All in the details: Labels tell a lot about a brew

[NOTE: Missing bottle Illustration]

Next time you’re sitting at the bar, spacing out as you peel the label off your bottle, consider the breadth of info at your fingertips. Your average beer label is full of facts, both trivial and pertinent.

Check out the newest bottle on local shelves, from Yards.

* Yards Brewing Company is owned by Tom Kehoe and John Bovit, a couple of college buddies who have a thing for British-style ales. The name means nothing – it just sounds kind of English. They sold their first keg on April 18, 1995, and started bottling last month.

* Most beer is filtered extensively to remove floating yeast particles that cloud the brew. Though this improves the visual quality, it unfortunately removes some of the character. Yards, like many English-style ales, does not filter its beer. The remaining yeast ferments residual sugar to naturally carbonate the brew. Yes, the beer is somewhat cloudy – but Bottle Conditioned ale gives the drinker a fuller “mouthfeel” with every sip.

* “You want to be able to describe your beer to the public, but we couldn’t really come up with a specific category,” says brewmaster Tom Kehoe. It’s close to an Extra Special Bitter, but the recipe includes more chocolate malt and hops than a typical bitter. So, they came up with Extra Special Ale.

* Where the hell is Philadelphia on Schuylkill? The location is a play on stuffy British brewers, who frequently list the name of their home town and the nearest tributary. Bass Ale, for example, claims it’s from Burton on Trent. If you’re looking for Yards, you’ll find it in a warehouse at 5050 Umbria St. in Manayunk, just 100 yards from the Skook.

* Yards had considered using larger, 22-ounce bottles to better exploit its bottle conditioning, but it opted for the more conventional 12-ouncer. The reason goes back to an old Pennsylvania liquor law requiring that bottles under 25 ounces be packaged 24 to a case. A full case of large bottles might be too expensive for buyers, so Yards went for the small ones.

* One of the raging controversies in brewing is the so-called Born-On Date. Budweiser, for instance, uses it to assure consumers their beer is fresh. But many beers actually improve with age, so freshness dating would only confuse the consumer. Yards says its Release Date is mostly so the brewers can track stock rotation. It’s best drunk within 90 to 120 days.

* This Government Warning is standard on every bottle of alcohol sold in America. It’s required by the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, which, when it’s not torching religious zealots in Texas, reviews and approves beer labels for accuracy and taste.

* What you don’t see: alcohol content. Federal laws now permit brewers to list alcohol percentage, but Yards didn’t make room for it on the label. For the record, it runs about 6 percent – about 50 percent more than a typical American lager.

Designer: Carol Sandusky, Sandusky Design, Philadelphia.

Bottle: Anchor longneck.

Cap: Zapata oxygen-absorber.


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