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Yuengling makes return to a thirsty Boston market

A comeback for Pa. brewer with cult status

Yuengling has snagged valuable tap handles in Boston bars.

Barry Chin/Globe Staff

Yuengling has snagged valuable tap handles in Boston bars.

Yuengling is barreling back into Massachusetts, and already some smaller craft brewers are seeing their beer sales go flat.

After a two-decade hiatus, D.G. Yuengling & Son Inc. is returning to Massachusetts with a massive marketing rollout, and already the brewer has signed up an eye-popping 6,000 bars, restaurants, and stores in the state.

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“It’s damn impressive the amount of money and reach they have for advertising,” said Mark Hellendrung, chief executive of Narragansett Brewing Co., another old beer company with a cult status similar to Yuengling. “It’s millions and it’s everywhere. If I had millions in the bank account certainly I’d go to war.”

Founded in 1829 by a German immigrant in central Pennsylvania, D.G. Yuengling & Son Inc. is the oldest brewer in the United States. Still run by the Yuengling family since 1829, it is no mom-and-pop operation. In 2012, it moved ahead of Boston Beer Co., maker of Samuel Adams, in beer sales.

Part of its revered status among beer drinkers is that history — it remains an American-owned, family-run business. But its limited availability, largely the Middle Atlantic and Southeastern states, has also fueled a thirst for it among beer fans who can’t easily get their hands around a pint.

Yuengling is ‘a session beer that people can go into a bar and drink all night.’

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David Casinelli, Yuengling chief operating officer, said the company expects to use its rollout in Massachusetts as a springboard to other markets in New England. Based on how it’s done so far, that expansion seems assured.

“There’s no brand that comes along and takes big market points relatively easy right now,” Casinelli said. “This is a big deal, and I think retailers and wholesalers know it.”

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Already local craft brewers have been pushed out of several barsby Yuengling. Notch Brewing in Ipswich lost one of its best customers and several others when Yuengling arrived in March.

“We’re trying to see how this all shakes out,” said Notch Brewing founder Chris Lohring. “There’s only so many tap handles.”

The Somerville Brewing Company suffered the ignominy of being bumped out if its own backyard, when its Slumbrew Porter Square Porter was replaced by Yuengling — by a bar in Porter Square, Somerville.

“Every bar and restaurant is going to have Yuengling on tap,” said Somerville Brewing co-founder Jeff Leiter.

He noted that many craft brewers do not have a guaranteed slot at bars that serve their beers; typically those bars and restaurants will have one or two draft lines that rotate among different craft brewers, Leiter said, and if Yuengling grabs that tap, then those brewers are likely shut out for good.

Yuengling’s best-selling product is its flagship lager. Technically a craft beer, it tastes closer to the easy-drinking lagers of the big companies. Its best asset may be its price — midway between the higher-end craft beers and the mass market brands from Anheuser-Busch and MillerCoors. Much like with its “hipster” counterpart, Pabst Blue Ribbon, a Yuengling fan can easily enjoy multiple rounds for less than a pricey pint of boutique beers.

“It’s a session beer that people can go into a bar and drink all night,” said Casinelli.

The lager is already the fastest-selling beer at Conor Larkin’s Grill & Tap, near the campus of Northeastern University. General manager Matt Pian says Yuengling is outselling many other beers on tap by a 3 to 1 ratio.

“Our customers are excited about it,” says Pian.

Some brewers are hoping that Yuengling will turn out to be the flavor of the month among beer drinkers, and that with so much competition in the market — there are some 2,700 craft breweries in the United States alone — that to obsess over any one brand is pointless.

“There will be an ebb and flow to this thing,” said Hellendrung, the Narragansett CEO. “People are going to get their tap lines back. I saw a tweet that I loved, where someone said, ‘I had my fling with Yuengling, but I’m going back to Narragansett.’ ”

Even a local brewer who should feel the pinch from Yuengling more than most is unfazed by his rival’s arrival in Massachusetts. Jim Koch, chief executive of Boston Beer Co., considers fifth-generation Yuengling owner and president Dick Yuengling a beer-industry colleague.

“Yuengling and I both compete with massive marketing rollouts from the big brewers,” Koch said, “so I think Yuengling’s entry here has been just fine.”

Meantime, some brewers feeling the heat from Yuengling are determined to fight back. After Yuengling replaced his company’s beer at the sports bar Stats in South Boston, Brooklyn Brewery president Steve Hindy, said, “Well, I’m determined to go out and grab a Yuengling line today. How about that?”

Gary Dzen can be reached at gary.dzen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GaryDzen.

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