Old Brews Become Cool to Young Drinkers

Twenty-somethings are turning to beers their grandparents drank in an effort to be “cool.”

Old Brews Become Cool to Young Drinkers (AP)

A line of taps pouring elegant brews from Bass to Blue Moon beckon twentysomethings packed into Bomber’s bar. But 21-year-old Elliot Cunniff orders something homier for himself and a friend. “Two Yuenglings,” he tells the bartender, explaining the attraction after a sip from his pint glass. “Price. Color. Flavor,” he says. “And the name alone, ‘ying-ling.'”

Cunniff doesn’t come out and say it, but it becomes apparent as other Yuengling orders roll in: Old school brews are cool. Just as young consumers might wear `70s-look sneakers, sip `50s cocktails or download `80s hair band tunes, many are bellying up to the bar for the beers Grandpa drank — maybe a Rheingold, a Leinenkugel’s, or a Utica Club. They’re sometimes called “retro beers,” brands that might bring to mind old men in ribbed undershirts, and which are now finding a new audience with the young. It worked for Pabst Blue Ribbon and now others are playing the same nostalgic chords.

Getting new life from an old brand is a great deal for brewers because they avoid the cost of launching a new product. The trick is doing it right. Heavy-handed advertising can backfire. Word of mouth seems to work. Television commercials with the Swedish bikini team are a big no-no. “That’s the whole point of the retro thing, I think,” said Eric Shepard of Beer Marketer’s Insights. “The harder you try to push it, the more skeptical people are going to get.”

These are not the happiest days for brewers. Sales are growing slowly and beer is losing ground to spirits as consumers turn more to mixed drinks. Beer’s market share dropped from 56 percent in 1999 to 52.9 percent last year, according to the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States.

Among the recent bright spots was the quirky story of Pabst, which caught on early this decade with young hipsters in Portland, Ore., and its popularity spread out. Without initial prompting, “PBR” became a symbol of authenticity and cool. It has been enjoying double-digit growth every year since 2003, said Pabst brand manager Neal Stewart.

Interesting. Things definitely go in cycles. I’d never heard of Yuengling until a visit to Philadelphia a couple years back. It’s one of my staples these days. This is the first I’ve heard of it being “hip,” however.

See also R’s “A Word on Beer.”

crossposted to small dead animals

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Mark says:

    I’ve got Pabst Blue Ribbon on my mind…

  2. Rodney Dill says:

    What’s retro about Leinenkugel’s?

    Though I wish is was easier to get Heilemann’s Special Export here in Michigan.

  3. Chris says:

    After years of drinking only microbrews (or my own homebrew) I find myself buying Miller High Life quite frequently. I originally bought some as a joke on Labor Day – a blue collar beer as my homage to the working man – and then was quite surprised that I actually liked it.

    Now if we could just get Old Style aaround here…

  4. I can testify to you ability to down multiple pitchers of Yuengling — as long as Krempasky is buying.

  5. Jeff says:

    I’d heard of Yuengling and it was mainly recent college grads mentioning it when Yuengling was originally looking for distributors in areas away from their base. They now have bottling capacity in Tampa so it’s easier for them to get it on the market. It’s made it to Myrtle Beach and Charleston in SC (and one of those distributors covers Columbia.) I first had one in Baltimore and my fiancee’s family has roots in the area of PA that Yuengling originated in.

    I would say it’s pretty hip now in some places. It’s the only beer my future in-laws drink but that may have been the case all along.

  6. Cole Stinson says:

    Leinenkugel makes several incredible beers. I also love Yuengling. Of course, neither are available where I live – Las Cruces, NM. Good old beers are hard to find here, but I was able to score a case of Pearl Beer in Castroville, Texas, recently. I have actually been offered five times the money I paid for it. Retro beer is definitely “in”, but I have always loved it!

  7. Tom Martin says:

    Not sure how ‘retro’ rolling rock is but it still works for me!

  8. Jim Rhoads says:

    My first beer (1955) at age 15 was Rolling Rock. Then as now, “made in the glass lined tanks of Old Latrobe”. But then, it came only in 7 ounce “pony” bottles (and on draft). Still tastes the same to me, and I think is a pretty good example of a retro brew.

  9. Peter says:

    I’m hardly authoritative on this, but I don’t think Yuengling’s recent success is due to the popularity of it’s old brews.

    Check out Yuengling’s beers. Thirty plus years ago when I went to college in central PA the Yuengling I remember seeing in the stores was their “Premium Beer”. Today, the buzz about Yuengling is mostly about newer products such as the Traditional Lager. (I’m drinking one now).

    Yuengling is the oldest brewery in the US, and they’ve done a great job of bringing their products in line to current tastes.

  10. carpeicthus says:

    I don’t give a damn about “hip” beers. Yuengling isn’t popular because of a bunch of hipsters; it’s popular because it’s bloody good.

  11. RalphieTB says:

    The fact that Yuengling is awfully cheap is something to consider as well.

    At that price level, it’s easily the bets beer around.