Suds shortage leaves local palates longing for Yuengling beer

HAPPY EATER

October 24, 1993|By ROB KASPER

From the tables down at Peter's, to the place where the Osenburg brothers dwell, to the liquor store aisles they know so well, Baltimore beer drinkers have been asking, "Where's the Yuengling?"

D. G. Yuengling & Sons brewery of Pottsville, Pa., have stopped shipping their line of beers to Maryland.

Known among students of suds as a well-made brew that didn't cost an arm and a leg -- about $5 a six-pack -- the Yuengling line of beers has been recently "discovered" by fans of American beers. This means the 164-year-old brewery is running at its 240,000-barrel capacity. Brew master Ray Norbert and a staff of 65 are working overtime. And there is not enough beer to go around.

And so Dick Yuengling Jr., the fifth generation of the family to run the central Pennsylvania brewery, has cut back the distribution. Beer drinkers in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware and parts of Connecticut and New York still get their Yuengling. But the taps have been turned off to drinkers in Maryland, Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, North Carolina and the District of Columbia.

In Maryland, the supply was shut off to wholesalers this summer. By now the dark, rich Yuengling porter, the crisp Chesterfield Ale, the remarkable Black and Tan blend, as well as the amber and the light beers, have virtually disappeared at the retail level. Yuengling drinkers, including this correspondent, are crying about their bygone beer.

"It was a cult beer," said Roland Muir, using the industry term that describes a product with a small but loyal following. Muir is vice president of Best Way Distributing, the Eastern Avenue wholesaler who shipped Yuengling to bars and liquor stores in the Baltimore area. "Their Black and Tan," Muir said, was a big seller, "a home run."

The tables down at Peter's Inn, a small tavern near the corner of Ann Street and Eastern Avenue in Fells Point, were once loaded with Yuengling bottles. No more.

Proprietor Peter Denzer told me a heart-rending tale of how he was left thirsting for his favorite beer. Returning to Baltimore after a meandering motorcycle trip from Missouri, Denzer was "all puckered-up, ready for a Chesterfield Ale." Not only did he discover that there were no bottles of his favorite beer left in his bar, he also learned that while he was out of town, his wholesaler had already sent out its last shipment of Yuengling.

Patrons of the place where the Osenburg brothers dwell, Racer's Cafe in Parkville, have also been lamenting the loss of Yuengling. Black and Tan was one of the five beers on tap that Gil Osenburg and his brother Richard dispensed from a small but beer-intense pub near the corner of Taylor Avenue and Harford Road.

Yuengling beers will be missed, Gil Osenburg said, because they were "good beers, reasonably priced," usually costing about $1 less than a comparable mug of other draft beers.

Joe Falcone, beer manager of Wells Liquors on York Road, told me Yuengling beers, including its "Old German" brand, were once even cheaper. "Years ago they were $2.49 to $2.99 a six-pack," Falcone said. "Then they redesigned their bottles and labels and moved up to $4.99." The Yuengling porter and ale were somewhat slow sellers at his store, Falcone said. "But the Black and Tan flew out of the store."

When I talked to Dick Yuengling Jr. on the telephone, he said he felt "very fortunate" and "very frustrated" by the market situation. It was great to be wanted, he said, especially when many American breweries were having a difficult time selling beer. But it was frustrating, he said, not to be able to sell some of his beer to thirsty customers who happen to live in Maryland.

Yuengling said there was some hope on the horizon. The brewery is expanding, carving room for more storage and fermentation tanks out of the steep Pottsville hillsides. But the extra capacity won't be ready until this spring, at the earliest. Maybe then, he said, there will be enough beer to open the taps to Maryland.

Meanwhile, Yuengling reminded me that the brewery, located in the hometown of novelist John O'Hara, offers tours at 10 a.m. and 1.30 p.m., samples included.

A trek to Pottsville sounded like a good idea, but before I started driving North, I sniffed around and found what might be the last remaining Yuengling in town. Jan Jandasek, proprietor of Broadway Liquors in Fells point, said he had bought a load of Yuengling last summer, before the supply was cut off. And last week he said he had a few cases left.

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