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Big Three Showdown

The Big Three The low down on the back bone of American Beer, no crafts in sight STORY and photo by Jeff Stites American brewing has been known for some of the world’s biggest producers of beer. The Big American Brewers, Anheuser-Busch, Miller and Coors, have become known for light beers that are, depending on your perspective, very easy to drink or essentially flavorless.

Each brewer, though, has a heritage of more flavorful beers, usually pilsner-style lagers. What better way to celebrate the Fourth of July in the Cheers column than by taking a look at Big American Breweries? The trouble with that plan is that the Big Three American brewers are not American anymore. We live in a global economy now and the brewing industry has experienced an unprecedented amount of multi-national consolidation. Anheuser-Busch was acquired by Belgian beverage conglomerate InBev, Miller Brewing was purchased by South African Breweries (SAB) and Coors Brewing merged with Canada’s Molson Brewing. You can’t blame these businesses, it’s a dog eat dog world and consolidation across national borders both creates economies of scale and opens up new markets, but it’s hard to get all “rah rah USA” about Belgian, South African and Canadian companies. What’s a Cheers columnist to do? There is plenty of brewing going on in America, don’t misunderstand. The craft brewing boom has led to a situation where it’s hard to find yourself more than a few miles away from a small brewer anywhere in the country. The problem is that the craft beer phenomenon is predicated on the idea that these brewers will stay small. As soon as one hits a certain level of success in terms of number of barrels of beer produced, the craft beer drinking public decides they are no longer “craft.” It’s kind of silly, really. Whether you make a small batch or a large number of huge batches, if you use the same recipe it’s the same beer. I’ve chosen three brewers that represent a middle ground between the crafts and the huge multinationals. All are American-owned and American-made. The first, and oldest, is Yuengling, founded in 1829 in Pottsville, PA. Yuengling is still owned by the Yuenglings and still brewed in Pottsville but has opened two other breweries, one in Florida and one in Texas, to bring its products to a larger audience. The second is Pabst, also dating back to the 1800s. Pabst has seen it’s ups and downs but was most recently acquired by an American investor who seems to be showing the company some love, even going as far as building a brewery. Pabst has been contracting to be brewed by Miller for years, but retains its independence as a company. Pabst has been sort of a collector of American brewing history by buying up and producing smaller classic regional brews such as Lone Star, Olympia and Ballantine. I appreciate that. The third brewer I’ve selected is an example of a craft brewer out-growing the craft label, the Boston Beer Company, makers of Sam Adams. Sam Adams arguably kicked off the craft brew craze, but now it’s hard to find a beer aficionado who considers them a true craft brew. They have grown beyond the label, though they still very much consider themselves a craft brewer, and, I would argue, back it up with some very creative and delicious offerings on par with anything being cooked up by the newer upstarts. I’ve chosen two old stand-bys and one new offering to review.

Pabst Brewing Company Pabst Blue Ribbon The Label Says: This is the Original Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer. Nature’s choicest products provide its prized flavor. Only the finest of hops and grains are used. Selected as American Best in 1893. My Take: Pabst Blue Ribbon has been experiencing a resurgence among the younger beer drinker set for a few years now. I think they are attracted to it exactly because the Pabst company doesn’t really engage in any marketing to speak of. But why bother, really? It’s just a good, classic American lager that everyone has heard of and those who try come to love. I have to admit, this is one of my favorite go-to summer/beach beers. And it is pretty easy on the wallet to boot.

D. G. Yuengling & Son Yuengling Traditional Lager The Label Says: American Owned. Family Operated. America’s Oldest Brewery My Take: See, I told you Yuengling had been around a long time. As a Pennsylvania native, I’m partial to Yuengling. Heck, I even have Dick Yuengling’s (the owner of the company) autograph on a bar napkin somewhere. Yuengling is a little more amber and tad more robust than the rest of the big, mass-produced American lagers. Craft brewers will poo-poo it, but this is a finely crafted brew, and delicious.

Boston Beer Company Sam ‘76 4.7% ABV 12 IBU The Label Says: Sam ’76 is a perfect union of lager and ale, giving you a craft beer with the flavor of an ale and the refreshment and crisp finish of a lager. The result is revolutionary.

My Take: What could be more patriotic than a Samuel Adams named after our country’s year of birth? Sam ’76 is a mixture of ale and lager (someday I’ll do a column on the difference) and though it’s hard to argue that isn’t a gimmick, this beer works very well. It’s not the “revolutionary” idea the label claims, but it is very refreshing and more flavorful than the bright yellow color would lead you to believe.

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