The Yuengling Mystique

This month, Pottsville’s favorite beer Yuengling will be distributed and sold throughout the State of Texas. Some northern transplants and Pennsylvania ex-pats have rejoiced at this news; some native Texans are mildly fascinated given the name recognition; others are simply bewildered at the hubbub over the next “new” beer.

From a craft-beer industry standpoint, the expansion of Yuengling (technically, D.G. Yuengling & Sons) is a significant national step for their craft beer market. For those unfamiliar with the brewery, their products, or are mystified at the social stir this has created, let’s break down the situation.

1. Texas alone is a major beer market.

On a per capita basis, the craft beer numbers for Texas are not impressive due to our overall population (second only to California). But from an economic standpoint, anything that involves this state is a major factor in the nationwide beer market. Consumption in Texas alone has been known to affect craft beer distribution for other states.

New national and international brands entering our state is always a big deal. Regional brewers like Michigan’s Bell’s Brewing, Colorado’s Odell Brewing or Boston’s Harpoon Brewery had to significantly increase production when they begin to include the Texas market, which is a major commitment for some. Do not underestimate Texans’ thirst for good craft beers, of any origin.

2. Texas is just the first step in the next stage of growth.

Originally brewing in eastern Pennsylvania just outside of Allentown, Yuengling has always enjoyed a strong local following. Its historical market has been upstate New York, New England and British Columbia, enjoying an almost universal familiarity as just “a lager” as ordered. Demand surpassed production capacity in the late 1990s when they purchased an old Stroh’s brewery in Tampa to support growing markets in the southeast states.

When the next generation takes ownership, Yuengling will be the largest woman-owned brewery in the US.

Texas is only the tip of the spear for this current, most recent expansion. In partnership with Molson Coors, The Yuengling Company (separate from the original brewery) was formed to handle growth of new markets west of their current East Coast reach—essentially, all states west of the Mississippi River. (The new western Yuengling products will be brewed out of Molson Coors’ Fort Worth facilities.)

2. Yuengling is still a privately owned, independent American brewery.

Ownership of the original Yuengling brewery has not changed with the Molson Coors deal. Founded in 1829 and with claims as the “oldest brewery in the United States,” Yuengling has been owned by five successive generations of the Yuengling family (the name is an Anglicized version of the original German surname Jüngling). Technically, it is still recognized as a legitimate craft brewery (the largest nationwide) by the Brewers Association despite its size.

More than its history, its current president since 1985, Richard L. (“Dick”) Yuengling, Jr., has only four daughters, to one of whom he has pledged to sell his company shares upon his personal retirement. This promise means that when the sixth generation of family takes ownership, Yuengling will be the largest woman-owned brewery in the United States.

3. Yuengling beers compete directly with the national corporate brands.

Part of Yuengling’s success and popularity has been simply the products they choose to make. Yuengling is a traditional German lager brewer, deliberately competing against the beers of national corporate brands like Anheuser-Busch, Miller Brewing and Coors. They have historically avoided craft beer trends or even too many ales, and only then very traditional takes on the most popular styles. Experimentation is just not in their nature.

Yuengling’s portfolio of beers rarely numbers into double digits plus a couple of seasonal offerings. This mere handful of products is surprisingly small given the size and historical breadth of such a brewing operation. Much of this recent success is due to its current owner Dick Yuengling, who has grown production under his tenure to include two local breweries in Pennsylvania and one major brewery in Tampa.

5. Yuengling makes some very good, popular, quality beers.

Like many “vacation beers,” Yuengling has enjoyed a memory honeymoon of that certain unfamiliar beer that tasted great when you were traveling but is unavailable at home—more or less a grass-is-greener comparison, where the food, people and weather are always better when you are away. We saw this same behavior displayed when Europe’s Stella Artois entered the Texas market in the early 2000s.

With consumer products, the quality is often the most important factor. Lost in the craft beer politicking is the fact that Yuengling beers are solid, tasty, high-quality, all-malt craft beers. Re-introduced in 1987, their Traditional Lager is a pre-Prohibition style of amber lager, slightly more caramelized than a standard lager, that now accounts for around 80% of overall sales. At one point, Yuengling was even the largest producer of porter in the U.S.

Unfortunately, many American craft brewers deliberately avoid lager styles of beer. Lagers take longer to ferment and condition (relating to their cost of production) and have their own technical brewing difficulties, which leaves most craft brewers producing exclusively ale styles. For this reason alone, Yuengling should be a brand that you support. PH

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