If you’ve been keeping up with my posts, you may have read the ode to craft beer that I wrote several months ago. Although I’m always partial to a craft brew, sometimes I just need something cheap because drinking exclusively ‘craft’ can become quite expensive. I have nothing against a cheaper beer when I’m really just craving a cold one. Like any good Pennsylvanian, my go-to-budget-beer has been Yuengling traditional lager.
This beer is considered by many beer lovers to be one of the tastier budget beers. As a native of the state, I didn’t realize that Yuengling had the limited distribution that it does until I really started getting into beer. I was surprised to find that people in other states would trek across state lines to get a case. The amber lager is decidedly ubiquitous in Pennsylvania, however. If there’s anything you can count on to be on tap in any PA bar, it’s Yuengling lager. In fact, at many establishments, simply ordering ‘lager’ gets you a Yuengling.
What I also didn’t know about America’s oldest brewery is that it has been family-owned and operated since opening its doors in 1829. With over 180 years under its belt, the brewery has a heritage it’s proud of. It survived Prohibition and two World Wars and is still going strong, in fact perhaps stronger than ever. During the Prohibition years, the brewery survived by brewing non-alcoholic ‘near beer’ and making ice cream in a dairy built across the street from the brewery. The business has been passed down through the family from father to son and is now in the hands of the fifth generation Yuengling, Richard L. Yuengling, known as Dick.
I’m not usually one to talk about The American Dream, but if it exists, Yuengling would be a strong case for it. The brewery was started as Eagle Brewery in 1829 by German immigrant David G. Yuengling, in Pottsville, PA. The brewery was destroyed by a fire, rebuilt and renamed as D. G. Yuengling and Sons. The name proved to be a good one but they might have to add ‘and daughters’ to the end of the name when Dick Yuengling steps down and passes the brewery on to his daughters.
It was under Dick’s leadership that Yuengling’s best-selling flagship beer, the traditional amber lager, was reintroduced. A second brewery was built in Florida and in 2010, Yuengling production surpassed two million barrels of beer. In 2012, it became the largest American-owned brewery. Few American breweries were able to survive Prohibition, but Yuengling managed to adapt and evolve through the Prohibition years and then to rebuild and flourish as a powerful brewery, after its repeal. And it all started with a German immigrant and his entrepreneurial spirit and determination.
In America, we have become used to seeing companies rise and fall and stock markets inflate and crash. It is not unusual to see family businesses selling out to corporations and losing their original focus and values. It’s a cut-throat jungle where no one seems to stay at the top of the food chain for long. Against this background, Yuengling stands as reminder of those hallowed old-fashioned American ideals: integrity, tenacity and self-reliance. While there’s always the chance that Yuengling might sell out, I think the brewery’s image and old world charm are two of its major selling points. Yuengling is proof that it is possible to build and grow a successful business with your own two hands and a lot of hard work.