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Thursday, July 28, 2011

The mystique of Fat Tire and Yeungling

An alternative to Yuengling
By Steve Siciliano

Even though we carry a lot of different beers here at Siciliano's there are times when we have to inform folks that the suds they’re searching for are not available locally. Sometimes the sought-after beers are discovered while traveling abroad. Other times the beer hunters are from foreign countries and they are pining for a favorite brew from their homeland. I wish we could have helped the young man who came into the store looking for Bahia from El Salvador, the young lady who had her heart set some on some Castle Lager from South Africa, the Chinese exchange student who was homesick for his Harbin, the Aussie who was dying for a Toohey and the ex-serviceman who had fallen in love with an obscure regional brewery while stationed in Germany.

Then there are the futile requests for the highly regarded products from domestic breweries such as Russian River, New Glarus, Surley and Three Floyds that will probably never be distributed in the Michigan market. These are small, regional breweries that have a hard time supplying their local markets and have no plans (that we know of) to further expand their distribution. But with the nationwide interest in craft beer growing, with more beer-devoted magazines being published, with hand-crafted beer constantly being written and talked about in the mainstream media, and with the hype for these beers being generated and kept alive on internet sites such as Beer Advocate and Rate Beer, it’s no mystery that highly informed beer aficionados would seek out these highly rated beers in a highly regarded beer store.

It is a mystery, however, as to why we get so many people looking for two beers that are not distributed in our state, that are not from exotic or foreign lands and that, relatively speaking, are not that highly regarded in the craft beer community—Fat Tire and Yuengling. While these are both solid products from established and successful breweries, they are, in my humble and subjective opinion, no better and perhaps even worse than the beers in the same style that can easily be found on the shelves of any Michigan beer store.

The first time I had Yuengling was on a brutally hot June afternoon in Columbia, South Carolina. Barb and I and the Perch were doing some downtown bar hopping when I spied a decrepit looking oyster bar that was advertising Yuengling with a neon sign in the front window. Inside it was cool, dark and dingy—my type of bar—and I washed down two dozen oysters on the half shell with a number of the icy-cold, green-bottled lagers. It was an altogether pleasant experience. But when back in our Yuengling-barren state, had I found myself craving an American amber lager, I would have been more than content with a Brooklyn Lager, a Leinenkugel Classic Amber or even a Killian’s Irish Red.

It must have been ten years ago when I first heard about the glories of Fat Tire spoken in hushed, almost reverential tones from folks who had recently returned from a skiing trip to Colorado. When I was finally able to procure a couple of bottles, I concluded that it was a solid beer but was left wondering why I would choose it over a Bells Amber.

Why is it, then, that these two beers are so fanatically sought after? I believe there a number of factors involved here. The most obvious, of course, is that there is always a mystique associated with a product you can’t get. If you are old enough you might recall the time when some people would do almost anything to get their hands on a case of Coors. But that’s only part of the equation. There are many other beers that you can’t find in Michigan that don’t have the almost mythical appeal of Yuengling and Fat Tire. Perhaps it's the fact that both these beers are ubiquitous in vacation destinations in their respective markets—the ski slopes of Colorado for Fat Tire, the resorts of Florida for Yuengling—and when you’re sitting in a hot tub after a day of skiing enjoying a Fat Tire or at a beach bar swilling Yuengling, even an average beer tastes wonderful and the hype grows because it becomes identified with the experience. And then, of course, there are those cool sounding names and the interesting labels.

Whatever the reasons might be, the discussion as it pertains to Yuengling and Fat Tire will probably cease to have any relevance for beer consumers in Michigan in the-not-too distant future. The word on the streets is that both these beers will soon make their way into the Michigan market and when that happens I have little doubt that they will lose their legendary status. I'm sure that there are one or two regional beers out there that are poised to flow into the mythical vacuum.

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