Yuengling America’s Oldest Brewery
Richard “Dick” Yuengling Jr. can rattle off the names of defunct local breweries and beers that helped quench the Industrial Age thirst — Old Dutch Beer in Catasauqua, Horlacher and Neuweiler’s in Allentown and Seitz and Kuebler in Easton.
“We got lucky,” said Yuengling, fifth-generation owner of the Pottsville-based D.G. Yuengling & Son Inc. “By the late 1960s, so many of the breweries that had been around for a long time in eastern Pennsylvania were out of business.”
Even as the lone survivor, Yuengling sales began to dwindle in the 1980s as the beer giants established a foothold on the industry before inquisitive American taste buds began searching for alternatives to Budweiser, Miller, Coors, and Pabst.
But Dick Yuengling turned to his roots as the leader of America’s oldest brewery and the honesty and satisfaction that comes with a hard day’s work that he learned and observed as a kid working in the family brewery.
Growing up next to his uncle’s dairy farm, he remembers starting out at the brewery at 15, working as a carpenter’s helper. At 17, when he helped stack empty beer cases and feed them through the bottling line, it occurred to him that there might be a better way to pick up production.
“That’s what got me going,” he said. “I knew we couldn’t operate this way and still be successful. I got after my dad to put in a more automated process, like a forklift to stack the cases. Ten years later things started to change.”
Keeping the faith into the pivotal 1980s, Yuengling said he had the confidence to take the necessary steps to make his family’s brand survive and thrive.
Yuengling Traditional Lager, a recipe that had been archived for decades, was revived in 1987 as demand for more hearty beer began to increase. Personal relationships were established with regional wholesalers in Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and State College, a bastion of loyalty for Rolling Rock, and distributors began to sell the lager, Black & Tan, Lord Chesterfield Ale and Porter in an ever-expanding marketplace.
“By 1997, we were totally out of beer and couldn’t meet demand,” said Yuengling, who convinced his daughter Jennifer to return to Pottsville and manage operations.
Last year, Yuengling sold more than 2.7 million barrels (a U.S. beer barrel holds 31 gallons) of its products, making it the fourth largest brewery in the United States. About 330 employees work at Yuengling’s two breweries in Pottsville and its brewery in Tampa, Fla. Yuengling Traditional Lager remains the flagship brand.
“We’re in 19 states and Washington, D.C., mostly on the eastern seaboard stretching from Massachusetts to Florida,” said Dave Casinelli, chief operating officer at Yuengling. “We’re venturing into Ohio and opening new markets in Mississippi and Louisiana. The irony is we’re still a regional company and a regional brand.”
Interest in Yuengling’s products is intense.
“It’s all over; there isn’t a state that doesn’t clamor for our products,” said Casinelli, who joined the Pottsville company in 1990. “We don’t export. We work at growing the markets we’re in, and we will consider some expansion when the time is right. That’s the business model we follow.”
Tenured, prideful employees are well aware of their place in the beer pantheon and work hard to preserve and expand the legacy, Casinelli said, noting that it’s not uncommon to see multiple generations making Yuengling products.
“We have sons, fathers, grandfathers and other family members,” he said. “One of our brewing managers came out of high school and is now in his mid-50s. He loves it; he’s passionate as hell.”
With 5,000 breweries in the United States and a consumer base on the constant prowl for newer and different beer emerging from the craft beer market, Casinelli said it takes more than the “America’s Oldest Brewery” slogan to stay relevant.
“When we show the orientation video to new hires and speak about the culture and heritage, it doesn’t guarantee you anything,” he said. “You need to go into the competitive landscape knowing you have to earn it.”
By the rich display of labels of retired beer in the brewery’s museum, it’s clear that Yuengling can make just about any style of brew, from cream ales to stouts.
Summer Wheat, a Bavarian-style Hefeweizen, was introduced in 2014 with a unique blend of hops to make it stand out, and Yuengling released its newest product, an India pale lager, last year.
“Our brewers can make anything, but we focus on our core products to pay the bills,” said Casinelli, who enjoys a Yuengling porter with a good steak. “We have the right beer at the right time.”
What makes Yuengling different is its culture, he said.
“Dick Yuengling, who took over the business in 1985, is big on heritage and authenticity,” Casinelli said. “He’s adamant about not turning this place into corporate America.”
Looking to the future, Dick Yuengling said he’s hoping his four daughters carry on the tradition started in 1829 by his great-great grandfather, David Gottlob Yuengling, an immigrant from Aldingen, Germany.
Wendy Yuengling, chief administrative officer, and Jennifer Yuengling, vice president of operations, work alongside Debbie Yuengling, pricing manager, and Sheryl Yuengling, order services.
“I’m 73, and would like to turn it over at some point,” Yuengling said. “It’s a great feeling to know you’ve worked for years and have children to take the business into the next generation.”
Yuengling is proudly distributed locally by Banko Beverages.