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In the three decades he’s been running his family’s 188-year-old brewery, Dick Yuengling has never heard such vitriolic feedback as he did after news broke last October that he was backing Donald Trump for president.
“The calls and the emails, some of it was just vulgar,” Yuengling said on Thursday, speaking about the incident for the first time since the election. “Some people shook my hand, sent letters of support. But there were a lot of messages calling us names. I felt bad for the staff who had to go through all of it.”
He couldn’t recall anything else he’d said or done during his tenure that had provoked near as overwhelming of a response.
“I didn’t expect it would be such a big story,” Yuengling said. “The boy just wanted a tour, so I said sure. But then it got picked up by the media. They really eviscerated us in Philly.”
The original report in the Reading Eagle detailed Eric Trump’s tour of the Pottsville, Pa. brewery, during which the billionaire beer CEO told him, “Our guys are behind your father. We need him in there.” It was picked up by media outlets across the country — the presidential campaign was in full swing with the election less than two weeks away — and sparked a surge of social media posts from drinkers swearing to boycott the beer brand.
As calls for a boycott spread, and were formally endorsed by Pa. Rep. Brian Sims, a Democrat from Philadelphia, the New York Times wondered “Will a Yuengling Executive’s Endorsement of Trump Hurt Beer Sales?”
And yet, the controversy did not affect sales, the patriarch of America’s oldest brewery said: “Nothing noticeable.”
Overall, Yuengling sales growth was “down a little,” Yuengling confirmed during the Brewers of Pennsylvania’s annual “Meeting of the Malts” panel in Bethlehem. The sales slowdown follows the industry trend, per stats recently released by the Brewers Association. This is not surprising: With more than 5,000 US breweries in operation and more than 7,000 brewery permits issued, beer shelves are more crowded than ever. And though craft still only makes up around 12 percent of all beer sold in the US, foreign-owned conglomerates like Anheuser Busch In-Bev and MillerCoors are snapping up regional craft breweries, the better to ratchet up their market dominance.
But Dick Yuengling is not worried.
“Look,” he said, “we survived Prohibition. We survived two world wars, when you couldn’t get any grain. We’ll be fine.”
Focusing on the business is what he prefers to do, he said.
“Ask me about packaging, I’m a packaging guy,” Yuengling said as he agreed to do a taping for a local beer TV show.
“No politics, ok?”