RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
Globalization and free trade have left their mark on the American beer industry. When you think about American beer, Budweiser or Miller might come to mind. But like many big-name brews, they've been bought by foreign companies. One of the largest beer makers still in American hands is a lesser-known regional beer company. It's D.G. Yuengling and Son. It's also the country's oldest beer maker, founded by a German immigrant in Pennsylvania 181 years ago.
As Scott Gilbert of member station WITF reports, the company is still run by the Yuengling family and it's still growing.
SCOTT GILBERT: Although Dick Yuengling has one foot stepping toward the future, the other is rooted firmly in the past. That's evident when the 67-year-old walks into the company's original brewery in downtown Pottsville.
Mr. DICK YUENGLING (President and Owner, D.G. Yuengling and Son): It's what I grew up with, and most breweries in the United States that were built like this in this era are all gone. There's only a few left.
GILBERT: As he walks beneath a maze of black pipes carrying ingredients, Yuengling explains his company has tried to carve out a niche on the craft beer market.
Mr. YUENGLING: There's nothing wrong with the national brands. We just make beer that is for a select group of people that want to buy a beer at the right price and with good taste and character to it.
GILBERT: Yuengling sells its beer in 13 states across the East and the District of Columbia, and its fifth-generation owner does not foresee the day when Yuengling would become a national brand.
Mr. YUENGLING: You don't want to just go out there and throw beer into a marketplace and hope you succeed because it's a formula for failure, in our opinion.
GILBERT: Despite that mantra, Yuengling has seen dramatic growth in recent decades. The company bought its second facility, a brewery in Tampa, Florida, just over a decade ago, then a third, the modern Mill Creek facility in Pennsylvania went online a couple years later. Production soared to 2.2 million barrels last year. The company has signed a letter of intent to buy another brewery in Memphis, Tennessee, which could produce another five million barrels a year. But Yuengling's chief operating officer says the plan would be to start out slow.
Craig Purser is president and CEO of the National Beer Wholesalers Association. He says strategy and discipline have been a constant with the company. Purser says another key to success is the versatility of Yuengling's signature lager.
Mr. CRAIG PURSER (President and CEO, National Beer Wholesalers Association): You will see it available at a blue collar working person's bar or restaurant, you know, in Pennsylvania's coal country. Yet, you'll also see it as a choice at a white tablecloth restaurant in Philadelphia.
GILBERT: Purser says Yuengling's well-marketed role as America's oldest brewery is certainly part of its consumer appeal.
Unidentified Woman: Okay, you guys, good morning everyone.
Unidentified Tourists: Good morning.
GILBERT: That sense of nostalgia is not lost on visitors to the historic building in Pottsville, where the smell of roasted grain fills the air and helps tell the company's story.
Mr. BRADY KRAMER: It's amazing to see all the history and stuff.
GILBERT: Brad Kramer of Allentown is a long-time Yuengling drinker, first time tour-taker.
Mr. KRAMER: Ever since I was little, my parents always drank Yuengling, so...
GILBERT: Now you do.
Mr. KRAMER: Yeah, now I do because of them, so they got me hooked on it.
GILBERT: Dick Yuengling is preparing the sixth generation of Yuenglings, his four daughters, to take over the family business. Succession is one of the most commonly asked questions on the brewery tour.
Unidentified Woman: Yeah.
Unidentified Man: Are any of the daughters married?
(Soundbite of laughter)
Unidentified Woman: That is our most frequently asked question.
GILBERT: But Dick Yuengling says he has no plans to retire any time soon.
For NPR News, I'm Scott Gilbert.
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