It's strange to think that when I had my first Yuengling 30 years ago, and took my first tour of the brewery 25 years ago, the Pottsville family business was just barely hanging on. I believe they told us that they sold about 165,000 barrels that year, which sounds like a lot in craft brewer terms, but not out of a plant that size, with a staff that size.
Things changed, as we all know, and while Yuengling is still only in fourteen states, they announced today that thanks largely to the huge surge in sales from their Ohio launch last year, they are now the largest American-owned brewery. Think on that, ye mighty, and despair.
For while I love Yuengling -- the history, the stubbornness, the Pennsylvaniality of it all -- it is sobering to think that America's four largest brewing companies, the brands that are household words -- Anheuser-Busch, Miller, Coors, Pabst -- are all either foreign-owned or, in the case of Pabst, gypsy brewers without a home. It is a shock that the largest American-owned brewer sold only 2.5 million bbls. in 2011; that the largest American brewer is a regional anomaly.
So what do we do? Celebrate it! I'm not talking about celebrating that Yuengling blew past Boston Beer, I'm talking about celebrating that a family-owned brewer has beaten the mass-marketing of the nationals on their own turf -- mainstream lager -- and done it with a "full calorie" beer, the stuff they apparently have forgotten how to sell. That's freakin' awesome.
Look, I know. If you're reading this blog, chances are you're a craft beer enthusiast (or a whiskey drinker, and I promise: more of that this year, too!). But ain't it great that people are ready to shrug off mass-media domination and buy regional? Buy something different? I think it is. Yuengling, like Sam Adams, is often the first step for someone to try something other than the usual. This is why "the usual" is sliding hard, and why the big guys are trying to find out how to make something other than the usual (Blue Moon and Shock Top are just the beginning, believe me).
We can be scared by that...or we can embrace it. I'm happy every time a light beer drinker has something other than their usual tipple. I think when a light beer drinker enjoys a wheat beer, an angel gets its wings. And I think Dick Yuengling -- and Jim Koch! -- have had a lot to do with that. Cheers, Dick: congratulations! Keep doing what you're doing!