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Sep 20, 2014

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American Beer Month: 2000 Tasting
Goot Pennsylvania Dutch bier

by Lew Bryson

Lew Bryson, who quite obviously lives in Pennsylvania, leads this tasting. He writes about beer for Malt Advocate and Ale Street News. His Pennsylvania Breweries is a best of breed book.

Hey now! Velcome to Pennsylvania Dutch Bier Country! Sit down vunst und get some goot Cherman biers, brewed right here in der Commonvealth. Ve got some Ying-ling, some Schtoudt's, some Penn, und a real big vun from der boys down to Wictory! Get vat you vant out from der icebox, and ve'll trink some vunst.

Whew! I grew up with that kind of talk in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. When I moved away in 1985, the best beer you could find there were the two porters from Yuengling and The Lion. But boy, when I moved back in 1991, things were changing. Now we have some of the finest German-style microbrewers in the country, and Yuengling, the nation's oldest brewery, is going like a house afire: 400% growth in the 1990s, with no signs of slowing down.

I picked out four of the best, though that doesn't even touch the Keystone State's fine ale brewers like Yards, Tröegs, Weyerbacher, and Appalachian. I went roots on this; my family's German-American back to before the Revolution, and that's the kind of beer we've got. Grab one you like and taste along with me!

Yuengling Lord Chesterfield Ale - The engines that have powered the meteoric Yuengling Miracle are the Traditional Lager and Premium, and they're pretty standard fare. But the beers that budding PA beer geeks looked for in the 1980s were Yuengling's Porter and Lord Chesterfield Ale. Both lager-brewed, they are definitely not mainstream beers. Chet Ale is the hoppiest brand of Vitamin Y made, and you whiff it as soon as you pop the cap on one of these green beauties.

Chet's bright gold in color, not piss-yellow, a real pilsner gold with a bright white head. You'll get a brief skunky whiff; let it sit a minute and it will clear if you don't have a light-struck bottle. What's left is a clean aroma of pale malt and a light grassiness. The beer has a surprising amount of body, and real hops. You can feel the bitter underpull of the hops as it tows you right into the finish. Chet Ale is quite close to some homebrewed "Pre-Prohibition Pilsners" I've had. There's corn here, yes, but the hops and body make for a real good beer. Yuengling's always been more than just another regional beer factory; beers like this are the reason.

Stoudt's Pils - Carol Stoudt tells me that this is her favorite of the beers she brews. It is her frustrating cross to bear that it is nowhere near her best-seller. I can understand both sides of the story. It is a great, delicious beer, but it's much more subtle and delicate than most of the wowser beers that draw the attraction of beer-lovers. Time may tell.

The Pils pours a brassy gold with a fine white head, clouds of Saaz hop aroma blowing off it like ice off the crest of Everest. Brisk, almost fruity, softly malty, evenly hoppy, but at no place overwhelming, this is all-day beer. The only place the hops show their edge is in the long, relentless finish that is an on-and-on of moderate, pleasant bitterness. Very soft and unassuming up front, it gains interest as it goes in classic Bohemian pils style, like a stream down a mountain. Ahhh, if the GABF were worth a tinker's damn, this beer would medal every year.

Penn Weizen - Penn is an oddly under-recognized brewery. They are the largest micro in PA by far at over 22,000 bbls yearly production, yet they are almost unknown outside of Pittsburgh. Let's start changing that tonight. Penn Weizen is one of the very best American-brewed examples of a true Bavarian-type hefeweizen, and you should try hard to find some.

If properly prepared, the bottle gently twirled to loosen the yeast, it pours like the milky sap of some exotic plant; gold, apricot, a blush of orange-pink, all beclouded and roiling. There is a brief push of sulfur at opening that dissipates quickly to leave a blended nose of plum, clove, cinnamon, and tart berry with little of the more familiar banana or bubble gum aromas. The head is towering, solid, malleable and moldable. Oh, this is a smooth, soothing mouthful. The aromas carry through their promise with a medium-full feel, refreshing and zesty. This cries out for bread, fruit, pretzels. Mmmm... Some beers taste like more. Penn Weizen tastes like... about three more.

Victory St. Boisterous Hellerbock - This is Fat Beer. Light beer kind of pre-supposes heavy beer, somewhere out there, and Budweiser sure isn't it. This is. The boys at Victory are the Masters of Malt, who put a big sled of malt under almost all their beers. St. Boisterous is the beer that looked at the malt menu and said "Yeah, I'll take that. All of it." Fat Beer.

It's got a big fat head, creamy white, with good hang time. The color is solid gold washed with a coppery tint, and you can smell the malt from a foot and a half away. It smells fresh, a touch of mild orange candy, like just-torn-open fresh bread, cooled but still moist. The taste is all malt with very little hop at all. Who needs it? The malt is intense, and curling in five different directions. It pulls like taffy with a fullness like that of the heartiest doublebock, yet has an almost citric tang. The ethanol afterburner kicks in on the finish, lightening the beer's sweetness and tapering up to a curiously light invitation to dance some more. Dance, Fat Beer, dance.

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