Yuengling – America’s Oldest Brewery Turns 175 Years Old

In 2004, Yuengling celebrated its 175th anniversary,

Dick Yuengling is the fifth generation to operate the business since its founding in 1829 by David G. Yuengling. With four daughters and no sons, the Yuengling & Son brewery may change its name to Yuengling and Son and Daughters.

Since taking over in 1985, fifth generation brewery owner Dick Yuengling has increased sales to 1.3 million barrels per year.

 Brewmaster Jim Buehler oversees the operation of the Yuengling breweries. In the brewing room, he leans upon a soon-to-be-replaced copper lauter tub. The lauter tank separated the liquid portion of the cooked corn and malt mixture called wort.

In the pub room, tour guide Melanie Doorly explains the ingredients that are used to brew Yuengling beer. (Left to right) They are corn grits from Minnesota, light, caramel and black malted barley from Wisconsin, and hops from Washington.

Celebrating its 175th anniversary, D. G. Yuengling and Son moves toward the end of its second century of brewing, wondering if it should change its name to Yuengling and Son and Daughters. It may happen—if Dick Yuengling can find enough space on the brewery’s label.

 Dick Yuengling, the fifth generation of Yuengling men to operate the Pottsville-based brewery has four daughters and no sons, and the Yuengling daughters are already active in the company.

 Cheryl, the oldest, works in distribution. Jennifer graduated as a brewmaster from the Siebel Institute in Chicago. Debbie is an accountant and Wendy is a marketing major currently studying in Baltimore.

 Pappa Dick is a working owner. Dressed in a checked shirt, company jacket and jeans, he is in constant motion throughout the 5th & Mahantongo Street brewery. Take a tour of the 1914 brewery and you’re likely to see Dick run—between buildings and into and out of work areas.

 Plan to take a tour of the brewery. Dick practically grew up there, having started in the brewery at the age of 15. He’s amazed that people enjoy touring the vintage building and brewery machinery. “To me, it’s a place to work,” says Dick Yuengling. “But visitor’s think this place is Disneyland.” 

Growth and Growing Pains

When Dick took the helm of the Yuengling Brewery in 1985, regional brands were disappearing in the wake of a tidal wave of advertising for the national brands. Yet, even as regional brands and several national brands were closed or bought out, under Dick Yuengling, the Yuengling brewery grew in sales by a factor of ten—from 130,000 barrels (a barrel is 31 gallon) a year in 1985 to 1.3 million barrels in 2003.

How did he do it? He seems to have a three-step process—produce a quality consistent brew, offer the right varieties, and make lots of it.

 “The national brands sell their products on television and not by taste,” says Yuengling. “They lightened their beers to the point that there was no character to them. Even our premium and light beers have a character. You may not like it. Our brands are not for everybody.” 

 While, perhaps, not for everyone, Yuengling is doing more than a fair job of slacking the thirst of anyone from Pottsville’s retired miners to New York trendsetters. Epinions, an internet ratings site, gives Yuengling a five star rating with reader comments such as, “This little-known brewery ought to get out and advertise itself to the rest of the country! I only spent six months in Eastern Pennsylvania, but if anything could drag me back it would be the Yuengling Lager served at the local pub.”

 Dick reintroduced a lager beer at Yuengling. Lager had been one of Yuengling’s original brews but was discontinued. Dick brought it back and now it is their biggest seller. With Americans watching their carbs, Dick joined the national trend and introduced a light beer and, then took a step up and introduced a light larger.

 In 1978, President Jimmy Carter signed a bill legalizing home brewing of beer. Craft brewing came out of the closet and brewpubs and microbreweries began production. Soon, consumers, brought up on a generation of bland beers, began purchasing products with greater flavor and character, and discovering Yuengling.

 As the demand increased, Dick Yuengling increased production until he couldn’t make any more at the Pottsville plant. For a while, he contracted to make some beer at the brewery in Fogelsville previously operated by Stroh. After Stroh failed, Yuengling purchased their Tampa brewery. Still unable to keep up with demand, Yuengling built a new brewery nearby, in Port Carbon. 

The Fifth Generation

Dick Yuengling, the current owner and president, is the fifth generation of Yuenglings to operate the brewery.

 In 1829, patriarch David G. Yuengling founded the Eagle Brewery at the site that is currently the home of the Pottsville City Hall.

 D. G. Yuengling came from Württemberg Germany. His father was a butcher and councilman in the town of Aldegen. Although his father never worked as a brewer, it was not uncommon for people in this area to brew beer for their own use.

