Joe Sixpack | In
Philly, lager means Yuengling
NOT THAT IT matters
around here, but there are about a thousand different lagers in the
of course. And bock and porter and Oktoberfest and dunkel and helles
and Dortmunder. Budweiser's a lager, and so are Coors, Miller, Genesee,
Stroh's, Rolling Rock, PBR and Schmidt's. Same with most popular imports
- Heineken, Labatt's, Beck's, Harp, Corona, Tecate, Dos Equis are all
lagers. And so are some of the more obscure labels, like Aass and Czechvar
and Schlenkerta Rauchbier.
Basically, any beer
made with yeast that ferments at a relatively cool temperature at the
bottom (not the top) of the vat is a lager. Most everything else is
Hell, even light
beer is lager.
There are a thousand
different lagers out there. But in the city that practically invented
the American version of this popular beer, lager means only one thing:
Yuengling Traditional Lager. Belly up to almost any bar in Philadelphia
and say "lager," and the bartender'll pour you Yuengling.
Somehow the Pottsville,
Pa., brewery - America's oldest - has made the world's most popular
style of beer its own. Not just in Philadelphia, but increasingly in
joints from New York to the Carolinas, lager equals Yuengling.
knows what it means," said Chris Bass of Ye Olde Ale House in Lafayette
Hill. "I've got dozens of different lagers. I have talks with my
staff, I try to educate them on the difference between all these beers.
"But it doesn't
matter, because when someone asks for a lager, they mean Yuengling."
Experts - which
is to say, beer-drinkers and bartenders - are uncertain about the reason
behind the phenomenon.
Maybe it's the difficulty
of pronouncing Yuengling (it's Ying-ling). Or maybe most drinkers just
aren't aware that lager is a type of beer, not a name; in any case,
they wouldn't know the difference.
Regarded as an el-cheapo,
coal-region brew, the Yuengling label was a regional favorite for most
of its history, thanks to its Black & Tan, Porter and Premium (known
by diehards as "Vitamin Y").
It wasn't till 1988,
with the introduction of its more costly Yuengling Lager (about $4 a
case more than its other labels), that the brewery went head to head
with the big boys from St. Louis.
From the start,
said Yuengling veep Dave Casinelli, the brewery made a conscious decision
to promote the "lager" name. "It was a way to segment
ourselves from the competition, to tell consumers we were different,"
Casinelli said. "We even printed the word 'lager' in bolder type."
But not even Yuengling
thought it would come to define an entire beer style. "Bar owners
and waitresses deserve more of the credit than us," Casinelli said.
"They kind of promoted that product for us."
Maybe, but that
doesn't answer why the name was adopted by an entire city.
traveling-dart-league research," said Mike (Scoats) Scotese, who
owns Mayfair's Grey Lodge Pub, "it seems to be true everywhere
In an essay he wrote
at BeerPhiladelphia.com, Scoats wondered, "Can you think of another
product that became synonymous with a generic term hundreds of years
after the origination of that term?"
Usually, he noted,
it's the opposite - the trade name becomes generic, like Xerox or Kleenex.
In bars, it's unheard
of. Brewers and distillers spend millions to advertise their names.
They don't want you to ask for rum - they want you to say "Bacardi."
Imagine if, every
time you asked for a vodka, you got Stoli. That only happens in Russia,
In America, land
of a million choices, even if you ask for a stinkin' cola, the waitress
says "Coke or Pepsi?"
In a world with
a thousand different lagers, or in a bar with a dozen different tap
handles, that simple word - lager - may be one of the greatest marketing
advantages ever bestowed on an alcoholic beverage.
"It's a phenomenon
that's unbelievable and very fortunate," said Mike Kugler, a marketing
manager at Yuengling's Philadelphia distributor, Origlio Beverage. "After
all, Coors and Bud are lagers, too."
Kugler sold Budweiser. "That lager thing would frustrate the hell
out of us," he said. "A couple years ago, Bud tried to get
bartenders to say, 'You mean a Bud lager?' "
"Imitation is the sincerest form of competition, and our competitors
are jumping on the bandwagon."
Coors Extra Gold
changed its label a couple years ago to include the world "lager."
For a while, Budweiser called itself "Pennsylvania's lager."
Casinelli remembers walking into a distributor and seeing a pallet of
Michelob with an advertising card that said, "Compare to Yuengling."
world's largest brewer comparing itself to us," Casinelli said,
laughing. "Augie Busch must be turning over in his grave."
- a brewery that accounts for one out of every two beers consumed in
America, a company whose most recognizable product, Bud, can be uttered
by a monosyllabic knuckle-dragger - is in a neck-to-neck race with Yuengling
come in from other parts of the country and spend any time in Philly
are amazed," he continued. "They say, 'Wait a second, anything
can be lager.' But this is Yuengling country."
Still, it's only
a small slice of the beer world. Outside of the east, Yuengling is just
a funny name. When I asked Don Younger, who runs the popular Horse Brass
Pub in Portland, Ore., what people get when they ask for lager, he said,
Yuengling is growing,
though. By the end of the year, it'll probably be the nation's fifth-largest
brewery, thanks to double-digit growth (overall, the industry is stagnant).
A-B still sells 100 times more beer, but Yuengling is broadening its
"We just opened
in the Raleigh-Durham [North Carolina] area six weeks ago, and it's
already catching on down there," said Casinelli. "People just
say 'lager.' I was blown away."
by Staff Writer Don Russell, was written this week with Victory All
Malt Lager. He appears every other week in Big Fat Friday. Contact him
at the Daily News, Box 7788, Philadelphia, PA 19101, or via e-mail:
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