Celebration Corner: D.G. Yuengling & Son's 190th anniversary

By April Hall

The brewery will hold a daylong music festival this summer in Pottsville, Pa., where the company is based.

The Business: David G. Yuengling Sr. left Germany in 1823 with a plan to start a brewery in the United States. He settled in Pottsville, Pa., a coal-mining community, and got to work. The company, launched in 1829 as the Eagle Brewery, produced two styles of beer: a dark porter and the lighter Lord Chesterfield Ale, which are still brewed by Yuengling’s descendants today.

When a fire destroyed the original brewery, Yuengling rebuilt on Mahantongo Street, a few blocks away. The new facility was built into a mountain to have direct access to an underground spring, which supplied the water for the beer.

The brewery was renamed D.G. Yuengling & Son in 1873.

Only one of David’s three sons, Frederick, stayed in Pottsville to work with his father.

Frederick took over the brewery when David Sr. died. That ownership was short-lived, as Frederick was only 51 when he passed. His son, Frank Dohrman Yuengling, was attending Princeton University at the time and dropped out of college to take over the family business. He spent his career with the company, paying off the debt his parents had acquired in building the Mahantongo Street brewery.

Frank managed to keep the company above water in spite of Prohibition. When the 18th Amendment was ratified, federal authorities descended, breaking barrels and sealing up the “caves” under the brewery where beer was aged.

Yuengling survived Prohibition by making “near beer” and diversifying — Frank built a dairy across from the brewery (where the company’s visitor center is now located). Yuengling ice cream and other dairy products were sold in the region. When Prohibition ended, the brewery celebrated by producing “Winner Beer” and sent a truckload to President Franklin D. Roosevelt as a thank-you. The dairy closed in 1985. In 2014, Yuengling’s Ice Cream was revived by David Yuengling, a relative who is not involved with the brewery.

Two of Frank’s sons, Richard Sr. and F. Dohrman Yuengling, took over management of the brewery in 1963 when their father, who was president and CEO, died.

Again, the brewery struggled. Many other breweries that had been located in Pennsylvania’s coal region were squeezed out by big companies.

When F. Dohrman died, Dick Sr. bought his family’s stake in the business. The beer was always good, Dick Jr. says, but the company wasn’t as successful as he thought it could be.

Dick Jr., now 76, had already immersed himself in the beer world, but not by working for his father. After dropping out of college, Dick bought a beer wholesaler in Pottsville and ran that until 1985, when he sold it and bought D.G. Yuengling & Son from his father.

When Dick bought the brewery, he had big plans. In the next couple of years he would launch the first new Yuengling products since World War II.

In addition to the brewery’s original porter, Lord Chesterfield Ale and Premium, Dick introduced Premium Light, Black and Tan, Oktoberfest and what would become the brand’s flagship — Yuengling Lager. Yuengling is now sold in 22 states; its lager accounts for 85% of the company’s sales.

In 2018, Yuengling introduced its Golden Pilsner, its first new product since the 1980s.

The surge in the popularity of Yuengling Lager — known simply as “Lager” in most bars where it is sold — strained the capacity of the Pottsville brewery. Dick announced the company would build a larger production facility on Mill Creek Avenue, a few blocks from the original brewery. However, he soon realized it would be years before the facility would be up and running. The company needed to fill the pipeline sooner than that.

While at fantasy baseball camp in Florida, Dick saw that a Stroh’s brewery in Tampa was for sale. He made a leap to buy it, and the plant was shipping lager within months.

Currently, the company can brew 4 million barrels of beer annually. The Mill Creek Avenue facility has a 2 million-barrel capacity, the Tampa facility has a capacity of 1.5 million barrels and 600,000 barrels are produced at the Pottsville location. The flagship location is the least productive but stays in operation to retain the title of “America’s Oldest Brewery.”

All four of Dick’s daughters work in the business. Though he doesn’t plan to retire any time soon, his daughters are poised to take over when the time comes. It will mark the first time in the company’s history that women will run the brewery.

