Straub Beer


also know as @PhillyBeerGuy
OK, so by now I'm sure many of you know that I'm a sucker for Old-School breweries and their beers. I realize that they can't hold a candle to even the least of today's craft breweries, but what can I say, I'm nostalgic like that. I'm also related to many people who grew up weaned on these "just plain beer" beers, so I need to keep something in my fridge that they will drink without giving me crap about all the "dark and heavy" beers I drink. These are the people that even turn their noses up at Yeungling (the horror!). I used to keep Rolling Rock around for such an occasion, but I haven't bought a case since A-B (soon to be InBev) bought the brand and closed the Latrobe Brewery. I refuse to buy Corona, Budweiser or Coors Light, and I prefer to buy local whenever I can, so I began a search for my new cheap and domestic reg'lar old don't-want-to-think-about-it-too-hard-but-still-want-it-to-taste-good beer. For the most part that means we're looking at American Macro or All-Malt lagers. The kind that Schmidt's of Philadelphia used to brew. The kind that the Straub Brewery of St. Mary's, PA has been brewing since 1872. I came across information on Straub shortly after I joined, and have been wanting to try it ever since. Here are a few facts about the Straub Brewery and its beer:
  • Straub is the smallest pre-Prohibition Brewery still operating
  • They are the greatest user of returnable glass bottles in the U.S. as a percent of volume brewed. (about 25% of their annual volume is in returnable bottles...more on this)
  • They are the only pre-Prohibition brewery still operating to never use cans.
  • They are the only user of the 1/8 barrel Sankey keg in the world.
  • Straub's "Eternal Tap" is listed as one of the five best places in the country to have a beer. St. Marys is uttered in the same breath as Los Angeles, New York, Milwaukee and Austin, Texas.

    That's right, the Eternal Tap.
    Right next to the keg washing area inside the brewery is a sink and three taps. One for Straub. One for Straub Light. And the other for Peter Straub's Special Dark. People can walk in and help themselves to free beer. There are no chairs, so expect to stand. And people are advised to limit themselves to two drinks. (hah!)

    A sign above the sink also politely asks folks to wash their own glasses when they're done.
  • Straub's place in U.S. beer history is highlighted in Christopher B. O'Hara's 2006 book "Great American Beer - 50 Brands That Shaped the 20th Century."
  • When analyzed by Brockway Analytical, the St. Marys area water supply was heralded as one of the best in the country. Because this area is on the eastern continental divide, the area's water sources are spring fed and untouched.
  • They are the only brewery to package the exact same beer recipe in two different colored bottles (brown and green). Being small and regional, they primarily used brown returnable bottles for the majority of their products. In the early 1970s they started selling beer in brown NR bottles. Already being a small brewery, and not selling a great amount of NR bottles compared to returnables, they weren't high on the glass companies' list. So there was a short time when they could only buy green NR glass and could not find a supplier of brown NR glass. So when they tried to switch back to brown glass as it became available, the demand for the green bottles had grown to a point that they couldn't take it off the market. People began complaining that they liked the taste of the green bottle style better (go figure). They even fashioned a whole advertising campaign around them - "Grab a Greenie." Regardless, they still went ahead and re-introduced the brown bottle in the mid 1980s. Straub Beer is now regularly packaged in both brown and green glass, in both returnable and NR bottles, and in 12 and 16 oz. capacities.
St. Mary's is about an hour northeast of Pittsburgh, and their distribution doesn't always reach out as far as Philly, so when I was in Pittsburgh last June attending my niece's H.S. graduation, I took a swing by a local distributor to see if they had any Straub available. I was particularly interested in the returnable bottles (and the nearly indestructible cardboard cases they come in), as I hadn't seen any beer distributed like that since I was tending bar at a local dive during my college summers. He had 3 cases of 16 oz. brown-bottled returnables, so I quickly grabbed one. I figured I'd empty them over the course of the summer and return them for a refill the next time I'm out visiting family...might even take them back directly to the brewery! Price with tax for 24 full pints (and the bottle deposit): $21.47. Can't beat that! Turns out the beer's pretty darn good, too:

Straub Beer

Brewed by: Straub Brewery
St. Marys, Pennsylvania, United States
Available Year-Round
Style: American Macro Lager
ABV: 4.30%

Appearance: Poured a 16-oz. returnable "Brownie" into an Imperial Pint glass. Beer is crystal clear and pale straw yellow in color, though a bit more on the golden side than most macros. A lively, fizzy, one-finger head quickly fades to a barely noticeable layer across the surface. Bubbles of carbonation continually rise to the surface. No noticeable lacing to speak of.

