Reading Premium returns. The folks at Legacy Brewing have revived Reading Premium, done it as a separate company...but more on that shortly.
First the story. I got an invite to come up to Reading, PA for the launch of the revived Reading Premium at the Canal Street Pub. And, kind of in the spirit of "take your kid to work day," I asked my mother if she'd like to go with me. It was kind of in the spirit of Mom used to drink Reading, too. She talked herself into it and then out of it, and finally said yes. So I drove up to Reading with the Little Dog, my dad met me at Canal Street and I traded him Penderyn for Mum, and the two of us went into the pub.
The launch was all the way in the back, a nice old room in the restored building, and I quickly got my mom a cold glass of Reading. That's her with Legacy/Reading partner Dave Gemmell in the picture. The beer? It's good, kind of kölschy, with more body than a light beer. It breaks clean without any cloying, but it's got a hint of sweetness to it. Real drinkable stuff, put me somewhat in mind of the late lamented Stegmaier Summer Stock Lager.
I got Mum another Reading and buttonholed Dave's partner, Scott Baver. What's the story, I asked him? Are you really brewing it? Is there corn in it? Why brew Reading Premium?
There is 10% corn in it, a respectable amount of the grain, not overdone. Yes they're really brewing the draft, at least for now. The Lion is doing the bottles (Dave had told me earlier that they were very happy with the job The Lion was doing with it; "They have it down," he said), and if things heat up, they'll be doing some halves, too, but it was important that they brew at least some of it there in Reading.
Then Scott got rolling. "This beer represents not only Reading's strong history, but strong future; the town and the beer. It's not just a great beer, but a great city. The brewery did 500,000 bbls. in its heyday, and the town was proud. Then the town fell apart." It did, Reading fell on some hard times, along with other PA cities in the area, when manufacturing got priced out by overseas firms. "We have strong new leadership in the town, innovative people who see a future and won't give up. There are people in the streets at night again. (He's right, the place used to be deserted after dark, but it's getting lively.) Reading Premium represents what's to come." (Hey, I wrote all this stuff down, figure I might as well give it to you.)
"So what's this beer? This isn't a micro beer, this is the meatloaf and mashed potatoes, it's comfort food beer. I really wish my dad was still alive, so I could have taken the first case down to his house, and say to him, 'Look what we did! We brought Reading back!'
"I've been in craft-brewing 15 years, but this is something else. It's a deeper emotion that goes back generations. We ran an ad about this re-launch, and the phone didn't stop ringing for three days. It amazes me how deeply it goes, people's roots with this brand. It's unexplainable. It's not just old-timers, it's craft brew drinkers who say, "We want a lighter beer, but one not made by a big brewer." They want to be proud of buying local beer.
"Look, you can't drink 9% beer all day. We are vastly proud of Legacy, and this will make it even more high-end, even more experimental. But Reading is the right beer at the right time. The POS (point-of-sale, Reading clocks and calendars and posters and lights) is still hanging in 90% of the bars in Reading. We start in that core and build a strong market. It's not Legacy, it's a separate company."
Scott finally brought things to a close. "I'm a big believer in karma. It's time. I'll be damned if I'll let 15 years experience go to waste. It's a big mistake by craft brewers: if you're not reaching 85% of the market, why not focus on a brand for them?"
Well...maybe. I've seen this kind of retro-revival tried before -- Acme, Rhinegold, Narragansett, National Premium. Hasn't worked really well yet. I asked Scott about that, and we agreed that Reading had an edge, in that it was a small market, it only went under in 1976 and was 'label-brewed' for quite a few years after that, and that having the town name was a plus...and there is all that POS, I've seen it. Besides, this is by far the best-tasting retro-brew I've had.
Will it make it? Dunno. But I know my mom's going to buy some as soon as it hits Lancaster County (Psst, Scott: get into Lancaster ASAP, and not just for my mom!). And I think we'll probably be drinking some Reading the next time we go on The Hunt. It's that kind of beer.