I grew up in Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania. It is a place where coal is hard and lungs are black. It is also the home of Yuengling: America’s Oldest Brewery.
The anthracite coal region of northeastern Pennsylvania was built on the backs of coal miners who labored beneath the earth. Even well into the 20th century, mining remained a dangerous occupation. Not surprisingly, the men who risked their lives by day soothed their souls at the local bars by night.
Yuengling beer was a common salve for these working men. Coal mining was not a lucrative profession, so this local beer was not expensive. It was the every-man’s beer.
At the age of 22, I headed south to Virginia for law school. Much to my surprise, the fancy beer drinkers in the student body who turned up their noses at Bud Light were instead ordering Yuengling at the bar. The beer that I had associated with old men who scraped together their last few nickels for a cold pint back home had achieved elite status south of the Mason-Dixon.
In hindsight, the popularity of Yuengling beer should not have come as such a surprise. We are currently living in the golden age of craft beers, and Yuengling is perhaps the ultimate craft beer. D.G. Yuengling and Sons, Inc. has been family owned and operated since 1829. That makes Yuengling the America’s oldest brewery.
In 1829, David G. Yuengling, a German immigrant, opened the Eagle Brewery on North Centre Street in Pottsville, Pennsylvania. The original facility burned down in 1831 but reopened under a new name that same year. The Yuengling Brewery opened on Mahantongo Street and has been in continuous operation ever since. Towards the end of the 1800’s, the company expanded its operations to include 5 facilities, including one in Richmond, VA and one in Trail, British Columbia. Only the Pottsville facility survived into the 20th century.
Like all family owned breweries, Yuengling faced a life-threatening challenge during prohibition. After 100 years of operation, Yuengling did not give up brewing just because of a little bit of legislation. Instead, brewery switched to the production of “near beer.” When prohibition finally came to an end, the Yuengling family celebrated in style by sending a special batch of Winner Beer to FDR in the White House.
Nowadays, you can purchase one of Yuengling’s many varieties in most grocery stores and bars that serve craft brews. When you do, please raise a glass to the miners who kept the brewery alive for the past 200 years.
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