Smell: Starts with the typical Macro Lager "dishwater" smell, though not nearly as strong as others I've tried. A hint of sweetness and light grain becomes noticeable and lingers. Really not too bad for the style.

Taste: Taste is a bit on the sweet side (which seems to be a mixture of both the malt and cornflakes used in the mash) with a slight bitter twinge on the back end. Aftertaste is clean. Buttery sweetness toys with being cloying. I wish there were a tad more bitterness or crispness in the taste, but overall it's quite acceptable.

Mouthfeel: Light-bodied, smooth, crisp and refreshing with a perfect amount of carbonation.

Drinkability/Overall Impression: Drinkability is high on this one. I've found a strong contender for a year-round, crowd-pleasing "everyday" beer. I'll be keeping this around for those hot summer days when I need my thirst quenched without thinking too much about it. I'll also offer this to my BMC-drinking guests. Probably the best American Macro Lager available anywhere at any price. I only wish the full pints were available in my area (we can only get the 12-oz. NRs), as it's nice to have that extra space taken up in my pint glass.

3.65 - B
Nice review. I went to college in the late 90's at IUP in Indiana, PA, not too far from where Straub is brewed. Straub was my go-to beer when I was in school! It's good stuff for the price. I remember the six pack green bottles coming in a plastic drawstring type bag rather than a cardboard carrier which you see with most other six packs. I'm not sure if they still do that but I think the idea was that you could throw some ice into the bag and you have a mini portable cooler. And IIRC, it wasn't more than $4 for a sixer out there!


also know as @PhillyBeerGuy
Well done Mike! You need to get ahold of some of the new Old Formula Schlitz.
I did read about that. If I can find it I'll certainly pick some up! I've got two more beers to review for my "series" this summer, so we'll have to see if there's time to fit Schlitz in, ;)

On a side note, these returnable bottles are nearly bulletproof! I dropped the one in the picture above DOWN the stairs on my way to the basement to return it to the case, and it bounced three times down the wooden steps and off the linoleum-covered concrete floor in the cellar. I don't think I could get it to crack if I tried. If I were big-time into homebrewing, Straub wouldn't be seeing these bottles again!


For once, knowledge is making me poor!
Nice review

I spend some time near St Mary's Pa. where it's made and when you are going to drink a thousand beers Straub is the beer to drink. They do not use preservatives and it cuts down on the hangover effect :thumbs:

It wasn't long a go that I bought the heavy cardboard case of 16 oz. returnable for $15.00 plus $1.50 for the box.
Wow! This brings back memories. Back in the '70's I worked in Erie PA with a guy who was native to St. Mary's who was always extoling the virtues of Straub's. We made a road trip there for the express purpose of beer drinking and when we stopped at his mother's house on the way into town, she told me to be sure to look for the big horse standing near the back door of the brewery because that was Straub's secret tap! Despite that not so subtle warning, I sampled a few bottles and found it to be different than the regular horse piss I was used to at that time of my life, but not unpleasant. In fact, I rather liked it! I can't remember if the bottles were green or brown but I seem to recall green...or maybe that was Rolling Rock I was thinking of. At any rate, I long for the days of the old local breweries. We had Iroquois and Simon Pure in Buffalo back in the day and the world is poorer for their demise. The trendy new micro breweries are OK but not like the old ones.

Thanks for posting this, Phlicker. It's nice to remember those beer-sodden days of one's youth! :D


also know as @PhillyBeerGuy
I'm glad people are enjoying my "Old Man" reviews, especially those native to Western PA, or those who spent a great deal of time there. Don't worry, Eastern'll be coming up soon. Pennsylvania's "unique" liquor laws have actually allowed smaller regional breweries to stay in business throughout both Prohibition and expansion of the macro beer market. I doubt any other state would have been able to support both Straub and Yeungling (and until a few years ago, Latrobe) for over 100+ years had we not been required to buy by the case.