If you’re old enough to remember Smokey and the Bandit, a movie classic from 1977, you’ll appreciate this story. If you recall, Burt Reynolds, aka “The Bandit”, was hired to illegally transport 400 cases of Coors beer from Texarkana to Atlanta – and he needed to do it in record time. He and his partner, Jerry Reed, aka “The Snowman” had to evade Jackie Gleason, aka “Sheriff Buford T Justice” in order to collect their payday. The movie would be the second highest-grossing that year ($126M) behind… Star Wars ($775M). Subsequent sequels didn’t measure up to the original, but it’s believed that a TV series is in development.
While I wasn’t driving an 18-wheeler, nor a bad-ass Trans-Am, I made a quick trip across the Southwest desert to pick up some of my favorite beer, Yuengling. Burt Reynolds would have been proud.
In case you don’t know, Yuengling is America’s Oldest Brewery and it just so happens to be based in Pottsville, Pennsylvania – about an hour from my hometown of Scranton. They’ve been around since 1829, so it’s hard to say this, but they burst onto the scene in 1987 with the reintroduction of their now-signature beer, Yuengling Lager. The beer is so ubiquitous in Pennsylvania that if you simply order a lager, you’ll get Yuengling Lager. The Vienna-Style lager is an easy-drinking, caramel-colored beer that is slightly sweet and doesn’t come with any bitter hop taste.
The brand has a cult-like following, I’ll call them Lagerheads, including me, throughout the country. But the problem is, it’s only available in most of the eastern states. The farthest west it reached, until recently, was Arkansas. And trust me. I thought about making the 18-hour drive to load up in Texarkana. While traveling back east, it wasn’t uncommon for me to bring an extra suitcase or two to load up for the return flight. Based on my inventory, I had to ration the beer and use it sparingly – for special occasions if you will.
That all changed recently! Yuengling recently announced a partnership with Molson/Coors to have them brew the beer out of the Molson/Coors facility in Fort Worth Texas. Once up to speed, they would begin distribution throughout Texas by mid-August. That set my proverbial “wheels in motion”.
El Paso is a relatively short 5-1/2 hour drive from Phoenix, directly across I-10. Hmmm. No offense to El Paso, but it’s not necessarily a tourist destination if you know what I mean. It sits on the Mexican border, directly across from Juarez, Mexico – a town that ranks among the deadliest in the world. I’ve driven through El Paso on multiple occasions but never had any reason to stop. Until now…
With my wife on fall break, we decided to make the quick midweek trip.
One thing I wanted to do was make sure that the beer would be available and in stock when I arrived in El Paso. Can you imagine making the trip only to find it to be sold out? Thankfully, Total Wine allows you to order online and pick up in the store! A quick check and we secured our purchase. Eight cases of Lager – Five bottles and three cans for pickup on Tuesday morning.
We arrived in El Paso late in the afternoon Monday. After checking into our hotel, we grabbed a great dinner at West Texas Chophouse.
Of course, when you’re on a Beer Run, you have to try the local beer, right? This flight included some of West Texas’ best.
The next morning, it was up and out to grab some breakfast, then be at Total Wine when the doors opened at 10:00 so we could load up and be on our way back home.
After picking up the first eight cases, we realized we still had plenty of room. So, what do you do? Grab more! When it was all said and done, we picked up another four cases – bringing our haul to an even dozen cases! Let’s just say that the workers at Total Wine were in awe of our dedication to Yuengling.
Before we hit the road, we decided to tour around downtown El Paso a bit. This town has certainly seen better days. Many of the stores and shops were closed for what seemed like decades. It reminds me of many old downtowns that have been abandoned for rural areas.
One of the more unique sites we saw were a couple of murals placed on buildings in the same parking lot.
The first, on the right, is on the side of the DeSoto Hotel. The 30×60 painting honors El Paso’s famous boxers. There’s an El Paso Boxing Hall of Fame in town, but that too seems to have fallen off over the past five years.
On the left is Melchor Flores, a Mexican man flexing his muscles. Melchor’s son was abducted by police in Nuevo Leon, Mexico in 2009 and he has been fighting for answers ever since. I love how Melchor dwarfs the other boxers as his fight is much bigger than theirs.
San Jacinto Plaza in the center of town was also home to some art. The sculpture below was recently added to the historic park. The Plaza was originally purchased by the US government in 1881. It was named after the Battle of San Jacinto. Sure, most remember the Alamo, but the Battle of San Jacinto was after the Alamo and is known as the battle that gained Texas its independence on April 21, 1836.
The Plaza housed a pond that was filled with alligators for decades up until 1974 when it was finally deemed inhumane for the animals. The pond was removed and an alligator sculpture was erected in their honor.
We noticed a building with a curious sign on top. Considering we’re from Scranton, aka “The Electric City”, we had to determine if this building was named Electricity or Electric City. While it’s still not clear, either way, it’s a clever name for a downtown apartment building. Are you listening, Scranton Chamber of Commerce?
Before long, we were headed out of town. The drive back was as uneventful as the drive over – with not much to see other than some incredible mountain views. Just north of El Paso we passed by this mountain range to our west.
About halfway home, we stopped in a roadside stand for a break. Here in Bowie, AZ, in the middle of nowhere, they offered up some pretty tasty pecan pies.
During the break, another traveller coming from the west told us that the weather was horrible with rain and high winds that resulted in limited visibility – but thankfully, for only a few miles.
When I mentioned to the local that the skies looked nasty, his response was, “That’s a beautiful sight in the desert!!”
The traveler was spot on. We hit a small patch of a crazy storm just after leaving the rest stop, but it was smooth sailing once again. Before long, we were home and unloaded and ready to celebrate with a nice cold Yuengling. No longer do I need to hold out for a special occasion to pop a Yuengling. Every day is now a special occasion to celebrate with America’s Oldest Brewery!