Thirty-four years after an unexpected encounter at the Yuengling brewery in Pottsville, an Ohio doctor is sharing his fascination with the history of the family-owned beer business.
Dr. Robert A. Musson tells Yuengling's unique story through more than 200 vintage photos he has assembled in his new book, D.G. Yuenging & Son, Inc., published by Arcadia Publishing.
"The family and the company have maintained this huge wealth of photographs, and the majority of photographs that are in this book are taken from their company and family archives, so pictures going back to, really, the 1840s, at the very beginning of when you could get photographs," said Musson, whose book provides a step through all facets of Yuengling's past with each turn of a page.
Musson's interest in brewing history grew from a collection of memorabilia -- beer signs, cans and labels -- he gathered as a teenager in Ohio.
"It was a popular fad for teenagers," he said.
Then, in 1979, a family vacation that included a stop in Pottsville sparked his specific interest in the Yuengling brewery.
"That was in the days before they had the gift shop and the museum and so forth, and so we just sort of showed up at the office unannounced," Musson recalled. "And of all people, the owner of the company, Richard Yuengling, came down and took my family and myself on a tour of the entire brewery... and it's something that has stayed with me for my entire life."
The Akron-born Musson has returned to the family-owned brewery many times since that memorable day in 1979, later meeting Richard's son, Dick, who would take over as the 5th generation owner in 1985, and learning all he could about the company.
"Yuengling's history is really unique in that, number one, it's been owned by the same family for its entire existence," he said. "They opened in 1829."
Staying in business for nearly 185 years, however, hasn't come without some challenges for "America's Oldest Brewery."
"One of the fascinating things is that they have been a survivor, to such a great extent," Musson said. "When you look at Prohibition, in particular, that put so many breweries out of business... and of all things, it was ice cream that kept Yuengling in business because they opened a dairy across the street."
Yuengling continued operating the dairy long after Prohibition ended in 1933, eventually getting out of the ice cream business in 1985.
(David Yuengling, the great-grandson of the ice cream brand's founder, Frank D. Yuengling, recently announced plans to reintroduce the ice cream early next year).
Yuengling then turned all of its attention to the brewery, with a focus on introducing the region's beer drinkers to its Lager and Black & Tan brews, the latter a 40/60 mix of its original Premium and Porter beers. The result was a rapid growth in the brand's popularity, so much so that the original brewery could no longer meet the region's demand, prompting Yuengling to expand its its operations to a former Schlitz/Stroh brewery in Tampa, Fla., and an all-new brewery just outside Pottsville, in Mill Creek.
"Certainly our Tampa and Mill Creek plants are larger and more modern, but knowing that my great-great-grandfather brewed beer at this same spot where we brew today is a special feeling that is unique to our family," Dick Yuengling wrote in the foreword to Musson's book, sharing with readers some unique insight into his family's business -- its past, present and future -- while inviting them to "take part in the Yuengling experience" by joining "the thousands of others who tour our brewery every year."
Dick Yuengling still maintains ownership as president of the brewing company, which will celebrate its 185th anniversary next year, while his four daughters -- Sheryl Yuengling, Deborah Ferhat, Jennifer Yuengling and Wendy Yuengling Baker -- each plays a role in its management, preparing to one day lead the booming beer business as its sixth generation owners.
D.G. Yuengling & Son, Inc. is available for purchase at the Yuengling brewery gift shop in Pottsville, local retailers, online bookstores, and online through Arcadia Publishing's website or by phone at 888-313-2665.
READING'S RICH BREWING HISTORY:
Another family road trip in 1976 brought to Reading a young Robert Musson, hoping to visit the Reading Brewing Company, but the outcome was far different than his stop in Pottsville.
"We didn't get there quite in time. They were actually hauling everything out of the plant when we got there. It just closed a few weeks earlier," Musson recalled. "There were several [breweries] in Reading. The Reading brewery itself was the last survivor."
Tough times may have helped bring an end to the original beer industry in Reading with the demise of the Reading Brewing Company, the Sunshine Brewing Company and others, but the time of day often reminds Musson of the city's rich brewing history, thanks to an Old Reading Beer clock he has hanging on a wall in his office.
"I've done a lot of histories on other brewing companies. It's just a personal interest of mine, and most of them have gone out of business, no matter how big they got, no matter how successful they were," Musson noted.
While the Reading Brewing Company ended its operations in 1976, its trademark brand -- Reading Premium Beer -- lives on. First revived by Reading-based Legacy Brewing in 2006, using a modern version of the original pre-Prohibition recipe and retro packaging, the beer is now brewed by New York-based Ruckus Brewing Company and available for purchase at local distributors.
So, might a book about Reading's brewing history be on tap? Only time will tell.