“Who will run and be the principal in the company, it’s up to them to decide,” Dick says. “They’re all putting a lot of time and effort into the company.”

The Family: The founder had not only three sons, but also seven daughters. None of those daughters was involved in the business. In fact, the ownership of the brewery has always passed from father to son. But that’s going to change.

Daughters Jennifer, 47, and Wendy Yuengling, 43, have taken the lead: Jennifer is the brewery’s vice president of operations and Wendy is chief administrative officer. Debbie Yuengling, 44, is the pricing and sales administration manager and Sheryl Yuengling, 40, is in order services, working directly with distributors.

The oldest of the seventh generation are teenagers and aren’t involved in the business, but they did contribute letters to the time capsule this company buried this year.

The Celebration: There are a number of ways the company is celebrating both inside and outside of Pottsville. From the beginning of the year through May, limited-edition cans were distributed. The brand’s emblem has been an eagle since the early days, when it was called Eagle Brewery, and the collection of five cans featured the evolution of the eagle design.

The brewery also released a small craft batch at the Pottsville tasting room in January. The Bourbon Barrel Reserve, an Oktoberfest-style beer that was aged in the brewery’s hand-dug caves in bourbon-seasoned barrels, ran out in mid-April, but another limited-edition brew will be announced later in the year.

On April 18 the brewery celebrated “America’s Oldest Brewery Day.” During the event, the time capsule containing Yuengling memorabilia and letters from the living Yuengling generations to future family members was sealed and buried. That day the company also announced the headlining musical act for the summer celebration. On April 25, Yuengling sponsored the first Light Lager Jogger 5K, which drew nearly 3,000 runners.

A day of free concerts July 13 will culminate with pop/rock band Better Than Ezra on the main stage in front of the brewery. Other bands will play during the day at several stages set up in downtown Pottsville. and there will be food, artists and craft vendors and, of course, plenty of beer. The evening will end with a fireworks display. Proceeds from the day will go to the Pottsville Continued Progress Project to revitalize the town.

“We want to thank the community for supporting us all these years,” says Wendy. “And we want to show everyone how great Pottsville is.”

The Response: Jennifer says there has been a “tremendous” amount of support from Yuengling fans, who have been eager to acquire the commemorative cans and the small-batch brews.

“It’s fun for our brewers and our people internally, and for the consumers as well,” she says.

The company has also made a more organized effort to connect with people on social media with Facebook Live feeds and Instagram posts.

Fans have responded by using #yuenglinggoodtimes on social media to share what they’re doing with the brand, whether it’s touring the brewery or a bride shotgunning a beer at her wedding. The hashtag has been used hundreds of times this year.

The Planning: Dick, who was with the company when it celebrated its 175th anniversary, says he let the marketing department and his daughters make the plans for the 190th celebration.

Wendy Yuengling says this is the biggest celebration in the brewery’s history, and while it took a lot of planning, she didn’t find it to be particularly challenging.

“We’re limited by manpower and resources,” she says. “We’re not used to doing big events like this, so we’re learning along the way.”

The initial planning started last year. Wendy gives a lot of the credit to the marketing department.

“They’re always thinking about how we can tell our story better and how to make people understand that we’re still an American company, family-owned and -operated.”

The Advice: Wendy says partnerships have helped with making the year’s events go smoothly.

Yuengling worked with non-profit organization ArtsQuest to secure musicians and enlisted the help of the local business association in planning the festival in July.

The company has also made it a priority to invite partners and the community into the brewery as a way to thank them.

“This will just be a big celebration for Pottsville and a way for us to thank the community for their support,” Wendy says. “Because without the community’s support and the past generations never giving up, we wouldn’t be here today.”    

Copyright 2019 by Family Business Magazine. This article may not be posted online or reproduced in any form, including photocopy, without permission from the publisher. For reprint information, contact bwenger@familybusinessmagazine.com.                                                        

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July/August 2019

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