When Beer Runs in the Family
It’s the middle of the nineteenth century, give or take a decade or two. You are an ambitious young man.
James Watt’s steam engine and other inventions have already revolutionized the textile and ceramics industries. Industrialization has opened the door for ambitious young men like you to advance in the world without the traditional leverage of inherited wealth.
You have the skills and the opportunity to apply the mechanization that has transformed other businesses to a traditional craft. You open a brewery.
In time, powered machinery replaces the labor of men and horses. Beer can be made in larger batches. A French scientist called Pasteur unlocks the secrets to fermentation—and to consistent brewing results.
The new railroad that connects your town to other rapidly growing towns can bring raw materials to your brewery, and transport your beer to a wide area. Refrigeration extends your reach. For the first time, brewing—historically the province of the home, the monastery or the local tavern—becomes a commercial industry.
Your brewery produces more than enough beer to sell to local outlets, and you see how much more profitable it would be to own both the brewery and the outlets, themselves. By the time you retire, you are a man of property, with a large brewing facility, distribution networks, and a string of pubs and taverns. You may not have started life as a gentleman, but you probably are one now.
This story played out with variations across Europe and North America and beyond. English entrepreneurs benefited from that country’s leading role in the Industrial Revolution. Other European countries followed shortly. Many brewery “founders,” in fact, purchased going concerns, and built on established foundations. American brewers were often recent immigrants with a professional brewing background, and the evolution of their brewing companies reflected the state of modernization where they settled: the same was true in other parts of the then-developing world.
But, whether they were called Leinenkugel, Fuller, Heineken, Müller or Molson, they were members of the generation that created the modern brewing industry, and a legacy to be handed down to their sons.
The Old Names
Between four and six generations separate the original founders from the present generation of most family brewery leaders. In the intervening years, both personal and national events tested the viability of these companies.
In the United States, Prohibition in the 1920s, and national consolidation in mid-century drastically reduced the number of brewing companies, with the result that the club of old U.S. family-owned brewing companies is remarkably small. Its members comprise brewing giants Anheuser-Busch and Coors; D.G. Yuengling, the country’s oldest brewing company; Straub and Matt brewing companies in the east; and August Schell and Leinenkugel in the beer-rich mid-west.
In Canada, mega-brewers Molson and Labatt are still family breweries. This year’s merger of Molson and Coors creates a cross-border connection between two brewery-owning families.
Despite two World Wars, European family breweries of similar vintage are more numerous. In England, the Independent Family Brewers of Britain has 33 member breweries, all of which are family–run and owned producers of cask ales. The members include well-known brands Young’s, Adnam’s, S.A. Brains, J.W Lees, and Charles Wells, as well as Fuller, Smith and Turner, where three families’ histories have been intertwined from 1845 until today.
Britain’s oldest brewer, Shepherd Neame, also involved the fortunes of three families, but in sequence rather than concurrently: two generations of the founding Marsh family, five generations of the Shepherd family, and five generations of the Neame family, which still controls the company.
On the Continent, one of the oldest brewing companies, the Spaten Brewery in Munich, has also seen a sequence of families at the helm. Beginning in 1522, the Starnberger family, the Spatt family and then the Siesmayr family controlled the company for roughly a century each. A fourth family, the famous Sedlmayr family of brewers, brought the company renown during the critical period of the 19th century, and still directs its operations today.
Far-reaching Heineken is still a family brewing company: on the death of the dynamic Freddie Heineken in 2002, his daughter Charlene de Carvalho inherited the largest share. But most family breweries, like most companies of all sorts, are regional or at most national in scale. In Belgium, 18th century brewing companies Brasseries Dubuisson and Bosteels are now in the 8th and 6th generations of family ownership and management, respectively. Well-known “newer” Belgian breweries from the next century include Lindemans, Lefebvre, Bavik and a handful of others.
At Brasserie Duyck in France, Raymond Duyck runs the brewery and devises recipes for new products and improving old ones. In Germany, Barbara Müller is the sixth generation of the family to work at the Pinkus Müller Brewery, together with her husband.
Farther afield, industrialization turned the efforts of one entrepreneur into a legacy. Cooper’s is Australia’s only family brewery. There, two brothers, Tim and Glenn, continue in the complementary roles of scientist and businessman that seem to have been the alternating functions for five generations of Coopers.
