American Snapshot: Yuengling, America's Oldest Brewery

Dick Yuengling brings Pennsylvania's favorite beer back to prominance.

POTTSVILLE, Pa., Oct. 24, 2009— -- When David G. Yuengling arrived in America, he followed many of his fellow German immigrants to the hills of eastern Pennsylvania, where coal was king.

In 1829, he settled in Pottsville, Pa., a town that laid claim to discovering anthracite coal just a few decades earlier.

But Yuengling didn't need to dig for coal. He brought a skill with him from Germany -- brewing beer -- so he opened a brewery.

The coal boom has long since come and gone for Pottsville and the Pennsylvania coal region, but Yuengling's brewery remains. And today, over a 180 years later D.G. Yuengling & Son is still going strong and can proudly call itself the oldest brewery in America.

Richard L. Yuengling, Jr., 66, or Dick as everyone calls him, is the current caretaker of the family business, the fifth generation of Yuengling sons to do so.

Following Yuengling family tradition, Dick Yuengling bought the company from his father in 1985, rather than inherit the family property. At the time, the brewery was floundering and its very survival was in doubt. Like many other regional breweries at the time, Yuengling was struggling to compete with larger national brands.

But with some of Dick Yuengling's famous thrift, clever marketing, and old fashioned hard work, the Yuengling Brewery is now thriving.

"We have grown since I bought the company in 1985, we've grown from 137,000 barrels. We should hit two million barrels this year, said Yuengling.

"We're now the second-largest brewer in the United States, and we're only a couple thousand barrels behind Samuel Adams, that sells its beer throughout 50 states and we're only in 13, so we're doing fine. It's quite a success story that we've had here."

Yuengling is also the largest privately owned domestic brewer with brewing behemoths like Anheiser-Busch and MillerCoors having been acquired by foreign companies.

Despite the chance to cash in and skip town, Dick Yuengling has refused to sell.

"The family's been loyal to Pottsville," said Bob Dittmars, a Pottsville resident and owner of Marroons Sports Bar & Grill. "They could have sold. I'm sure many times to big companies like some other breweries have, but they haven't. It's a Pottsville tradition. And consequently, the people from the area are very loyal to Yuengling."

Dick Yuengling: Unconventional CEO

Dick Yuengling has also remained loyal to the blue-collar tradition of Pottsville and the Yuengling Brewery despite his success.

"Dick is a non conventional CEO," said Dave Casinelli, COO of Yuengling. "He won't put a suit and tie on unless he rents one for a wedding. He's hands on. You'll find him on the forklift. You'll find him in a sales meeting. You'll find him directing a marketing meeting one day. He's very active in his company. He loves it. He's very direct with his people and he's very approachable. It embodies who he is."

A tour of the Yuengling brewery, at 5th and Mahantongo Streets in Pottsville, is a lesson in beer-making history.

"Back in 1829 and the early 1800s, there was no electricity and there was no way to refrigerate anything," said Yuengling. "So breweries were built into the side of a mountain and then they'd dig tunnels to store the beer and keep it cold."

The underground tunnels, closed during prohibition, were recently re-opened to the public, as part of the Yuengling Brewery tour.

Yuengling, German for "Young Man"

Yuengling has become synonymous with lager in Pennsylvania and parts of the Northeast with the success of its Amber Lager.

"We came out with the Amber Lager in 1988," said Yuengling. "When we expanded our marketplace people had problems saying the Yuengling name, so we called it Yuengling Traditional Amber Lager. That's a little long so we told people to say just give me a 'lager' and that caught on at least in our core market area."

Yuengling means "young man" in German, but for the Yuenglings there are no more young men to carry on the family tradition -- only young women.

Dick Yuengling has four daughters: Jennifer Yuengling, Debbie Ferhat, Wendy Yuengling Baker and Sheryl Yuengling, all of whom have worked at the brewery at some point.

Jennifer and Wendy are currently learning the ins-and-outs of the brewery business.

"You learn a lot working with him [Dick Yuengling]. The more I work with him, the more I appreciate the knowledge that he has," said Wendy Yuengling Baker. "We are getting there, but we aren't ready for him to vacation in Florida full time yet."