Monday, December 10, 2012

National Lager Day

December 10th is National Lager Day, another one of the random "Hallmark holidays" for beer lovers. [1] I celebrated with a couple Yuengling Traditional Lagers at our favorite local restaurant, The Conewago Inn, or as my wife and I like to call it, "The Inn". If you ask me, there is nothing more "American" than enjoying a classic, time-tested Yuengling brew. In this area, a "Yuengling Lager" is such a standard that you don't have to ask for it by name; you simply ask for a "lager". I like that.

In honor of Lager Day, I'm going to share a few tidbits about the tour of Yuengling's Pottsville, PA brewery that my wife, Diana, treated me to as an anniversary gift one year. (Yes, I know - my wife rocks!)

Front of the brewery. That's Diana at the bottom left.
Established in 1829, Yuengling is America's oldest brewery. It is a 5th generation family-owned operation. The tour guide told us that the current owner, Dick Yuengling, is grooming his daughters to be the 6th generation of owners. Pretty cool stuff.

Here's a picture of the guy that writes this blog
Yuengling also has a brewery in Tampa, Florida (we didn't get a chance to tour the Tampa facility that day...). I'm fairly convinced that they opened the Tampa location for the older Pennsylvanians who retire to Florida or at least spend their winters there. Makes it easy to find their favorite lager. Okay, you got me; that's pure speculation on my part. At any rate, Yuengling is obviously doing something right, because they have continued to exhibit steady growth over the years.

Part of the bottling line
The brewery is in an old building that was obviously not set up with lean systems in mind. First of all, the brewery is situated in a multi-story building, so it is more difficult to complete the manufacturing process. Also, the building is old so things are much more "cramped". I suppose people must have been shorter and smaller back in the day, because it seems like old buildings are always so much more compact than the buildings of today.

Old buildings are often not without opulence.
Here's a stained glass ceiling in one area of the brewery.
It's amazing what you can do in a small space though, because Yuengling produces 2.5 million barrels [2] of beer annually. Google's conversion calculator tells me that's 630 million pints! But compared with the big boys of brewing like AB InBev's Anheuser Busch, Yuengling is tiny [3]. I'm having trouble finding production numbers for comparison at the moment, so I'll go the other way. Compared with many other microbreweries, Yuengling is big! Consider that Dogfish Head Craft Brewery only produces 75,000 barrels a year. Also consider that when Tröegs moved from Harrisburg to Hershey, they planned to double production to 60,000 barrels a year.

Kegs in the cellar / conditioning area
Wrapping up now, the coolest thing about Yuengling was that you could tell it was steeped in tradition and rich in history. The tasting room at the end of the tour had an awesome old bar. The cellar where they condition the beer still had evidence of the Prohibition years [4]. In fact, there were still portions of the brick wall that government officials had erected in an effort to keep people from accessing the cellar, thereby effectively eliminating any chance of making beer.

Yuengling tasting room bar
(Photo courtesy of http://goo.gl/Oz9F6)
I very much enjoyed taking it all in. If you live within a few hours driving distance of Pottsville, I highly recommend making the trip to Yuengling for a tour.

I hope that you enjoyed this National Lager Day by celebrating with your own favorite lager. Thanks for reading, and as always, prost!

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Footnotes:
[1] Wow, that opening line was extremely reminiscent of the beginning of my last post. I really gotta get a new hook...or blog more frequently than once a month!
[2] The unit "barrels" is abbreviated as "bbl", but I didn't use it here because I'm not sure how many people are familiar with that abbreviation. Also, I think it's silly that the abbreviation has two Bs. Here's an interesting article that tells where that second B comes from: http://goo.gl/kSLin.
[3] Even so, the Brewer's Association does not consider Yuengling to be a craft brewery because they do not meet the third of three criteria. A craft brewery must be 1) small, 2) independent, and 3) traditional. Even though Yuengling is not considered to be a craft brewery, they are a microbrewery.
[4] On December 5th, we just celebrated the 79th anniversary of the repeal of Prohibition, aka Repeal Day.