it is now - after the InBev acquisition of Anheuser-Busch - the second-largest domestically-owned brewery in the US, behind only Boston Beer Co. (of Samuel Adams fame).

The Black & Tan is one of seven different beers offered by Yuengling, though as noted above it is a blended beer rather than a discrete beer in and of itself. Traditionally a Black & Tan is one of many different blends that a bartender might offer, a mixture of a dark ale (a stout or a porter) and either a pale ale or a lager. Now companies like Yuengling are offering pre-blended beers in bottles, mixed at the brewery rather than your local pub, and for sale in your friendly neighborhood grocery of liquor store. (For a comprehensive list of the various Black & Tans now available pre-blended, and consumer reviews of them, see here.)

I picked up a six-pack of Yuengling Original Black & Tan at the beach mart on the island at Holden Beach, and I did it for three reasons. First, staying with our extended family (with my lager-loving father as the other main beer drinker) I was really jonesin' for a dark beer. Second, the Yuengling Black & Tan was one of only two dark ales available on the island. The other was the perfectly safe but thoroughly unexciting Newcastle Brown Ale.

Now there's absolutely nothing wrong with a Newcastle Brown Ale. It is perfectly drinkable, with a nice, smooth flavor. In fact, when I'm out in what my family politely calls "normal" places (that is, away from those fine establishments that cater to beer geeks) either it or a Guinness is my default beer. But I've had it a time or two. I know exactly what it will do for me. Safe, sure. But what about romance? What about variety? What about the thrill of the unknown.

For me, at least, the Yuengling Original Black & Tan was a thoroughly unknown quantity. Thus it had to be tried. It just begged me to buy it.

That begging was most successful because of the third reason I picked it up: the price tag. At a svelte $5.49 for a six-pack, I simply couldn't resist.

The Yuengling Original Black & Tan is a blend of their Dark Brewed Porter and their Yuengling Premium Beer, a pilsner. It is dark - almost black, like a porter - and has a robust head when poured. It smells a great deal sweeter than a porter, and for good reason: it isn't one. Also, while it has the roasted, almost burnt, malty flavor of a porter, with hints of dark chocolate, it goes down a fair amount smoother, and is less complex. The pilsner mellows out the aggression of the porter.

As a fan of rich, complex, almost abrasive dark ales, I wasn't quite sure what to make of this Black & Tan. At first it struck me as a porter that lost its nerve. But then I realized that I was judging it unfairly. As I've noted a few times, it isn't a porter. I keep pointing that out because several of the reviews a the Beer Advocate made the mistake of judging it as such. It is a blend of a porter and a pilsner.

As I'm typing this (Saturday night, though this won't post until Sunday morning) I'm finally polishing off the last of the six-pack I bought at the beach, and I'm still not sure how I feel about it. It is a more-than-drinkable beer, at an exceptional price. But I've never been a fan of blended beers, and this is no exception. Worth the money, no doubt, but - despite the fact that I bought it expressly for this purpose - there's no real romance. Just a decent beer at a cheap price.

The price-point, in fact, is ultimately the real selling point. I'd certainly rather drink this than a macro-lager, and they are comparably priced.


Anonymous said...

I had quite a bit of Yuengling while I was a graduate student at Penn State. (Actually, since I didn't drink beer until I started graduate school, I believe that my first beer was a Yuengling lager.) I have decent memories of it, but I can't say that it's the sort of beer I would go and tell people they MUST try. Like sticky buns at the Diner at Penn State, it's the sort of thing that I will always associate with Central PA.

Sandalstraps said...

Yuengling showed up in last week's TMQ (Tuesday Morning Quarterback, the football column written by economist Gregg Easterbrook, whose work has shown up here a few times). Of Yuengling, Easterbrook writes:

Last week, lamenting that Anheuser-Busch was sold to the sinister Belgians, I said the nearly as sinister Canadians now own Coors and Miller. Many readers including Sarah Kollar of Burnaby, British Columbia, pointed out that while Canada's Molson bought Coors, Miller was acquired by South African Breweries, which renamed itself SABMiller. The confusion stems from MillerCoors, a new joint venture run by Molson. MillerCoors now markets all Miller, Coors and Molson products in the United States, on the theory that such clout is needed to compete with mighty Anheuser-Busch, whose stable of beers -- many of which I've heard of but never seen for retail sale -- is inventoried here. All this means that when you go to a supermarket or convenience store to buy beer, what's happening behind the scenes is war between Belgians and Canadians! Reader Matt Northey of Hazleton, Pa., notes that if you want to drink American, at this point America's two largest beer companies are Boston Brewing, which makes Sam Adams, and Yuengling, which is in my fridge at the moment. Northey recommends Yuengling's Chesterfield Ale.

Me, I'd recommend the Sam Adams, though Yuengling isn't bad. The first beer I really liked was a Samuel Adams Honey Porter.