Sunday, October 10, 2010

Sunday Suds: Yards Extra Special Ale

There's nothing quite like a good hand pump to bring you back to an old love....

If there's one beer iconic enough to symbolize the explosion of craft brewing here in the Delaware Valley over the last dozen or so years, it would have to be Yards Extra Special Ale (ESA, for short). If you walk into any of the scores, hundreds even, of establishments with reasonably serious beer programs in the greater Philadelphia area and simply ask for "a Yards, please," this is what you'll get, whether in bottle, on draft or pulled with a hand pump.

Officially founded in 1994, Yards Brewing Company introduced their ESA in 1995 (just months before I moved to the Philly area) and production of it has grown steadily ever since. I'm not sure I can pinpoint when and where I first downed a pint of it, but if I were to hazard a reasonable shot it would very likely have been at the Dawson Street Pub, not much more than a mile, if that, down the road from Yards' then home in a small warehouse space on Umbria Street in the Manayunk section of Philadelphia.

I loved it right away — a classic English-style ale, medium-bodied with a fine balance between maltiness and bitterness, nothing shy about it but, conversely, nothing in your face. And on the hand pump, at cellar temperature, which is how I remember it being served back then at Dawson's (where Yards ESA is still a staple on the beer engine), it was spot on. Creamy, soothing and all-night-drinkable.

Over the years, that love hit some hitches, began to fade. Yards grew. Their ESA appeared at more and more places around town. Sometimes there would be a not-so-fresh keg, a dirty draft line, a batch of bottles that hadn't been cared for properly somewhere along the supply chain. Or perhaps production sometimes outpaced the capacity to ensure consistency. I'm guessing it was a combination of all of those elements, not any one culprit. Of course, there were also always other beers clamoring to distract my attentions.

Alongside a dozen oysters and a lobster roll at Oyster House last night, though, I had a glass — two, actually — that brought me right back to that first love. Hand pulled. Perfectly fresh. Firkin temperature. Lovely texture. Pretty to look at, with a cascade in the glass that would remind many of a classic pour of Guinness. And, most importantly, even at 6% ABV, a touch high by session standards, eminently drinkable. Leave it to the hand pump....

Photo, which is of a standard draft pour of Yards ESA, courtesy of iandavid.

No comments:

Blog Widget by LinkWithin