And in Thailand, Boon Rawd Brewery founded by Phraya Bhirom Bhakti in 1933 now distributes Singha beer around the world, under the guidance of the third generation of the Bhirom Bhakti family.
A Brewery Childhood
For some members of this global collection of families, early memories of the family business include hands-on experience.
“Geert and me, we are the eighth generation running the Lindemans Brewery,” says Dirk Lindeman of the Belgian lambic brewery that bears their name. “But you have to see this in the context of history: in the past were a lot of farms who also made beer in the winter period for the employees, friends and local pubs. Slowly, our brewery became more important than the farm activities and in 1950 they decide to stop the farm activities and go on with the brewery.”
“As kids, we saw the brewery as a magnificent playground,” he continues. “Nevertheless, there was a lot of manual work: lay out the bottles of gueuze and kriek in the ‘caveaus’ for refermentation, or bring them out for labeling. Cleaning the bottles, charging and unloading trucks, helping with milling the wheat and malted barley. Year after year, the brewery was growing, as well as our fascination and passion for the art of brewing. As kids, we already understood that we had something unique (lambic) in our hands that could create a lot of opportunities in future. Every weekend and school vacation we worked in the family business. The brewery became a part of our life.”
In 1877, the Heller Brewery in the center of Bamberg, Germany, was purchased by Andreas Graser, a man whose odd flapping arm-movements—termed schlenkern—gave the brewery the name “Schlenkerla.” The Graser/Trum family has owned the brewery for six generations. Matthias Trum is the current brewer, the fourteenth in the brewery’s history.
Like the Lindemans, Matthias Trum also considers the brewery where he now works as his first playground: “I used to climb around the grain storage facilities. The main entrance towards our living area (directly above the tavern) is inside the guestroom in the tavern and all the regulars would basically watch me come home from school.
“At school, it was of course a ‘cool thing’ to live in a tavern and brewery. My parents were always discussing business topics at lunch or dinner, so I quite soon got the idea what it means to run your own company. The combination tavern/brewery is especially demanding, as you never really have time off. The tavern is open on most weekdays and all weekend; the brewery throughout the week—so no total free days ever.”
Melissa Coors, the daughter of Pete Coors, chairman of Coors Brewing Co., remembers family time spent at the brewery. “As a child I remember the special Saturdays when Dad would take my sister and me to work with him. He let us sit at his secretary’s desk and ‘work’ while he caught up on his work.
I also remember many trips to sporting events that Coors sponsored. Mom and Dad were eager to introduce us to co-workers, employees and other corporate sponsors. Dad’s involvement with and love of the company was clear as he was happy to be the corporate representative.”
For the famous German weissbier brewer, Georg Schneider, the bottling department is his earliest memory of the brewery. “I often sat next to the man who checked to make sure the beer bottles were clean. He was known as the “Durchleuchter” (a lamp, which x-rays the beer bottles for stains and dirt). He would tell me great stories from the past.”
He continues, “As a child I wanted to become a farmer, boat captain or pilot. At the age of 10 the variety of jobs in the brewery and the ability to work with many people influenced me to decide to enter our family business.”
Hugues Dubuisson first became familiar with his family’s brewery in Pipaix, Belgium, through its beer. “When I was child, I did not go to the brewery, but I remember some discussions with my grandfather,” he says. “Naturally, my parents served and tasted the ‘family’ beers at home. At that time, the brewery brewed almost non-alcoholic beers that children could enjoy.”
August Busch IV’s connection to the world’s largest brewing business, Anheuser-Busch, was acknowledged at birth: “I was fed a few drops of Budweiser from an eyedropper, as soon as I was born. It’s a family tradition. I don’t remember that, of course, but my family has told the story often. Still, I can’t recall ever not being aware of the business. It’s part of our family’s history and part of who we are as individuals. Our family has been deeply involved with it longer than any of us has been alive.”
In past generations, the scion of a powerful family might have expected to walk straight into a top position on the strength of name alone. But in a modern business environment, this is no longer a given: family members either prove themselves on the job, or arrive with skills, or both.
