When you think of beer, which brand comes to mind as the biggest American brand? If you thought of one of the omnipresent mega-breweries, you would be wrong. The largest American brewer may come as a bit of a surprise: It’s none other than D.G. Yuengling & Son.
It’s important to understand the distinction between American-made and American-owned. Though Anheuser-Busch beers are brewed in the United States, in 2008 the company merged with the Belgian company Intervew & AmBev to form Anheuser-Busch InBev, a Belgian/Brazilian conglomerate based in Belgium. (Last year, AB InBev again morphed into Anheuser-Busch InBev SA/NV.) MillerCoors is a complicated situation, but the bottom line is that the brands are owned by entities — including AB Inbev and Molsons — outside the U.S. Aside from craft brew, truly American mainstream beer is becoming increasingly hard to find.
A breakdown of the amounts brewed by each reveals that A-B, with 125 million barrels brewed annually, is still king of the hill when it comes to beer in the U.S. By comparison, Yuengling, brewing only 2.5 million barrels annually, commands 1 percent of domestic sales.
Yuengling was founded in 1829 in Pottsville, Pennsylvania by David G. Yuengling of Württemberg, Germany. The brewery was first established as Eagle Brewery on Centre Street in Pottsville, a sedate coal-mining town with a thirst for great beer. After a fire destroyed the original brewery in 1831, Yuengling rebuilt his dream in a new building on Mahantongo Street. The company cruised along nicely and, in 1873, Frederick, David’s son, renamed it D.G. Yuengling & Son. In 1895, Yuengling began bottling its beers for better distribution and freshness. During Prohibition, the brewery ceased beer-making activities, with the exception of near-beer, and opened a dairy across the street. When Prohibition ended in 1933, the brewery celebrated by offering “Winner Beer.” They shipped a truckload to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and began building up steam again as a brewing force.
In 1976, America’s bicentennial year, Yuengling was put on both state and national registers as America’s Oldest Brewery.
The most familiar of its beers, Yuengling Traditional Amber Lager, was reintroduced in 1987; today it’s the flagship brand. Yuengling has expanded its offerings to 14 beers, but Amber Lager remains the bestseller.
The remarkable thing about this business is how it became the largest American brewery, even though it doesn’t distribute nationally, nor does it plan to. Five years ago, David Casinelli, the company’s CFO, told The Bottom Line, “We are a regional brewery. We will grow as we feel we can handle it. But we’re not going to run across the U.S. and become a national brand.”
As an American icon in the brewing industry, Yuengling — German for “young man” — has been going strong 188 years. And with manufacturing facilities in Pennsylvania and Tampa, which has daily tours, the brewery still grows. It’s now increasing brewing capacity at the Tampa facility from a maximum of 475 barrels to 675 barrels.
“We’re a fifth-generation business,” Casinelli told The Bottom Line. “Most don’t make it past, what do they say, two.”