You have no doubt at this point seen a billboard or a bus with a sign proclaiming Yuengling is coming in fall of 2011. You may have even had a pint of it if you go to one of the many places that offers it on tap, like the Oregon Express, Archer’s Tavern, or Bullwinkle’s. Maybe you have heard the excited whispers of some of your beer loving friends discussing how much they could not wait for it to come to Dayton. And all of them have a friend, family member, friend of a friend, or some runner who brings them a case of Yuengling any time they visit one of the thirteen states it is currently on sale in. The stories make it sound like Yuengling is a banned substance in the state of Ohio, and there is a stiff penalty for possession.
Yuengling does not need to be sold in dark alleys by seedy people. It is one of the better examples of an American lager that is available, and up until this year, Ohio was not one of the thirteen states that you could buy it in. You had to go to Pennsylvania or West Virginia to buy it, as it was mainly sold along the east coast and the South. The company is based in Pottsville, PA, about sixty miles northeast of Harrisburg, and is America’s oldest continuously run brewery. It is also a small brewery, producing two million barrels of beer in a year for the first time in 2010. To put that in perspective, Budweiser produces over one hundred million barrels of beer a year, and has been doing so since the late 90’s. They are very passionate about the product they produce, and will not sell it in an area unless they know they can support the demand for it. That happened in 1996, when they pulled out sales from other states because of too much demand. That is also the company’s main reason for taking so long to get to Ohio. We love our beer, and they were concerned they would not be able to meet demand. In some ways, they were right; Dayton is getting bottled product mid-November because Columbus and Cleveland bought quite a bit more beer than was expected. Cleveland alone bought double what the company projected. In some areas it was triple.
Yuengling began as a small company in a small town in Pottsville in 1829, when German immigrant David Yuengling started the Eagle Brewery. That brewery burned down in 1831, but David quickly rebuilt it, and kept producing beer. In 1873, when his son Frederick joined the company, he changed the name to D.G. Yuengling and Son. When David passed away in 1899, the brewery was thriving. It was doing so well that Prohibition could not stop it. When the country dried out for thirteen years after the passage of the Eighteenth Amendment, Frederick did two things. The first was starting to brew “near beer” from their Pottsville plant, the only alcoholic beverage that was still legally allowed to be produced in the United States. It was a .5% beer by volume, the equivalent of O’Douls or Sharp’s. Their other venture to help them through was to start producing ice cream. Yes, really. They produced ice cream until 1981, when they finally closed the dairy they opened across the street from their plant. On the day Prohibition was repealed, President Franklin D. Roosevelt received a shipment of Winner Beer from the Yuengling plant as a thank you. This was curious, because the beer takes about three weeks to brew.
The company hummed along nicely, until the 1970’s, when the boom in commercial and mass produced beers came and wiped out or bought up all of the competition. The highlight of that era happened during America’s bicentennial year if 1976; Yuengling became officially registered as America’s Oldest Brewery. Yuengling had a solid base in its home county of Schuykill, and was able to survive nicely on just what the locals were buying. This was not good enough for Dick Yuengling, who took over the company in 1985. He immediately reintroduced the very popular lager that had not been brewed in decades. The beer itself is an amber or copper color, and a little sweeter than the traditional lager. The malt notes assert themselves a little more than the bitter of the hops. The hops add a little bit of a citrus flavor, but it is very, very light. His timing was excellent, as the craft beer movement was just beginning, and people were drifting away from Budweiser and Miller to look for other beers. That beer is the beacon that we are all drawn to, and is part of the reason Yuengling is enjoying a boom. It has been growing in leaps and bounds since he took over, adding several new breweries to expand their distribution area, choosing their path of expansion carefully. Yuengling now accounts for about 1% of beer sales in the United States. They grow slowly, from state to state, to preserve the quality of the beer. This business that has been going since 1829, and the whole family is committed to continuing that tradition. As Jennifer Yuengling, Dick’s daughter, once put it in a story for The Morning Call “This is our family history and there’s no other family in the world that can claim what we have.”
What will the future hold for Yuengling in Ohio, now that bars have it on tap and stores will soon have bottles to take home? Will it hurt the demand of Yuengling, since part of its popularity was its scarcity in the state? Listening to people discuss it, the opinion seems to be mixed. People who were familiar with the brew before it was widely available are excited that they can now go out and get it on tap, or bring home a six pack of it. People who had not tried it before are a bit more puzzled. They do not see what all of the hype was about, and have consigned it to the pack with other lager beers. Maybe the hype has hurt the spread a little, raising the bar a little too high for the Pennsylvania lager. Its rabid fan base will make sure that they keep the beer popular in Dayton, and the bars that have it now are making sure people know about it. The bars that have it on tap have benefitted from the initial release at the end of October. Next week, retailers and bars that have it by the bottle will see people coming in and buying out the available stock, checking out this beer with the almost contraband reputation to it. Cheers!