Yuengling: America's Oldest Brewery
Beer. It's been a staple of American social life and culture for pretty much the entirety of this country's existence. It also serves as a parallel to our nation's history. Now, when you crack open a cold one, history is probably the furthest thing from your mind. But every sip tells a story--a story of immigration, of opportunity, of tradition. Beer is not simply an alcoholic beverage. Instead, it's a unique set of backgrounds and customs condensed into a glass and contributes to the traditions woven into the American fabric. Yuengling is a tradition that has been brewing for over 189 years, and while it wasn't the first brewery established in America, it's recognized as the oldest active brewery in the United States.
David Gottlieb Jüngling (later changed to Yuengling) was born on March 2, 1808, in the Germanic state of Württemberg. The son of a local brewer, Yuengling was introduced to the beer industry at a young age and soon became a master of the craft. In 1828, he immigrated to Pottsville, Pennsylvania, and founded his first brewery--The Eagle Brewery--a year later at age 21. In 1831, just two years after its opening, Yuengling's Eagle Brewery burned down. Undeterred, Yuengling constructed his second brewery a few blocks away on Mahantongo Street.
Yuengling chose this new location for a couple of reasons. First, the hillside Mahantongo Street is located on was also the site of a natural spring, the water from which could be used in the brewing process. Tunnels were hand-dug into the earth below the factory in order to gain access to the water and took nearly a decade to complete. The second reason also had to do with the tunnels. The cavernous setting--damp and cool--provided the right environment to brew traditional German lager. Before the caves were dug, Yuengling primarily produced British ales, which ferment between 60–75° Fahrenheit. Lagers, on the other hand, ferment between 45–55° Fahrenheit, and in the days before refrigeration, this was a difficult temperature range to achieve. However, the caves provided a constant 50-degree temperature year-round, which allowed Yuengling to produce lager on a large scale by the mid-19th century.
In 1873, Yuengling's son, Frederick, joined the business. The Eagle Brewing Company was subsequently changed to D.G. Yuengling and Son, however the bald eagle emblem remained the company's logo. In 1877, David Yuengling passed away and left the entire operation to Frederick, who expanded operations to Saratoga Springs, NY, and British Columbia. Frederick would pass away in 1899 and his son, Frank, would take over.
In 1919, the Prohibition Act was passed, effectively banning the manufacturing, sale, and consumption of alcoholic beverages. In addition, federal agents came to the Pottsville brewery and sealed off the entrances to caves to prevent any illegal production. Clearly, Yuengling's business was in jeopardy. In order to survive, Yuengling started producing "near beers" (containing 0.5% alcohol or less) and ice cream. The strategies worked, and with the repeal of Prohibition in 1933, Yuengling was allowed to produce beer again. To show their appreciation, Yuengling produced a "Winner Beer" brew and shipped a truckload to the White House the day following repeal. Interestingly enough, it takes about 3-4 weeks to brew beer...
Frank Yuengling dies in 1963 and his sons take over. In 1985, Richard "Dick" Yuengling Jr. buys the company from his father and continues to manage the operation to this day as a 5th-generation Yuengling. That same year, the Pottsville brewery was placed on the National Register of Historic Places as the oldest brewery in the US. Today, Yuengling is recognized as one of the top craft beer manufacturers in America. Its products can be found in most states east of the Mississippi River and the company plans on expanding westward very soon.
I decided to make a detour on my way to Philadelphia and visit the Pottsville brewery for myself! The tours begin in the old Yuengling Dairy Building (current site of the gift shop and museum) and are free to the public! There were about 45-50 people in my group, which is typical for a weekend tour. We walked across the street to the barrel room (located in the basement of the brewery) where our tour guide briefly went over the history of Yuengling. Afterwards, we made our way into the caves beneath the brewery! It was amazing to see this extensive network in person and even more so to realize that this was all carved out by hand nearly 190 years ago. In addition, we were able to see the original site of the spring and some of the old Prohibition walls.
Back upstairs, we stopped by the large stainless steel vats of mash and fermenting beer. A beautiful stained-glass ceiling hangs above the kettles. It was installed in 1888 to reduce the sun's glare off the then-copper kettles. After looking around the brewing facility, we walked outside to the bottling and canning works.
The final stop of the tour was, of course, the tasting room, which is back across the street at the dairy building. Those of legal drinking age were given two samples of their choice, fresh from the brewery. Of the eight batches they had on tap, I sampled the Golden Pilsner (their newest brew) and the Premium (which is only available for sale in Pennsylvania). It was a satisfying end to a wonderful tour.
The tour itself took about an hour to complete. However, you're likely to spend at least two hours at Yuengling if you choose to check out their museum exhibits and socialize a bit in the tasting room. The D.G. Yuengling and Son Brewery is well worth the trip, no matter where you're from! There are plenty of things to do around Pottsville, but this is the highlight of the city! The staff are all very knowledgeable and friendly and the facility itself is incredible! Did I mention that it's all FREE? Experience the nation's oldest brewery for yourself and visit Yuengling today!
For more on all things Yuengling, visit their website HERE