 D.G. came to America in 1827 at the age of 19. Two years later in 1829, attracted by the developing coal industry and anticipating the demand for beer by the coal miners, D. G, came to Pottsville and opened the Eagle Brewery. 

 D.G. relocated his brewery to it current site in 1831 after the Eagle Brewery was destroyed by fire. He selected a hillside location on Mahantongo Street.

 “It also had good water and a mountainous terrain,” explains Dick. “They would dig tunnels to store the beer. Before refrigeration, Ice was chopped in the winter and stored in the tunnels through the summer. The underground tunnels are about 54 degrees. The tunnels remain below the facility and may be open for tours in the spring. He built his brewery on a mountain so that he could run his piping by gravity.”

 D.G.’s son Frederick entered the family business and took over in 1877 when D.G. died. He ran it until his son, Frank, took over the brewery.

 Frank had two sons—Dick Sr. and Dorhman. The sons ran the brewery together until Dorhman passed away in 1973. Dick Sr. continued until he became sick with Alzheimer’s in 1984. Dick Jr. bought it in 1985.

 With four daughters, the sixth generation will be the first time in 175 years that Yuengling & Son will not be run by a man. 

175 Years Of Continuous Operation

With 175 years of continuous operation, Yuengling is the oldest brewery in the United States. Many breweries of its generation closed during prohibition—never to reopen.

 When in 1918, the US enacted the 18th Amendment to the US Constitution prohibiting intoxicating liquors; the brewery industry could no longer practice business as usual. Some breweries closed, others converted to soft drink or ice cream production. Still others continued making illegal beer.

 Frank Yuengling chose to make near-beer—a beer with an alcohol content below 0.5 percent.  This decision kept their beer making equipment in operation until prohibition was repealed by the 21st Amendment in 1935.

 Across Mahantongo Street is an abandoned building. In 1921, Frank Yuengling built a dairy there to make up for the beer sales lost during Prohibition. The dairy manufactured ice cream for 65 years, closing when no member of the family wanted to take it over.

 When 15-year-old Dick Jr. started working in the brewery in 1958, she worked alongside men in their seventies that had worked at other breweries during Prohibition.

 “They would tell stories of running beer lines through the old stone sewers of the coal region towns,” says Dick. “Then they brought the beer hose out in the garage, maybe a block from the brewery, and filled kegs and sold regular beer. No one ever caught them.”

 Dick told the story about how once Federal agents came to raid a brewery in a local coal town. The local police found out that the Feds were coming and they arrested them until the brewery could load its trucks and get the real beer out of the brewery.

 “I wasn’t talking about Yuengling,” dick says. “My grandfather won’t get mixed up in that kind of thing.” 

The Brewmaster

 Jim Buehler is the Brewmaster at Yuengling. He oversees the operations of the brewery.

 Jim started at age 18 and worked his way up the ranks. Dick appointed him Brewmaster when the former Brewmaster retired.

 Here’s a quick course in brewing. All Yuengling’s brews start from three ingredients—corn grits, light roasted malted barley and hops—plus water. The corn provides the sugars that are fermented into alcohol. The malt provides the body and the hops add a bitterness. All their beers begin with these basic ingredients.

 To create a dark brew, malted barley that has been roasted to a caramel color is added. For an even darker beer, they use malted barley roasted to a black color.

 Here’s a recipe for making 150 barrels of beer. Corn grits – 4,700 lbs., barley malt – 18,000 lbs, hops - 115 lbs . Cook and add water as required.

 The corn and the malted barley are cooked to soften the grains and then, in the lauter tank, the liquid wort is separated from the solids. The solids are sold to a local farm. The liquid is cooked again with the addition of the hops.

 The liquid is cooled and sent to the fermentation tank where yeast is added. Fermentation typically lasts eight days. Next it is pumped to the aging tank and allowed to rest for two weeks. The aged beer is filtered and carbonated and allowed to rest for several days to be evaluated for taste and quality. If the taste varies, the Brewmaster blends it with another batch to achieve consistency.

 After passing the taste test, the beer is again filtered and either filled into kegs as draft beer, or bottled and Pasteurized for home consumption.

 If you enjoy drinking beer at home, remember to give thanks to Louis Pasteur. In 1876, Pasteur published “Studies on Beer” showing how yeast can be controlled to stop fermentation. Soon afterward, pasteurized beer became available in bottles.

 The Yuengling Museum and Gift Shop offers tours of the brewery Monday through Friday year round and on Saturdays from April through December. See www.yuengling.com or call 570-628-4890 for information.