I’m sure that many people reading this piece will be shocked to learn that when I was growing up in Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania, I always associated Yuengling with ice cream,* not with beer. In fact, when I took up drinking beer after joining the fire company, my favorite beer was Bavarian, brewed in Mount Carbon near Pottsville, home to Yuengling.
So you can imagine my surprise when a colleague at Penn State offered me a beer one day and handed me a Yuengling. As I advanced in age and the quality of beer began to decline across the country, I finally started drinking Yuengling’s Lord Chesterfield Ale. (When I drink beer now, it’s usually Santa Fe Pale Ale.)
So it was with great interest that I listened when some news announcer said that President Obama had wagered a case of Yuengling to a case of Molson in the U.S.-Canada hockey championship in the Olympics.
The Games in Vancouver may be over, the Yuengling-Molson wager was just one more round in a series that is older than most of us.
You see, Yuengling bills itself as “America’s Oldest Brewery.” Molson, founded in 1786 to Yuengling’s 1829, once took exception to that claim. Molson argued that “America” doesn’t mean the United States, but, in fact, the continent that encompasses Canada, the United States, Mexico and maybe even more points south than I can name off the top of my head.
Not so, argued Yuengling before a U.S. trademark court in 1998. Everyone knows America means the United States.
Well, yes and no.
As an editor, I learned a long time ago from the Associated Press that the use of the word American should not be limited “to citizens or residents of the United States,” that the word can refer to any resident from Iqaluit on Baffin Island to Tierra del Fuego in Patagonia. In one of my editing texts I show a misuse of the word America:
Keep in mind, too, that America is two continents and several islands large and is not confined to the United States. The wire service reporter who wrote that "Cuban president Fidel Castro came to America today …" probably flunked geography. After all, Cuba is part of America and, as the sentence concludes, Castro knew where he was--"I'm glad to be in the United States."
But when I was teaching in China in 1994, the foreign experts from Canada called themselves “Canadians,” not Americans, and those of us carrying U.S. passports were called “Americans,” even by the Canadians. My friends in Australia refer to us as Americans, although I’ve heard the occasional “Yanks,” said more in sarcasm than respect.
And in 1998 the U.S. (not American) trademark court sided with Yuengling and agreed that its claim to be America’s Oldest Brewery was not continental, but country specific.
I doubt that anyone cares which brewery is the oldest or even whether the breweries are both American. I drink the beer I drink because I like it. I don’t even know if my favorite microbrewer advertises. If it does, I don’t recall the ads.
So there you have it. The U.S. team lost to the Canadian team and the prime minister of Canada won a case of Yuengling.
From where I sit, he got the better beer, regardless of age or national origin.
*During Prohibition, Yuengling made ice cream. That business was closed in 1981.