Five years ago, I broke up with Yuengling.
It was a bitter divorce, but one sanctioned by the crown. Being recently knighted into the kingsguard of craft, I had a sworn duty to uphold the virtues of good beer. It fell on me to raise and drain a defiant chalice, strike out against the heavily entrenched enemies of our righteous cause. For half a decade I railed against macronic infidels, a good little soldier marching ever on in a crusade against people and products I had placed, without much deep thought, into the juxtaposed camp of “them.”
Years of battle chipped away the armor of my resolve. The people I’d sworn my sword against no longer prsented so clearly as adversaries; their culture and beliefs more gentle and benign than I’d been lead to believe. My zeal for the cause has mellowed, and my cup – once full of devotion and the dry-hopped blood of my enemies – now brims and spills with appreciation for anyone who can consistently brew beer and keep a business running. This veteran of the holy wars is tired, battleworn, and sated, no longer bristling with the vim of an stainless steel-wielding revolutionary.
He just wants to relax and have a beer.
All literary hyperbole aside, the modern craft beer movement and the 13th century “Just Wars” have some odd and somewhat unexpected similarities. Both followed a period of rapid but individualized industry growth, both relied on rampant evangelism from the everyday citizen to promote and further the cause, both hid substantial financial and economic motives very cleverly beneath a veneer of social and religious purity. Retaking and safeguarding Jerusalem is ecumenically equivalent to supplanting and dethroning the three false prophets of Bud, Miller, and Coors. The craft crusade was (and is) a modern spiritual war, fought with the twin spears of social media and millennial dollars.
Enter the descendants of King Gottlob Jüngling, the ancient and hallowed founders of the kingdom of Yuengling. Settled in the east lifetimes before our comparatively fledgling “craft,” the kingdom survived the prohibitionist dark ages, a great depression, and two world wars. Its chief export – an amber near ambrosia when compared to competing pale lagers – rarely makes it to other kingdoms west of the great river, and yet they remain stalwart in sales and solidarity. Those long emigrated from the lands still recall the lager with fond nostalgia, and its place in beerish lore remains unquestionable.
Logistically, Yuengling rests near the fully heathen expanses, and many crusaders (including myself) passed through their lands during our collective quest. When drinking our chosen beer – all hopped and heady – it was easy to dismiss their traditional, legacy beer as “meh,” and even easier to add them as another in the long list of breweries that needed forceful enlightenment. It was all part of the moral tapestry woven by the lords of better beer, part of the lexicon de fermentation:
To drink Yuengling was blasphemy!
Until, with the flick of a pen, the reigning powers decided it wasn’t anymore.
I’d argue, now that I’ve seen the fields of combat in person, that Yuengling never really belonged on the opposite side of the craft crusade, but was lumped in with BMC because of their own success and proximal similarities. They were the France and Italy and Hungary of the actual crusades; unfortunate and probably undeserving collateral damage of a war that just so happened to march through their territory. We may have found (if we gave Yuengling a chance) that they were actually a lot like us, willing to change, adapt, grow, live in peace. Their summer wheat last year is some proof come to market, and who knows, maybe, now that they’ve found themselves crowning the BA’s top 50 list, their brewhouse practices will continue to evolve.
Drinking veterans seem quick to decide a brewery’s place if they do not find it perfectly in-line with their tastes, to the point they’ll write it off as “bad” and declare war. For every enthusiast I’ve heard decry Yuengling for being boring or sub-par, many more continue to buy and drink the stuff, at least in throngs thick enough to place them even higher than Boston Beer in terms of sales. Is it “fair” that a change in a definition would launch them to the top, nudging other breweries who’ve worked diligently for those places down to 3 and 4? Yea. Of course it’s fair. At least as fair as anything else in Free Market America™.
You need not believe me on words alone; go pour a Yuengling and a Budweiser or MGD side-by-side. That brownish-amber is the same it has always been, and decidedly different (arguably more “craft”) than a pale American lager. Of course it’s not Pliny or Jai Alai or even Boston Lager, but it’s tradition in bottles, a quiet and subtle bucking of the trends that’s been around longer than most young drinkers have been alive. It isn’t some big brewery pretending to be craft, it’s America’s oldest adhering to what has kept them in business for so long through so much. Every beer has its place (yes, even Bud Light Lime, although I’m not sure what that place is yet); Yuengling’s is on the East Coast, very affordably taking the edge off of humid summers days.
I’ve now come full circle, and annulled my annulment. While my mind has stretched from my experience and I’ll never go back to single-beer exclusivity, I will no longer distance myself from a brewery than deserves a chance to prove who they are in a post-war world. I’ll drink Yuengling because I legitimately like the stuff and always have, all BJCP gripes and IBU-snobbery aside. You’re free to disagree and dismiss me as a tasteless cretin, but you’re not free to tell others not to like it.
After all, is not freedom of choice why any warrior dons his armor and draws his sword? Why fight and spill wort for the cause, if not for who you are, and what you believe in?