Today we raise a plastic stadium cup to the best cheap beer, or the cheapest good beer that I’ve ever seen – lager and porter made by Yuengling Brewing Company, which advertises itself as the oldest brewery in the US. If you’re a fan of historical brewing and you live in America, you can’t visit a tastier patch of living history without taking a long swim.
Some of you might complain that nobody who makes a ‘light’ beer deserves the extra three or four bucks that a lucrative Balloon Juice spot will scare up. Piffle. If it’s good enough to go in my fridge without embarrassment, and their lager and porter most definitely are, then it’s good enough to blog about. I haven’t tried their ale yet because I’ve only seen it in variety packs and I will draw the line at buying a variety case that includes light beer (at least they didn’t spell it ‘lite.’ ech.), but you can read what serious beer drinkers think of Yuengling’s products here. I’ve seen much more expensive beers get a much cooler reception.
Today’s non-beer alternative answers the question, where the heck was Tim F. for two weeks? The answer is that aside from the conference and drunken bouts of Battlefield Vietnam, Tim drove up to Napa with a friend from Sweden (FFS) and some new guy whom I’d never met (SNG). While the new guy meant that we couldn’t take FFS’s MR2 Spyder, making Tim somewhat grumpy, SNG turned out to practically have a PhD in Napaology. That last bit turned out to be crucial when circumstances left us with only an afternoon to work with, I knew next to nothing about CA wine and FFS thought that we should start with Mondavi.
Let’s get out of the way that I arrived bearing warnings about the California fruit bomb, a style whose exuberant fruit overwhelms what little tannins and acidity your average Napa red might have and gives the bottle a shelf life only slightly longer than a Beaujolais Nouveau. That proved fairly accurate for some wines that we tried, and at least a little accurate for most, with some spectacular exceptions. One winery that I’ll allow to go nameless decided for some ungodly reason to uncork a 1991 Cab for tasting. I had nightmares for a week.
Whites were overall passable, but not what I’d describe as subtle. Maybe someone can explain to me why they grow Sauvignon Blanc and Voignier rather than grapes that actually benefit from a sweet strength like Riesling and Gewurtz. I even passed on a late harvest bottle for what might be the first time ever because I thought the Sauvignon Blanc was already a bit on the sweet side, although it’s fairly well-regarded by reviewers.
However, everywhere we went had at least one standout wine that made it well worth the trip. Our first stop, Turnbull Wine Cellars, netted a Cabernet that I’d describe as rich and intense, with enough tannins to keep for a few years at least. Turnbull also hosts the world’s largest collection of art photography; take a minute to look around the tasting room and you’ll spot originals by Kertesz, Ansel Adams, Dianne Arbus, Man Ray and Paul Strand, among many others. A must-visit for photography buffs.
St. Supery posed the classic dilemma – what I loved I couldn’t afford, and what I could afford I didn’t love.
Their Dollarhide Ranch limited-edition Cab (2001) stands as one of the great reds that I have ever tried. Complex and deep, and keep it for as long as you damn well please. It’ll remain a pleasant memory until some generous benefactor decides that a front-page shout-out at Balloon Juice is worth $70 a bottle.
Rutherford Hill showed why it is that people grow the Merlot grape in the first place, and why hard-to-reach cellars with spectacular architecture can predispose people to like your stuff. Wine Enthusiast practically wrote their review of their 2001 Reserve in tongues (94). More impressive (thanks to SNG for pointing it out), their plain-jane Merlot is almost as good, and affordable enough for me to carry home a bottle, plus a surprisingly-subtle-for-California Petit Verdot.
It’s ok to drink Merlot. Seriously.
Freemark Abbey decided to hold a Christmas party rather than let us in, which SNG declared was a major loss on our part. Franciscan Winery offered some quality but not (in my opinion) memorable bottles; I carried home a 2003 Cab which I liked a bit better, surprisingly, than their custom-blended prestige label.
On the return we picked up a bottle of 2003 Merlot by Shafer Vineyards, which SNG insisted that I’d be absolutely crazy to miss. Will report back in a year or two whether he was right.
Tonight I have friends to visit and I am going to be unoriginal on the Scotch and Vodka (my two favorite alcohols) and running with Bowmore Islay (17y/o) and Grey Goose. One or two people were going to give Bowmore a try and I was curious to find out what they thought of it (aside from the price). I was hoping for the beer blog last week to inspire me to originality but I was disappointed. Reasons given are understandable. Nontheless, I was rendered rudderless.
