Beer tradition endures

Laura Owen
CJ's on the Bay
  • The original construction of the brewery included a cave that was built in to the mountain

Last summer I recounted two amazing road trips – one to New York state to visit my alma mater, The Culinary Institute of America, and Cooperstown; the second trip was to the beautiful Florida Panhandle.

This summer it was back to Cooperstown.

Why two years in a row? The nephew is 12 years old and is on a special travel baseball team. Seven baseball games in four days at a complex that houses more than 500 12-year-olds and their coaches. Not really how I thought I would spend my summer vacation, but I sure do like this kid and his parents, so Aunt Laura is now a baseball fan.

There was discussion that the adults on this trip needed our own type of pilgrimage, so a trip to the Yuengling brewery in Pottsville, Pennsylvania, was calculated into the journey. Having been to the Yuengling brewery in Tampa last summer with “Baseball Boys’” mother (my sister), we were compelled to see where it all started.

Oldest brewery

Yuengling is the oldest family-owned brewery in the U.S., opened in 1829. After a fire that burned the place to the ground, they built to another location and began brewing there in 1831. The brewery was entered in to the Pennsylvania Inventory of Historic Places in 1976 and the National Register of Historic Places in 1986.

The location of the brewery was selected due to its proximity to a cistern of pure mountain spring water. That water source was used until the 1970s, when their production exceeded the available water. The beer is now brewed with Pottsville city water that is specially filtered to bring it back to its natural state.

The brewing process takes 24 to 28 days from start to finish. Part of that time, the beer is cooled to an exact temperature in the 50s and stored in giant tanks for fermentation. The original construction of the brewery included a cave that was built in to the mountain.

The cave was chiseled out by hand with picks; the marks from the picks are visible today. It is a 150 yard, U-shaped cave that stays at a consistent temperature, and at the time served several purposes: one was to house the large wooden “Rest Tanks” for the beer to ferment. It also had a hole cut in the ceiling with a ladder system that led to the cistern.

Every day a man would climb the ladders, open the valve to let the water in. When they had what they needed for the day’s production, they had to climb back up and turn it off. Everything done by nothing but manpower.

During Prohibition, the government shut down the brewery and built brick walls to seal the cave. The Yuengling family turned to making ice cream. When prohibition was repealed on Dec. 5, 1933, it is said that a Yuengling wagon was waiting outside the White House at 12:01 am to deliver the first batch of beer to the president.

What was that I said about how long it takes to brew and the cave being walled off? Hmmm ...

Part two next time: New York state and a stop at a restaurant in Scranton, Pennsylvania, to visit my CIA roommates’ restaurant. Till then, Cheers.

Laura Owen is executive chef at CJ’s on the Bay. She is a wine (and in this case, beer) connoisseur, and along with Adamo Serravalle of DaVinci’s and Marco Prime, and Marco Porto of chop239, is a regular contributor to this column.