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Monday, November 30, 2009

That Yuengling Porter News

I briefly mentioned some news about Yuengling Porter last week. (That's a glass of the stuff on the bar at the pretty damned nice Maroons, a classy sports bar in Pottsville that's going to be a regular post-tour stop for me.) It's not much, and it's not about cans (sorry, jaysus), and it's not a change, but it was significant news for me.

Here's the thing. There's a brewing 'supply' called porterine. It's like Weyermann's Sinamar: a dark cereal extract that is used to change the color of beer. I've been told (always mistrust those words; I do) that many Bavarian "dunkel" beers are simply a brewer's helles + Sinamar. Similarly, "I've been told" that Yuengling uses porterine to change the color of Traditional Lager, and that Yuengling Porter is mostly dark thanks to the use of porterine. Both of the sources of the "I've been told" are brewing industry insiders; this doesn't mean I trust them 100%, but it does add some credence.

So...when I went to Pottsville three weeks ago to interview Dick Yuengling and Dave Casinelli, and to finally tour the big 'new' brewery, I had my eyes open for evidence of porterine. I didn't see any, but that's not proof positive it ain't there, even though John Callahan -- lead brewer for the facility -- gave me a thorough tour, let me take pix of anything I wanted, and answered any question I asked (and no, I didn't think to simply ask him about the porterine...color me dopey).

What I did see, and what this whole thing is about, was "supersacks" of the dark, roasted malts that go into Yuengling Porter: caramel and black patent. It's real. Callahan said the porter is still made with the original recipe. Buy that or not, but Callahan's not any kind of marketeer: he's the real deal, pure brewer, and I first met him at a MBAA meeting at The Lion last year. If he says it, he believes it to be true.

Callahan also said, with a lot of feeling, "Thank God for Lager." Traditional Lager is about 90% of the company's output, and if it hadn't been for Lager's success, Callahan (who's been with the company for 28 years) seemed pretty sure the company would have gone under.

Instead, the company is closing in on 2,000,000 barrels in annual sales, a wholly attainable goal for 2009, according to Casinelli, who began to laugh as we both recalled something industry analyst Robert Weinberg said back when Yuengling bought the Tampa brewery in 1999, to the effect that Yuengling was doing well, but the brewery selling 2,000,000 barrels in a year was about as likely as Weinberg getting a date with Sharon Stone. "We should buy them dinner," Casinelli said with a big shark's grin, and I think it would be a fantastic publicity coup.

Anyway, that's the news from Pottsville. Sorry if I oversold it. It was a fantastic interview; you'll get more of it in Pennsylvania Breweries 4.


sam k said...

Anyone who knows what Porterine actually tastes like (think licorice...the old Steg porter of decades ago) would know that Yuengling porter was not the result of that additive.

I have also noted the dark malts at the Pottsville plant in past tours, and am satisfied with their integrity with this product.

Anonymous said...

Isn't the porter brewed exclusively at the old original plant?

They probably do use porterine, as did pretty much all original PA breweries did back in the day.

Who cares though? The porters been around longer than we have and people love it. If it aint broke, dont fix it. STeg "fixed" their porter and I still long for the porter of old... lager yeast and all.

Even if they use porterine they would still have to use some dark malts also. It's probably a combination of both.

JessKidden said...

So, what of the other "legend/myth" about the Porter (and, the Lord Chesterfield Ale)- that they were "...for many years top-fermented but the are now made by the lager method" (M. Jackson's first Pocket Guide, 1982). And how does that jib with the "original recipe" comment?

Not sure when the whole "bastard ale" ("ales" brewed with lager yeast but higher fermentation temps) technique started in the US, but a number of post-Repeal era brewers (Philly's Esslinger, MA's Harvard are two I can think of off-hand) stressed that the had separate *breweries* for their ales and many others claimed their ales were "TRUE" ales, implies other brewers' weren't at the time.

The Professor said...

I've always loved Yuengling was a favorite of mine 40 years ago during my college years and I still enjoy it today. In the early 70's it was an especially remarkable bargain too, given the quality and character it delivered.

Lew...did the conversation reveal roughly when the Y-porter changed from a top fermented beer to a bottom fermented one?
In any case, Yuengling's dramatic rise from near oblivion is quite the 'who'd have thunk it' success story. Dick Yuengling really shepherded a miracle for the family business.

Anonymous said...

Had an email discussion some years ago with an old coal region brewmaster and he said he didnt know of ANY breweries in eastern PA that used a seperate ale yeast for their porter and ales. It was too risky. That being said, I think Neuweiler purported using an ale yeast or at least saying it was a "true" ale and as JK mentions there were a few breweries that had separate plants dedicated to ale production, but that seems to be a practice from the 30's and 40's and didnt persist.

Anonymous said...

So, correct me if I'm wrong, but your "news" is that a brewery is not using porterine because you didnt see it laying around on a tour and didnt care enough to ask the brewmaster?

Next story please...

Lew Bryson said...

Sigh. Everyone's a (anonymous) critic.

Tell you what. You man up and post with your real name, and I'll man up and ask John directly about the porterine. How's that?

Oh, to hell with it. You sit back and don't do a thing. I'll just ask anyway.

Alex Bombinski said...

Too late Lew, we dont care anymore (if we did at all). Actually it wouldn't have been too bad-- did arouse some decent discussion and anytime you can get Jess Kidden to weigh in it's a home run-- if it wasn't for the teaser that got our hopes up. And this time I put up my real name.

Lew Bryson said...

