Pennsylvania seems like a pretty OK state, and I say this as someone whose only firsthand experience comes from sharing bleacher space with Philadelphia sports fans. Sure, that was repulsive, and there have been some other notable social and cultural failures over the years—the MOVE bombing, the Santorum era, the various fracking debacles—but on the whole I'd say the place has brought the rest of the nation at least as much joy as it has pain.
The Scrapple State has given us Tina Fey and Mister Rogers, the Curtis Institute and the cheesesteak, August Wilson and Joan Jett. Sometimes it manages not to fuck up its outsized role in national elections. French fries as a condiment? Not my bag, but I get the appeal. Pennsylvania is all right.
But it will never be an elite state until it gets over its Yuengling obsession. That shit is terrible. There are objectively worse beers on the planet—Heineken, Bud Light, any decent-but-not-great beer you drink while getting hit by a car—but none that enjoy such a slavish devotion. (We've covered the concept of devotion versus raw sales figures before: Tons of people buy Bud Light, but none of them are willing to fight you for its honor.)
I understand the manner in which nostalgia and hometown pride can enrich our drinking experiences. I probably overestimate Narragansett, which was never even made in my home state ('Gansett was born in Rhode Island, I in Massachusetts) before it decamped for upstate New York; when I wrote about PBR last week, several Baltimorians pointed out that it's locked in a local turf war with their recklessly beloved National Bohemian. And when I finally make it to Wrigley Field, I have no doubt I'll talk myself into loving Old Style for one gloriously deluded afternoon.
The difference between the aforementioned comfort brews and Pennsylvania's liquid scourge is that Yuenglingistas actually think their beer is objectively good. They are mistaken. This would be a harmless bit of shortsighted homerism if it weren't for Yuengling's determination to infect the rest of our mouths, too. The brewery's expansionist agenda and army of tongue-dead zombies makes Yuengling Traditional Lager dangerous.
Earlier this year, Yuengling returned to the Massachusetts market for the first time in two decades. They promoted the hell out of it and made a big splash early—helped by a huge marketing budget and the disconcerting fact that evidently three-fourths of the planet's adults either attended Penn State or wish they had—and then started to fade away. America's oldest brewery tried to blame the slump on the parochialism of the Massachusetts market, and indeed it's very true that we can be petty, insular fuckheads, but that hasn't stopped Pennsylvania's legitimately excellent breweries, such as Tröegs and Victory, from making major inroads here. Whereas Yuengling sales have slowed down in Massachusetts because now that they've bought all the tap lines and given away all the pint glasses and thrown all the parties, we've actually had a chance to drink it enough to realize it sucks.
Yuengling Lager's initial appeal to the unbiased drinker is its appearance: The amber color distinguishes it from the fizzy yellow bullshit we've come to expect from both the national macro lagers that we hate and the regional heritage beers that we make excuses for. It smells a bit different, too—the malt leans more toward sweet caramel than the stale biscuits we're used to in this class. But there's still no nuance, balance, or hops to speak of. Yuengling is as dull and plain as Budweiser; it just happens to arrive in Simpletown via a slightly different route.
I won't disagree with anyone who happens to prefer this particular brand of bland, but I can't accept any argument that Yuengling Traditional Lager is good beer.
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Will Gordon loves life and tolerates dissent. He lives in Cambridge, Mass., and has visited all of the other New England states, including, come to think of it, Vermont. Find him on Twitter @WillGordonAgain. Image by Jim Cooke.
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