By Karl Henkel
Yuengling will debut its beer in Ohio for the first time in October. Eastern Ohio will begin receiving shipments today; Western Ohio on Oct. 31.
First shipments will include Traditional Lager, Light Lager and Original Black & Tan Yuengling. Other varieties will debut during the following months:
February 2012: Yuengling Bock
April: Yuengling Porter and Chesterfield Ales
September: Oktoberfest Draft
October: Yuengling Premium and Yuengling Light
Source: Pat Noone, business development manager for Yuengling.
With autumn officially in full swing, Oktoberfest-themed beer may be foremost in the minds of most beer connoisseurs.
But for Ohioans, today represents the start of a new, yearlong beer holiday.
D.G. Yuengling & Son Inc. — the oldest brewing company in the United States — will introduce Traditional Lager, Light Lager and Original Black & Tan Yuengling beverages into markets throughout Northeast Ohio.
The news has many— from beer lovers to stores to Yuengling itself — sojourning in anticipation.
“I usually go to Pennsylvania or West Virginia,” said Zach Humphries, 21, of McDonald, who said he usually ventures out once a month to purchase the Pottsville, Pa.-brewed lager. “Sometimes I crave it, but I haven’t been able to get it in Ohio.”
Humphries will be one of many at beer stores throughout the Mahoning Valley today hoping to scoop up a case or two.
That is, if stores can keep it in stock.
Bill D’Amico, owner of North Lima’s Chalet Premier, 10000 Market St. — who will have 350 packs and cases of Yuengling by 7 a.m. today — has some lofty expectations.
He said the three most popular beers at Chalet Premier are currently Anheuser-Busch and MillerCoors beverages, but expects Yuengling to quickly jump into the conversation.
“Those are the three that are still going to remain at the top,” he said. “But then it’s going to be Yuengling.”
The beer will be priced similarly to big beers. Ryan Zocolo, manager at Chalet, said 12 bottles will cost $10.49.
Even Yuengling predicts a big boost from Ohio, which ranks seventh nationally in annual beer consumption, according to Beer Institute.
“This launch is going to be so successful it’s going to make Yuengling history,” said Pat Noone, business development manager for Yuengling who is spearheading the Ohio invasion.
Noone said the hype surround Ohio, the 14th state in which Yuengling will be available, reminds him of the hype surrounding
Coors in the 1980s, when for the first time it crossed the Mississippi and eventually became a top-3 supplier nationally.
“I’ve never seen anything like this,” Noone said. “And I’ve been in the business for 37 years.”
Yuengling’s success — its shipments rose 37 percent from 2006 to 2010, according to data compiled by industry website Beer Marketer’s Insights — isn’t out of the ordinary when it comes to specialty-brewed beer.
Sales of so-called small beers have taken off the past five years.
Shipments of the top 10 specialty-brewed beers, including Boston (Sam Adams), Mike’s Hard, Sierra Nevada, New Belgium, Leinenkugel and Magic Hat have jumped at least 23 percent since 2006.
Other, still lesser known brews like Bell’s, Goose Island, Dogfish Head and Stone have more than doubled their shipment totals from five years ago.
“Regardless of the economy, people are spending their money and trying some different things,”
At the same time as craft, specialty brews and microbrews are taking off, it’s slowly eroding the total shipments for mainstay beers like Michelob, Budweiser, Milwaukee’s Best and Miller Genuine Draft.
Beer sales overall rose less than one percent during the last five years, but the top 20 brands dropped by 10 million barrels, a decrease of more than 6 percent.
Many of those mainstay beers recently made a list of the drinks America no longer loves because their sales dropped at least 30 percent. Michelob lost a whopping 70 percent.
“It reminds me of the wine evolution,” D’Amico said, describing a time when most ordered their wine by saying “white” or “red.” “We were all OK with drinking the bridal wines, but now there’s a zillion different kinds and flavors.”
Sales of lesser-known beers can be attributed to the younger, more rebellious 30-and-under crowd, said John Ragan, owner of Buckeye Beverage, 301 Vienna Ave., Niles.
“Right now in the beer industry, the younger generation tends to buy the microbrews,” Ragan said.
Ragan receives about 10-to-15 cases of microbrews like Thirsty Dog, Seagram’s and Victory each week from Ohio-based Heidelberg Distributing Co., the 16th largest beer distributor in the United States and one of 18 new Ohio distributors of Yuengling.
Humphries, whose craft beer preferences are Leinenkugel’s Summer Shandy and Samuel Adams’ Octoberfest, says the primary reason he and his friends enjoy craft is for the distinct flavors.
“Sometimes the regular beers can all mesh together and taste similar,” he said. “You can definitely taste the difference with the craft beers.”
There are, however, problems when it comes to craving craft beers.
They aren’t all available at most grocery stores and aren’t carried on tap by all bars and restaurants.
That’s one reason why Humphries says he craft beer makes up about 30 percent of his beer drinking.
“When you’re out, especially if it’s busy, you don’t want to get too complicated and order different things,” he said.
D’Amico, however, said the shift toward craft, microbrews and imports isn’t going anywhere.
“The mircobrew and the craft beer industry is booming,” he said. “And I don’t think it’s ever going to go away.”