Yuengling's Ice Cream - The Prohibition Years

2013-09-25
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One of the more interesting facets of the Yuengling company's colorful history was its innovative response to the "Prohibition" of alcohol legislated by Congress in 1919. Considered one of the greatest shakedowns in American brewing history, the restrictive period of Prohibition forced many breweries out of business.


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Frank Yuengling believed the Prohibition would not last long and brewing "real" beer would eventually be legal again. The challenge facing Yuengling was how to stay in business until that day arrived. To survive Prohibition, Yuengling produced three different near-beers. Near-beer is beer with low alcohol content or no alcohol, which aims to reproduce the taste of beer without the inebriating effects of standard alcoholic brews. In USA, the conceptualization of non-alcohol brews took place during prohibition. President Wilson had proposed limiting the alcohol content in malt beverages to 2.75% in 1917 in an effort to appease avid prohibitionists. In 1919 congress approved the Volstead act which limited the alcohol content of any beverage to less than 0.5%.

Yuengling's first near-beer was "Yuengling Special" -- their most popular near-beer brew. In addition, they introduced "Yuengling Por-Tor," a take-off of their popular "Celebrated Pottsville Porter." The third was the experiment with a unique brew which produced a cereal beverage called "Yuengling Juvo."

Frank Yuengling clearly anticipated major changes in business conditions when he decided to invest in the production of an ice cream in the summer of 1919, well before the full effect of Prohibition was in place.

Construction of an ice cream plant started in January, 1920 and was completed later that year. Area papers reported that the potential for success in the ice cream market was strong, since the closest ice cream plant was in Hamburg in Berks County. It wasn't a small investment. Plans called for possibly the biggest ice cream plant in the Middle States.

The Yuengling family ownership of a farm outside of Pottsville gave the company president insight into successful dairy farms in Schuylkill County, which provided the creamery with an ample supply of milk for its ice cream. An article in the Pottsville Republican on December 5,1933, noted that Yuengling was purchasing dairy products from 134 county farmers.

The dairy products from the Yuengling Creamery would develop a very strong reputation, particularly before the Great Depression. The dairy plant and the brewery eventually became separate companies, with one of Frank's sons, Frederick, leading the ice cream business and then a grandson, Frank Jr.

Slow sales forced the Yuengling Creamery to close, but that would not be until 1985, proof that Frank Yuengling's prohibition venture was worthwhile. According to a study of the brewery during this period, the ice cream venture gave the brewery additional financial security at a time when it needed it most.

Other breweries branched out into other business ventures. Schlitz made chocolate and candies. Anheuser-Busch found that part of its plant could be used for meatpacking, while another brewer tried to make money through the storage of furs. One brewer turned to the production of industrial alcohol, while another felt that the future rested in the production of spaghetti and macaroni. Locally, operators of the Kaier's Brewery made ginger ale, root beer and orange soda. Ice was also sold at the Mahanoy City plant, the F and S Brewery in Shamokin produced mayonnaise, vinegar, maraschino cherries, and bouillon cubes. Others thought it might be possible to make a profit through the manufacture of malt syrup, malt extract.

In 1933 when the nation's breweries and disgruntled beer lovers finally won the fight against Prohibition, Yuengling introduced its symbolic Winner Beer, celebrating Prohibition's repeal, the brewery shipped a truck load of its popular brew to the White House to show their "appreciation" to President Roosevelt.

After nearly three decades missing from store shelves, Yuengling's Ice Cream announced on Sept. 24, 2013 that they were reintroducing the product. The ice cream will be sold in grocery stores throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey by next March.

 


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