By Chris Maza
SPRINGFIELD – D.G. Yuengling & Son, the storied Pennsylvania-based beer company celebrated its long-anticipated return to Western Massachusetts with a kickoff event at City Stage on Feb. 12.
Yuengling had not been available in Massachusetts since 1993 when the company pulled back its distribution when it found demand far outweighed its ability to adequately distribute in the area.
However, thanks to an expansion of capacity in its original hometown in Pottsville, Pa., and the construction of a second facility in Florida during the past decade-plus, Yuengling will be rolling out three of its most popular brands in Massachusetts – its flagship Lager, the Light Lager and the Black and Tan. Williams distributing was one of seven Massachusetts distributors selected to deliver Yuengling products.
Speaking at the CityStage event, at which a crowd consisting largely of vendors and liquor store owners and managers were served sample bottles of the three brands and food catered by Theodores, said the Williams distributing team was “super excited” to be able to include Yuengling to a product list that not only includes major international beer labels, but also craft breweries such as Sierra Nevada, Portland Brewing Company, Widmer Brothers, Magic Hat, Red Hook, Harpoon, Wormtown, and Olde Burnside.
Williams salesmen would begin sampling this week, he added.
“We are receiving product daily. It’s so exciting,” Fresco said. “Consumers have been looking for this brand for so long … It’s exciting to everyone in the room and it’s nice to have some excitement in this industry. It’s really great to see.”
Yuengling will be rolled out on draft on Feb. 24 and all off-premise beer sales will launch a week later on March 3.
Yuengling Lager is a well-balanced lager with prominent caramel malts and subtle hops that, along with a light-to-medium mouthfeel with good carbonation makes it an easy drinker. Fans of the Samuel Adams Boston Lager may be surprised by the difference in hop profile, but that is more a result of the Boston Lager being one of the hoppier American lagers on the market than Yuengling lacking anything. It remains an extremely popular beer for Bay Staters who couldn’t get their hands on it without travelling out of state for a reason.
The Light Lager is a step above a mass-produced Bud Light or Miller-Coors product, but it is disappointing. It is essentially a watered down version of the Lager and the taste reflects that.
The Black and Tan is another popular offering with dark roasted and chocolate malts prominent. It’s crisp and has a lighter mouthfeel than you would expect that would make it appealing to many.
This month, my wife suggested going on an excursion to some local breweries and for the first time, we found ourselves heading south into Connecticut, finding some great quality along the way.
In Bloomfield, Conn. about 30 minutes from our Springfield home are a larger operation well-known in these parts and a smaller operation that deserves some serious praise.
Thomas Hooker Brewery, named for the founder of Hartford, proved to be a popular spot for visitors with a large group in a bus – presumably hitting several area breweries – and quite a few (appropriately aged) University of Hartford students enjoying a winter Saturday afternoon with some samples.
Hooker has a wide variety of quality beers, ranging from chocolate stouts to lagers to watermelon ale. When entering the facility, $5 will get you a tour of the brewery, a four-ounce plastic cut and a bracelet with 10 tabs on it that you redeem for samples at a bar situated in a corner of the brewery. A new visitor’s center was opened in 2011 that features taps and information on the history of the company, Thomas Hooker the man, and the role beer played in those early colonial times. Big-screen televisions, comfy couches and a wide array of merchandise – with no shortage of plays on words – are also available.
While already a fan of Hooker’s Irish Red and Nor’Easter Winter Lager, with this trip, I fell in love with the Chocolate Truffle Stout, which is brilliantly crafted with help from Munson’s Chocolate, located in Bolton, Conn. Strong milk chocolate is followed by some dark chocolate to bitter the finish in this one with a body that won’t make one feel totally bloated after just one.
Be careful with this beauty, though – she’s got 7.2 percent alcohol by volume.
Just up the road was Back East Brewery, whose cozy taproom was packed as we slid into one of the tour groups that are available hourly from noon to 3 p.m. on Saturdays. After an intimate tour of the facility by Tony, one of the brewery’s owners, we had the opportunity to sample six very well-crafted beers, including the flagship Back East Ale – a solid red ale – and my favorite, the imperial stout, which features roasted malts and molasses with a touch of smokiness.
Back East is not distributed in Massachusetts at this time, but is well worth the trip to find it.