Cool, it's like high school: I don't care, you don't care even more. I'll still run it down; you don't have to look if'n ya don't wanna.

Lew Bryson said..., porter is not produced solely at the original plant. I saw "porter" on one of the aging tanks.

We didn't talk about bottom/top fermenting. I suspect that the 'switch' occurred post-Prohibition; I think that's the most likely time -- there was a break in continuity, a break in yeast propagation. But I don't know, I'm just speculating. Hell, I'll ask that, too.

I wasn't really digging for this stuff, I was looking for book stuff. Book stuff is more general, for a more general audience.

John Hansell said...

Adding an international perspective, and maybe slightly off topic, my sixtel of Affligem Noel reads: "Ale brewed with spices and caramel coloring added." (Emphasis on the caramel coloring.)

I thought of your post Lew when I read the label.

sam k said...

Good point, John. We naturally think the old-line imports can't possibly be artificially modified like our less-chaste domestics surely must be.

Reminds me of the Bitburger I was drinking a few years back, on whose label it plainly stated that it was brewed with both hops and hop extract. And don't doubt that Sinimar is used in some German dark beers, either.

Reinheitsgebot? Reinheitsgebot be damned!

sam k said...

Oh, and Anony the First...why would a brewery need both dark malts AND Porterine? If you're going to the bother of using dark malt, why use a coloring and flavoring additive, or vice versa?

And God bless The Lion for returning their porter to a true traditional PA style. You may long for an adulterated mainstream lager masquerading as "porter," but I'm glad I can get the real thing for around twenty bucks a case!

Lew Bryson said...

But Sam, the Reinheitsgebot isn't being broken. Sinamar is pure malt extract, and there are hops extracts that are pure as well (the essence is extracted with liquid CO2, which then completely evaporates). No problem, technically. Takes a lot of the starch out of the R-gebot, though!

Anonymous said...

Just curious, with Lager generating about 90% of sales, how is Black & Tan doing these days. I remember in the early 90s late beer was all the rage. In fact I used to buy it for a friend of mine in north jersey who could no longer get it in NJ (about 1997 i think)

Anonymous said...

Sam, you say "God bless The Lion for returning their porter to a true traditional PA style."

Isn't a TRUE *PA* style porter one that uses a lager yeast?

Otherwise it would be a porter, not a PA porter, correct?

Anonymous said...

IF you seen the new Yuengling brewery (mill creek) on PCN last weekend you can see both porter and premium in the aging tanks.

The Porterine post was interesting. I read about it on the web previously. Here is the link. Also some info on some other porters.

sam k said...


I stand corrected. Indeed, I should have lauded Steg Porter in its current incarnation as traditional porter, not traditional PA porter, and I certainly recognize the bottom-fermented version as the accepted PA style.

I do not, however, accept Porterine as defining the style any more than I'd accept any pale beer adulterated with a processed additive to induce color and flavor as a true dark beer of any knid.

The Brewing Styles link you provided is perhaps the best overview I've ever read on the topic of porter. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

You're still the king Sam. Was stoney's producing a dark back in the day when you were foraging around the brewery and, if so, how did they make it?

I dont believe that steg's 80's style PA porter was porterine (the label with the grain on it, not the horse)... it tasted darn good to me.

Kevin Watts, Chicago said...

I enjoy your blog, Lew. And I appreciate the fact that you have to put up with anonymous dunderheads who are reading your blog for free yet still act like you owe them something. And I will leave my name.

sam k said...

Stoney's dark was available in cases and on draft during the 60s, but became draft-only in the 70s. Any time dark beer from a mainstream brewery is available only on draft, it should send up signal flares. Stoney's dark was a Sinamar beer, and was made the same way distributors make green beer for St. Patty's Day...they inject it into the keg using a hand pump.

With Steg, the Porterine connection stopped, as far as I know, with the phase-out of the "horse head" label. I know other guys who still long for it, but it never did anything for me...though at that time (1976) I remember giving away the remainder of my first case of Lord Chesterfield because I couldn't take the hopping ratio! My first thought was "What the hell is that flavor!?!" How times (and tastes) have changed!

Anonymous said...

Hey Kevin, thanks for the hot air from the windy city, but Lew's well adept at giving it and as far as I can tell he's a big boy and can take it a bit too.

Bill said...

Lew, you made it seem like whether Yuengling uses porterine was a huge deal... to leave the post not knowing seems like a letdown. Is that what you meant by overselling?

Yes, please find out. My money's on the first anonymous commenter's belief -- that the "original recipe" contains both the dark malts you saw and porterine for color control.

Bill, who's reasonably certain most of his favorite brown beverages contain some type of caramel color and who's fine with that.

Kevin Watts, Chicago said...

Still anonymous, eh? Nice. Sure, Lew is a big boy. But if you're gonna give him sh*t about something, let him know who you are, and be constructive about it, instead of getting snarky. If you can't manage that, why are you reading?

Lew Bryson said...

Guys, guys! No more fighting over this. Let's stick to beer, and leave questions of honor out of it. I do prefer non-anonymous posters, but I could forbid anonymous posting if I wanted...I don't. Let's keep talking, but keep it civil. Thanks.

Kevin Watts, Chicago said...

Good point.

Jason Chalifour said...

The guys from Lost Lagers gave a presentation on Pre-Prohibition Porter at the BJCP reception this year. They said Yuengling is a rack and brewed porter.

All porterine is is a wort with a high precentage of dark malts that is boiled for a long time and reduced. My guess is that they make the porterine in-house and blend it with the lager.