For Americans fond of their brewskies, Dec. 5, 1933, was arguably the biggest day in history. That Sunday, Utah became the all-important 36th state to vote an end to Prohibition. To show their gratitude to Franklin D. Roosevelt—who’d reportedly said, “What America needs now is a drink”—two brewers sent gifts to the president. One was Anheuser-Busch and other was D.G. Yuengling & Son. But while the Clydesdales dropped off only a case of Bud, Yuengling brewed up a batch of its “Winner Beer”—and sent FDR an entire truckload of the stuff.
In a way, it was only fitting. Though D.G. Yuengling & Son has never been huge operation (it produces 2.5 million barrels a year), it has long punched above its weight, boasting a reach and reputation that’s the envy of the big boys. Yuengling’s Traditional Amber Lager is the best-tasting domestic brew in the United States, according to Ranker. In terms of sales, Yuengling is the No. 1 craft brewer in America, according to the Brewers Association. When President Obama lost a hockey bet with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper in 2010, he sent him a case of Yuengling. And when Donald Trump was campaigning for the White House, his son Eric paid a visit to Yuengling (though the brewer’s endorsement resulted in a boycott).
As though these claims to fame weren’t enough, Yuengling has two others. Reins of the brewery will soon pass to the sixth generation of Yuenglings—all of them sisters. And oh yeah—the company happens to be celebrating its 190th birthday this year.
“Our family has persevered through some incredible moments in our country’s history, such as two world wars and Prohibition,” said vp of operations Jen Yuengling. “To say today that we are ‘America’s Oldest Brewery’ and America’s largest craft brewery is incredibly humbling.”
But Yuengling didn’t persevere as long as it did by being humble. Time and again, the company made shrewd business decisions that, through the many travails of two centuries, has left it standing. The company got its start in 1829, when 23 year-old German immigrant David Gottlob Jüngling (who anglicized his name to Yuengling) opened a brewery in Pottsville, Pennsylvania. Nearly a century before the arrival of air conditioning, D.G. was canny enough to dig caves deep beneath his brewery that “were vital in our production process,” Jen Yuengling said.
The arrival of Prohibition in 1920 spelled the end for hundreds of American breweries, but third-generation owner Frank Yuengling turned on a dime and began making ice cream, as well as a cereal-based beverage called Yuengling Juvo, which was one of the first energy drinks.
And when stiff competition from mega brewers in the late 1980s drove Yuengling’s production down to 137,000 barrels a year, fifth-generation owner Dick Yuengling blew the dust off an old company recipe for amber lager and rolled out Yuengling Traditional Lager, which became (and remains) a best-seller.
It’s only fitting that the company’s stubborn independence has itself become a differentiating force for the Yuengling brand. “Yuengling has remained on the shelf for decades because they make a good, consistent product, and you combine that with the nostalgia factor and the fact that they’re independent,” said Matt Simpson, owner of consultancy The Beer Sommelier. Yuengling has found loyal fans among Americans who “refuse to drink macro, industrial pale lagers, but will drink [Yuengling] philosophically because it’s not owned by a big brewing company.”
And as it looks toward its 191st year and beyond, Yuengling has no plans to be.