D.G. Yuengling & Son Becomes America's Largest Brewer

Passes Boston Beer as Top U.S.-Owned Domestic Beer Maker

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Quick, name the largest American brewer.

Anheuser-Busch? MillerCoors? Nope and nope -- both are foreign owned.

It's actually Pottsville, Pa.-based D.G. Yuengling & Son, which has passed Boston Beer Co. as the largest U.S.-owned brewer that makes all its beer in the states.

According to new estimates from Beer Marketer's Insights, Yuengling surged last year with shipments up 16.9% to 2.5 million barrels, placing it eighth in overall U.S. market share, at 1.2%. That was good enough to nose by Boston, which grew by 8% to 2.4 million barrels, dropping to ninth place. Boston owns the Sam Adams brand.

Beer Marketer's stressed that the numbers are estimates and that Boston Beer hasn't yet reported its own fourth-quarter figures. But "we felt reasonably comfortable," in the rankings, said Eric Shepard, executive editor of the trade pub. "It's possible that [Boston] had a huge December, but I don't expect it."

Yuengling is already celebrating.

"It just floors me that so much of our beer industry is owned by foreign concerns," fifth-generation owner Dick Yuengling told his local newspaper, The Morning Call, of Pennsylvania's Lehigh Valley. "We were not in any race to be the largest domestically owned brewer, but it's a tremendous honor for us."

The Yuengling brewery in Pottsville, Pa.
The Yuengling brewery in Pottsville, Pa.

Even so, consumers might not care much that their favorite brew is controlled by foreigners, as Ad Age reported last year. And brands such as Anheuser-Busch's Budweiser still make heavy use of patriotic marketing, with no backlash. (A-B is owned by Belgium-based Anheuser-Busch InBev, while MillerCoors is part-owned by London-based SABMiller.)

Yuengling's growth -- which was fueled by a huge launch in Ohio last year -- is remarkable considering that the overall beer industry remains in a funk. Total beer shipments fell by 1.4%, according to Beer Marketer's Insights, continuing a multi-year slump.

Anheuser-Busch still has a firm hold on No. 1, but its market share fell from 47.7% to 47.0% to 98.8 million barrels, dropping below 100 million for the first time in more than a decade, the trade publication reported. No. 2 MillerCoors saw its share drop from 28.8% to 28.4%. Both companies are planning new ad campaigns this year in hopes of fueling a comeback. Third place belongs to Corona importer Crown Imports, which increased its market share to 5.6% from 5.3%. Heineken USA kept its hold on fourth, but lost market share, from 3.9% to 3.8%.

Yuengling's ranking as the top American-owned brewer comes with some caveats. Pabst Brewing Co., which ranks fifth overall, is U.S.-owned, but outsources its brewing. Sixth-place North American Breweries, which sells brands such as Genesee and Magic Hat, is also U.S.-owned, but a chunk of its volume comes from the imported Labatt brand.

Yuengling, which was founded in 1829, brews in Tampa, Fla., and Pottsville, where it runs what it calls "America's oldest brewery." Tours include a look at "hand-dug fermentation caves" that were used before refrigeration, according to the company's website.

The company is in the midst of a growth spurt, now selling in Washington, D.C., and 14 states, mostly in the Southeast and on the East Coast. The brewer's Ohio launch is seen as one of the most successful beer expansions in years. The excitement is palpable in markets like Cincinnati, with Yuengling grabbing tap handles at top restaurants and bars, and drinkers are heard talking up the beer to friends.

While Yuengling competes with big brands like Budweiser and Miller Lite, it has also gained acceptance among craft-beer drinkers, Mr. Shepard said. "They kind of have the best of both possible worlds," he said.

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