Sisters taking the helm for Yuengling at 190
For the last year, Yuengling has pushed a marketing message of “spread your wings” and drink beer made by the nation’s oldest and largest independent brewery.
The tagline also pays homage to the history of the Schuylkill County brewery, which was originally called the Eagle Brewery.
But more than that, the message is something that Wendy Yuengling and her three sisters — the sixth generation of Yuenglings to run the brewery — are living in the beer business today.
“Spread your wings is about us too as the next generation,” Yuengling said earlier in April at a private media event in Pottsville to celebrate the company’s 190th anniversary.
The Yuengling daughters, who run the company alongside their father Dick, know Yuengling has to branch out into new states and innovate its product line if it is to stay on top of the craft-beer world. The company has been wearing the crown for the past five years.
The industry has bubbled up to more than 7,000 breweries now operating in the U.S. There were about 100 when Dick Yuengling took over the business in 1985, and less than 2,000 at the beginning of this decade.
Many smaller brewers are churning out new beers every week, hoping to grab a piece of the market from more established brands like Yuengling.
Yuengling has always tried not to follow fads, like sour beers and big hoppy styles, and stick to its core brands led by Yuengling Traditional Lager. But to stay relevant and capture younger beer enthusiasts, the company has been experimenting.
Last year, the four sisters spearheaded the launch of the brewery’s first new year-round product in 17 years with a Yuengling Golden Pilsner. It also has been testing some small-batch bourbon barrel-aged beers, and dusting off old family recipes at its historic Pottsville brewery, which could lead to bigger beer releases in the future.
On Thursday, the brewery unveiled for the media a special batch of its Winner Beer, a beer released in 1933 to celebrate the end of Prohibition. The brewery sent a truckload of that beer on the day Prohibition ended to the White House.
Yuengling also served up other special beers from its vault, including a bock and aged porter, as media members toured the facility. A live bald eagle was also in attendance to represent the eagle in the company’s iconic branding.
Jen Yuengling, who oversees the brewery operations, said the small-batch beers can help drive future production decisions. But she said product consistency is important, so Yuengling won’t rush to expand its distribution lineup.
“Consumers essentially demand what they want in the marketplace, so I think that’s why it’s important to us to get this off in a small-batch style on site here and get their perspective and their take on our products,” she said.
Yuengling, which sees about 75,000 people per year go on tours in Pottsville, has already released four barrel-aged beers. More limited-edition beers are on the horizon.
Jen Yuengling said it’s hard to say how the craft-beer industry might look as Yuengling approaches its 200th anniversary. However, she doesn’t intend to stray too far away from the company’s core products, which are lower in alcohol content to be sold in higher volume.
She said the pilsner was released to fill a gap in the company’s lineup. Yuengling wanted to sell a more refreshing and balanced beer that could appeal to serious beer people and more casual drinkers, both women and men.
“It definitely appeals to the four of us,” Wendy Yuengling said.
Jen Yuengling said growing more organically as a regional brewer is another focus for the sisters.
For Yuengling, which is now distributing in 22 states from its three breweries in Pennsylvania and Tampa, Florida, that could mean adding new states further west.
“Potentially. We’re not out of capacity at this point,” Jen Yuengling said.
Wendy Yuengling said the family has talked about developing a smaller test brewery, but that there are no current plans to do so. She also said collaborating with another craft brewery to make a new beer could be a possibility.
“We never rule anything out,” she said.
She admits the risks for this generation of Yuenglings may be different. In fact, this generation entered during a period of major company expansion and industry growth.
Their father, by comparison, took over the company in the mid-1980s when Yuengling was struggling to stay afloat.
“We were on the verge of closing,” she said. “He took risks and invested in the brands.”
That included reintroducing the flagship lager brand, which now accounts for the majority of company sales. Yuengling would go on to add its Tampa brewery in 1999. The second production brewery near Pottsville followed and the company has since expanded distribution up and down the East Coast. It now ships about 2.5 million barrels of beer each year.
Previous generations survived periods like Prohibition, where they had to make near beer and ice cream to keep the business going.
Today Yuengling is moving into new states and aiming to set itself up for a seventh generation. This is the first era of female leadership.
A growing number of craft breweries today are women-owned, including others in Pennsylvania. The Yuenglings said they expect greater diversity ahead in what has been a male-dominated industry.
“I think you will continue to see it,” Wendy Yuengling said.
She said she has always enjoyed promoting the industry and speaking at events about her family experiences in the business. And the Yuenglings have been very active in promoting women beer industry professionals through the Pink Boots Society, a nonprofit.