Yuengling certainly is the best cheap beer I’ve ever had. It makes you appreciate Philly metro a little more–it’s on tap everywhere around here.
If you didn’t go hit up Grgich Hills, Tim, you really missed out.
My grandmother and grandfather on my mothers side were from the coal-cracker region of Northeast PA not far from where Yuengling is brewed, and their doctor actually told them that one bottle of Yuengling Porter a day was good for their heart.
They lived to 88 and 86 respectively, and while i’m not saying the Porter was the reason why, maybe he was onto something.
Of course, the problem for me would be stopping after one bottle, since i’ve probably had enough of them by the age of 33 to equal to one bottle a day until i’m 88, or more like 188.
Yuengling is pretty damn nice quaffing beer (says the biased Canadian chick). I had some for the first time last summer in a sweet little joint near Darien Lake NY and was pretty happy with it.
OTOH, the beer I associate most strongly with Pennsylvania is something I discovered when I was on a camping trip with friends near Pittsburgh *mumble* years ago. We went skinny dipping one afternoon and quickly came to the conclusion that the stuff in the “Red White and Blue” cans was probably just filtered river water.
Mary, if a fellow Canuck says it’s good beer, then that’s all the endorsement I need. :)
Tim, thank you for the lovely description of those wines…my mouth is watering.
BTW: what would you recommend (under $20, please), to go with Vietnamese/Thai fusion?
For good cheap beers, when I live in L.A., I used to drink a lot of Henry Weinhard’s. Now that I’m Chicago, that’s a role filled by Leinenkugels.
St. Supery? Rutherford? Turnbull?
Man… next time you come out, let us know. There’s so much to love in Napa, and those three are near the bottom of the list imho. So if you liked those, there’s a whole more for you to discover!
Beyond Grgich, which is indeed quite nice, there’s required visits to Plumpjack, Silver Oak, Duckhorn and Stag’s Leap. Pricey… yes, but required tasting. Then there’s the nice, more tempered prices of unique places like Casa Nuestra, Ehler’s Estate and Pina for out of the way wine only sold in Napa.
Heck, even Peju Province is better than Str. Supery (imho) when it comes to less expensive fare. And it was right next door. Finally of course, there’s V. Sattui and Oakville Grocery to browse on a whole vareity of wines from the region.
Ah well… make sure you get to the right spots next time! Even if you only have a short amount of time spend there.
Ah TimF, offering another entry all blog consumers can enjoy.
Phillip J. Birmingham
Yuengling is nothing to sneeze at, but for inexpensive regional beers, Leinenkugel’s from Chippewa Falls, WI gets my vote. A case used to ship with every Cray, if I remember correctly.
One winery that I’ll allow to go nameless decided for some ungodly reason to uncork a 1991 Cab for tasting. I had nightmares for a week.
That’s a shame… there are plenty of California Cabs that respond outstandingly to that much aging. The early-to-mid-’90s Opus One and Pahlmeyer I’ve had have been amazing. (The Pahlmeyer’s not sold as a Cab, but that’s the primary grape.)
J. Michael Neal
Leinie’s Original Lager only, I presume. All of the other Leinenkugel’s products (Honey Weiss and so on) are just expensive Miller products that rent the Leinie’s name.
The great thing about the upper Midwest (Minnesota and Wisconsin in particular) is that there are a number of good, cheap beers to pick from. Leinie. Grain Belt. Schell’s. Point. James Page. Pig’s Eye. I’m sure there are some other wisconsin ones I’m not familiar with.
And, we get some great premium beer at less than microbrew prices, most notably Summit. And the world’s best craft beer manufacturer is the Kalamazoo Brewing Company, whose products can now be found on tap in the Twin Cities.
It’s a fine place to be.
Spot on Tim…Yuengling is indeed the best lo-budget brew around. Also in that league of cheap but good brews is Saranac.
I really like the Yuengling Ale. This isn’t the cheapest beer, either. Most ales are heavy to me, but this one is more crisp. So it’s $5-6 per six pack. If you want to pay $7-9 per six of imports which are considered crap in their home country, go right ahead. Besides the turn of the last century (1900), this is the best time for beer drinkers. I can’t understand anyone drinking beer from a large brewery bacause of all of the quality small breweries. I’m in Sierra Vista, AZ and go to Trader Joes’s in Tucson for their in-house micro brew. It’s made for them by some brewery in Oregon and they have an excellent Bock, Heffeweizen, and two kinds of Lager; Vienna and Bohemian. Plus they are only $6!