Float on: Yuengling ice cream makes a triumphant return


By John Lavanga / A&E Editor

Yuengling is a staple of the local beer diet, occupying the space between “cheap beer” and “fancy beer” with unassuming ease. Flavorful enough to be worth paying for, but indistinct enough to fit just about any occasion, it’s the perfect fallback beer — be it a cookout, a wedding, a funeral or an awkward combination of all three.

It might come as a surprise, then, that there was a moment when Yuengling wasn’t known for its beer at all. Instead, the company became synonymous with another favorite on hot summer days: ice cream. Now, Yuengling’s Ice Cream is back on shelves, allowing intreprid foodies to enjoy a long-lost Pennsylvania delicacy: A Yuengling float.

While a beer brewer going into the ice cream business might come across as weird nowadays, the Yuengling family’s decision to do so was rooted more in necessity than a sudden change of heart. In fact, Daniel Okrent, former public editor at the New York Times and author of “Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition,” said, “What Yuengling did was extremely common all over the country.”

In fact, a number of major breweries around the country — including such industry monoliths as Pabst, Stroh and Budweiser — found themselves making the switch over to ice cream when the 18th Amendment forced them to quit brewing beer.

According to Okrent, along with brewing non-alcoholic “near beer,” these breweries used “anything they could find that took advantage of the facilities they had” to keep their businesses afloat. Ice cream, which took advantage of the breweries’ refrigeration units and nearby dairy farms, was a natural fit.

In 1920, Yuengling’s then-owner, Frank D. Yuengling, joined the swath of brewers getting into the frozen treat business by opening an ice-cream plant across the street from his Pottsville brewery. By 1929, Yuengling’s Ice Cream had opened additional branches in Allentown, Pa., and York, Pa., and the name was changed to the Yuengling Dairy Products Corp. The company stuck around even after Prohibition ended, splitting off from the brewery entirely in 1935 under the leadership of Frederick Yuengling. Fifty years later, however, the ice cream company shut its doors for good. 

Or so it thought.

In February of this year, Yuengling Ice Cream went back on the shelves. David Yuengling — who is the great-grandson of Frank D. Yuengling and second cousin of Yuengling Brewery owner Dick Yuengling — decided that after 30 years in the computer industry, the time had come to return to his roots. David Yuengling said that this, combined with the fact that he “had a lot of people who asked us over the years why we closed it down,” spurred his interest in bringing back the brand. Now, the company has 10 flavors and is being carried by grocery stores in Pennsylvania and elsewhere.

While the history of the Yuengling brewery is fascinating, the real question is this: What happens when you take Yuengling Brewery’s Black and Tan beer and serve it up with a generous scoop of Yuengling Ice Cream’s Black and Tan (chocolate and salted caramel) flavored ice cream? It was a question I was ecstatic to answer, but first I wanted to hear from the experts.

Okrent seemed ambivalent about the prospect of a Yuengling float, saying simply that “they didn’t do that during Prohibition.” For his part, David Yuengling said he had yet to give the delicacy a try, and though he was open to the idea, something about it seemed a little odd. Thus, with no help from the experts, I was forced to find out for myself.