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The Beer Blog: Learning About History Through Beer - Yuengling Traditional Lager and Old Rasputin Imperial Stout

And A Taste Test Among Friends

"You can't be a real country unless you have a beer and an airline. It helps if you have some kind of a football team, or some nuclear weapons, but at the very least you need a beer." Frank Zappa

I'm not an educator (and after reading this most people will probably say that is for the best). But, I think schools might be missing a golden opportunity to teach history in an interesting way; thru beer. Ok, I realize most kids in school aren't old enough to consume these adult beverages and I don't condone under age drinking, but I still think I might be on to something. I guess it is unlikely that teaching history through beer will ever be added to the school curriculum. But that doesn't mean my idea is without merit. I don't remember half of what I learned in school and drinking beer can serve as a great refresher course, on so many levels.

This week I am profiling two beers - Yuengling Traditional Lager and Old Rasputin Imperial Stout. Yuengling is from Pottsville, Pennsylvania and Old Rasputin is from North Coast Brewing in Fort Bragg, California. I think Yuengling is a really good beer, its not great, but it is perfect for anytime you just want a "beer." Its the kind of beer to grab after cutting the lawn, (or while you are doing it), or working around the house, (or while you are doing it). Its just a good drinking beer. I think most people will probably enjoy a Yuengling. Old Rasputin Imperial Stout on the other hand is an awesome beer. But it is more the kind of beer to have when you want something special. Its not likely that you will have more than one at a time. It is delicious, heavy, flavorful and a beer that I suspect the vast majority of people really wont like.          

So you might ask (and I hope you do), what do these beers have to do with history? Well, Yuengling is the oldest continuously operating brewery in the United States. It was opened in 1829, surviving the Civil War, Prohibition, vast changes in the brewing industry and a world of other business, financial, political and social upheavals that caused the demise of a vast number of other breweries and changed the fabric of America. Just reading what it took the brewery to survive for 183 years is a lesson in history. Old Rasputin on the other hand comes from a brewery that was only started in 1988. While the history of the brewery may not be as compelling as Yuengling, Old Rasputin Imperial Stout is named after one of the most colorful and enigmatic individuals in history—the Russian Grigori Yefimovich Rasputin. The long-bearded Rasputin is prominently featured on the Old Rasputin beer label. At the beginning of the 20th century, Rasputin was a confidant of the Russian Royal family before apparently being assassinated by Royal family members believing he held too much influence over matters of the state. His murder is something of legend, first surviving poison, then a gun shot, then clubbing, before finally being thrown in a river to drown.  

So enough with history, on to the beers:

Last weekend, we had friends over and it seemed like the perfect setup for a taste test, knowing full well that the beers aren't remotely similar and that many of my friends would not like Old Rasputin. Their thoughts are below each beer (M=Male, F=Female).  

Old Rasputin is a huge beer, high in alcohol (9%), nearly black in color and incredibly flavorful. It is rated nearly perfect for the style by Rate Beer and Beer Advocate. This is not a beer for the faint-hearted, or for someone that prefers a lighter beer. I love this beer and think it is awesome! The official brewery description is "A rich, intense brew with a robust palate, a fruity nose and a warming finish. Very complex."

Here are my friends tasting comments: 

F - Blech, Nasty, it repeats itself, tastes like car oil.

M - It's a stout, like drinking Guinness but with a lingering after taste.

F - Bitter, nasty aftertaste.

M - Delicious, Its not bubbly and disgusting like s&$t beer.

F - Coffee like aftertaste.

F - I like coffee but I don't like that.

F - Smelled, yuck, don't even want to taste it.

Yuengling Lager is a nice medium-bodied beer with relatively low alcohol (4.9%) and is very refreshing on a hot day. This is an easy beer to drink and while I suspect many beer snobs might give it low marks, when they have been around for 183 years, they can talk smack. It is rare for a six-pack of Yuengling not to be in my refrigerator. The official brewery description is "An iconic American lager famous for its rich amber color and medium-bodied flavor—with a roasted caramel malt for a subtle sweetness and a combination of cluster and cascade hops, this true original delivers a well-balanced taste with very distinct character."

Here are my friends tasting comments:

F - Actually pretty good, really not bad.

M - Bubbly and tastes like Bud Light.

F - Smells like yeast and tastes like yeast.

M - Its light...

F - Delicious, smooth, refreshing.

F - Oh yeah, I like it, refreshing.

So, what is the lesson to be learned here? Simple, go out and try beer, all different kinds, all different styles. Don't worry if you don't like one or another, its the experimenting that makes beer such a pleasure to drink. And of course, read the labels and go online and explore the breweries and their history, you just might learn something with a cold one in your hand.  

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Danielle Moskowitz March 26, 2012 at 10:10 PM
David, you would have been very proud that I found a great beer bar in Florida and I let the bartender choose for me. Started with a Terrapin Moo Hoo which I really liked!
Craig March 27, 2012 at 12:38 PM
Yuengling is one of the best American adjunct beers. It's best in the summer. My favorite is Lord Chesterfield in cans, it has no flavor in the bottles. The noble hops are very apparent, but it is rather thin and the corn very apparent. Their lager is good too. I had a very nice Russian Imperial Stout recently called Tsar, by Buxton in the UK. Only recently introduced here but I think it will be hard to find because they only brew in 5 bbl batches.
Rick Grinberg March 27, 2012 at 12:48 PM
Great info... it really makes the beers more interesting to hear about the history. looking forward to learn more...
John Romano March 28, 2012 at 12:29 AM
Yuengling...is actually (in my opinion)...one of the most flavorful, and drinkable American beers....definitely a fixture on the summertime beer list.. The fact that it's so reasonably priced isn't a bad thing either. It's hard to tell if I consume more of their lager....or their Porter....I find both to be quite enjoyable.
Marie Raser April 17, 2012 at 12:16 PM
I realize I'm a little late to this party but wanted to agree with the positive sentiments on Yuengling -- definitely a good go-to beer for almost any occasion... And the Zappa Quote is awesome -- when we visit different countries (with airports!) we always seek out the local brew as soon as possible and try out all the various shades...

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