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6.06.2021

Yuengling: Touring America's Oldest Brewery

Yuengling Brewery is an American and Pennsylvanian institution. It is the oldest remaining and operating brewery in the country and has been owned by the Yuengling family since its inception. Through boom times and hard times, Yuengling has remained a constant in Schuylkill County. It is especially impressive that the brewery has not only survived, but flourished, as the economy of this region of the state has really bore the brunt of the nation's economic changes over the last fifty years. The company itself almost did not make it in the 1980s with the shift towards corporate mega brewers taking out the regional brewers, and the regional economy in a deep slump. In 1987, Dick Yuengling reintroduced the company's Yuengling Traditional Amber Lager, as consumer tastes shifted back towards craft brewing. This ended up leading towards a huge expansion for the company, with the construction of a new brewery nearby, and the purchase of an old Stroh's Brewery down in Tampa, Florida. This expansion, and consolidation within the industry and foreign acquisitions of the larger American breweries, Yuengling has become the nation's largest American owned brewery. 
Yuengling has always worked to be a staple in its two largest nearby metro markets, including Philadelphia and New York. They even invested in dance halls in both Philadelphia and New York, and they owned many regional bars and had exclusive distribution rights in many others. These shrewd business moves likely helped the company to continue in times when the majority of the country's breweries shuttered. Pottsville is a strategically decent location for sourcing ingredients, and for market access to selling their products, since it was located on the Reading Railroad. Chilled products from the brewery, and ingredients were shipped to and from Reading Terminal Market in Philadelphia. Additionally, the location of Pottsville also insulated the company from losing its skilled brewers when the brewing industry consolidated. Through Prohibition, the company survived by brewing "near beers" with ABV under 0.05%, the opening of a dairy and ice creamery across the street from the main brewery, and the brewing of full ABV beers for a "medicinal purpose" in which doctors would prescribe beer as a remedy for certain ailments. As soon as Prohibition finished, the company sent down a wagon with beer for President Franklin D. Roosevelt to drink, though the wagon never made it all the way down.
Surviving the corporate consolidation of the brewing industry in the post-war economy, and the fall of the regional economy in Pottsville was an almost insurmountable feat for the company. Similarly incredible, the company has remained under ownership of the Yuengling family since its founding.

The founding of Yuengling is a truly American story. David G. Yuengling (J√ľngling) was born in Germany in 1808. He emigrated to the United States in 1823 and opened a brewery, then named the Eagle Brewery,  in the then booming anthracite town of Pottsville in 1829.
Our most recent visit is the first since they have built their new visitors center, gift shop, and museum. It is built in what was the old dairy building. The future of this building was unclear for as long as I can remember, as it sat abandoned for decades. The growth of the company, and the growing tourist draw to the old brewery, made the restoration of this building feasible.
The new bar and tasting room overlooks the old brewery from across the street. While the old tasting room in the brewery is missed, this space is still very nice. The bar for the tasting room was saved from a local bar that had gone out of business and been demolished. The new visitors center serves as the starting and finishing point for the brewery tour.
Now we are headed out for the tour.
The tour starts in the cellar of the brewery, with a knowledgable docent who tells visitors of the illustrious history and the brewing process from past to present.
Here you can see a collection of antique kegs.

Prior to the days of modern refrigeration, the cellar was a great place to keep products and ingredients chilled during the brewing process. The location of the brewery on a hill gave it great access to a natural spring. The brew cave complex is now fully included in the tour, which is definitely a great spot to cool off in the summer. 
This brick wall was built at the start of Prohibition, 100 years ago. The thought process was that if Yuengling could not access their cold storage area, they would be unable to brew. Wink, wink, the strategy was really effective. When Prohibition ended in 1933, they blew a hole in the brick wall and left a portion of it up as a reminder of that failed policy. 
The cave complex is really pretty impressive. The ingenuity of people to find cold storage prior to the days of refrigeration is really quite impressive.

Note the Prohibition wall which was built to prevent brewing by blocking access to the cold cellar.
Prior to the renovation of the old dairy building into a brand new tour hub and tasting center, this cozy bar area was used for sampling.
Now we leave the remnants of other eras from Yuengling and go into the portions of the plant that remain in use.
A brewing tank
This portion is one of the most breathtaking, with the stunning mural and stained glass ceiling.

Ghost signs on the old plant building. In this day and age, when you see ghost signs like this on the sides of buildings, more often than not, the activity in the buildings is long gone. These signs are often a reminder that these buildings were once thriving centers, but in the case of Yuengling, this remains the case. This place is truly a jewel
Yuengling cases awaiting filling
The bottling line is an awesome thing to see and hear.
A case coming off the line
The old dairy building, which now serves as a state of the art visitors center and tasting area.
Sampling at the end of the tour. Yuengling is an American classic that retains a quality niche in the macro-brewing scene. At its price point, its quality cannot be beat, and the story of the company is one that parallels American history and the overall American dream. The tour is well worth going out of your way to check out. For more information about specific visiting hours and information, check out their website at https://www.yuengling.com/visit-us/. The most important thing to remember for preparation is to have closed shoes on, for this is an active production facility. It is pretty close to Knoebels Amusement Resort, so we highly recommend pairing these two on a visit. 




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