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Last updated: Fri. Dec. 30, 2011 - 02:54 pm EDT


Hoosiers head to Ohio for Yuengling

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FORT WAYNE — The first taste came at Christmastime – three years ago now.

At a family get-together, Jeff Smith’s brother-in-law said he had some beer. This wasn’t just any beer, though. This was something Smith never had before, something he’d probably like and something he couldn’t just go down the street and pick up at the liquor store.

That was the prelude.

Then Smith took a swig.

And …

“Once you try it, it’s like, ‘Wow,’ ” the 59-year-old Smith said.

It’s called Yuengling, a beer brewed in Pottsville, Pa., at the country’s oldest brewery – established in 1829 – and sold primarily in the East and South. And it’s taken on an almost mythic quality across some parts of the nation.

Do a Google search, and Facebook sites named “I Want Yuengling Lager in Michigan” or “Bring Yuengling to Indiana” come up, along with numerous message board posts from people either bragging how they picked up a case on a business trip or begging for it to be sold in their state.

For some Hoosiers, the drive to get Yuengling is now considerably shorter.

In October, D.G. Yuengling & Son began selling in Ohio, making it the most westward state where the brewery’s products are available – at least legally.

When he heard the news, Smith, a Fort Wayne resident and self-described light drinker, was in his truck and making the drive over the border to Hicksville, Ohio, where he picked up a case for himself and a friend. Then he was back the next week, picking up another case for a friend.

On Christmas Eve morning, he went to pick up some more, this time calculating the distance from his home to Hicksville at 21 miles.

“Basically, I’m going (to Hicksville) instead of the west side of town,” Smith said. “It probably takes less time.”

Some of the liquor stores dotting the border in Ohio have also noticed the influx of Hoosiers, with some coming in and stockpiling cases of the beer as the holiday season loomed.

“One gentleman came in and bought $300 worth of it,” said Christy DeLong, owner of the Antwerp Pit Stop.

Stefan Kruse, a clerk at the Pop ’n Brew Drive Thru in Antwerp, said he notices people from Indiana come in a couple times a day to pick up Yuengling. But then again, he said, he’s noticed people come from all over to get their hands on a case.

“I had one guy in here who came all the way from Chicago,” Kruse said.

Smith said it’s hard to describe the beer’s taste because it doesn’t compare to any other domestic beer on the market. It’s a bit heavier, but other than that, Smith could only offer his first impressions three years ago.

“It’s as good in a can as in a bottle,” he said. “I remember drinking it, and just going like, ‘Wow,” this is really good.’ ”

Before the beer entered the Ohio market, Smith had to rely on his relatives – his in-laws would send some from Florida; his brother-in-law once went to a wedding in Myrtle Beach, S.C., and returned with some.

And it’s unclear whether Yuengling will ever reach Indiana.

According to the brewery’s website, the beer’s expansion into new markets has been limited and future plans are based on the company’s ability to properly introduce the product while servicing retailers and customers.

But for now, Ohio is just fine for Smith.

“It’s a lot closer than Pittsburgh,” Smith joked.

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