Practical experience could begin early. “I did [work at the brewery],” recalls Trum, “but only during school vacation—my parents felt that it was most important for me to get a good school education and that I should have the time to concentrate on this, rather than rolling wooden barrels all year round. For me, it was something like an extra allowance. I also worked at the tavern during those times, tapping beer for instance. However, all this was voluntarily: my parents never forced me to work.”
Dick Yuengling, the fifth generation of his family to run D.G. Yuengling and Son, grew up in the shadow of the brewery in the coal town of Pottsville, PA. He couldn’t wait to start working there, which he did at 15, repairing the properties the brewery owned and rented to bar keepers.
Georg Schneider began working in the Schneider brewery at 14, in the technical department. “There I would wash the tanks, scrub the floors, get food for colleagues and any job which was done by apprentices. Later on I was allowed to help the drivers deliver the beer.” After a university degree in economics and a master brewer’s certificate from Weihenstephan, he returned to the brewery.
Anthony Fuller, the managing director at Fuller, Smith and Turner in London, joined the company over 40 years ago, after a stint in the army. “I’d learned a lot about dealing with people, organizing, which you do as an officer, but most of my training has been on the job,” he says. “When I first joined, it was a very easygoing company, very relaxed; you didn’t get the impression that anyone put in very long hours.” His career started on the property side of the company, with Fuller’s chain of pubs.
“Back then, directors thought they knew everything they needed to know to run a company. So when I suggested, for example, that I should go on a course to learn more about the building trade, the reaction was ‘Oh, no, we already know about all that.’
“Now we make sure that people have every opportunity to go on courses. We’d never take anyone into the company until they’d spent time working outside, and had something to offer. We don’t encourage anyone to join as young as I was when I came in, in my twenties.”
For most, formal academic training has superseded hands-on training. Matthias Trum holds a degree in brewing science from the brewing university at Weihenstephan; Hugues Dubuisson trained as an agricultural and brewing engineer, and took a degree in administration and management. The current generation of Lindemans hold degrees in biochemistry and bioengineering, with an emphasis on brewing. Melissa Coors, who has a degree in Foreign Service and an MBA is now brand manager, Hispanic Marketing in the Coors company.
Paul Wells, of the Charles Wells brewery in the old English borough town of Bedford, came to his career at the company with training as a chef and in hotel management. “I’m probably the first family member to come to the company with a thorough background in food and drink,” he says. “It was different for previous generations: at least two of those generations would have had to fight in wars, so they had served the country in that capacity before joining the company.”
After his studies, Wells spent a year in the States. “Working in the States was an absolutely critical experience. I saw that staff really earned money based on good service and performance. Related to the U.K. at the time, there was no sense that extra effort led to extra rewards.”
He moved back to London. “I worked in bars, mainly theme bars—God, weren’t they awful!—but they were the thing at the time. When my father asked, ‘Is this the time to join?’ I took over as our sales person for the company in London, so I got to see my old friends, but from the other side of the business.” He became the company’s chief executive in 1998, at age 39.
August Busch IV worked as an intern in the corporate yeast culture department in 1985. “That may not sound very exciting,” he commented, “but we supply all of our breweries from the same yeast culture system. That proprietary yeast is directly descended from the original Budweiser yeast culture first used by my great great grandfather in 1876.” He also served as an apprentice brewer and a line foreman in the company’s beer packaging and shipping department, before transitioning to brand management and marketing.
“I’ve had a variety of jobs in the brewery and with the company, giving me a chance to learn all aspects of the business,” Busch continues. “That’s probably the same kind of experience that you’ll find in most executives who’ve spent their entire career with one company.”
The Generation Gap
“My father was the director,” said Anthony Fuller. “I was always expected to join the company. In those days, you did as your father told you, so I joined the company.”
Within one generation, that attitude seems to have changed, at least on the surface. If the heirs to these brewing dynasties feel pressured to join the family company, they don’t say so.
Richard Kershaw, the current chief executive at the Joseph Holt Brewing Co. in Manchester, appreciates how close the company has come to not having a family member available to take up the responsibilities. He is the great grandson of the founder. He said: “My grandmother was the second Edward’s sister. [Edward Holt was the third generation owner.] He had a brother who died at Gallipoli in 1915 but had no children himself, which is why I’m sitting here. My father had two brothers who died in the Second World War so we only just managed to scrape through each generation and keep the business with a family member at the helm.”
Matthias Trum was not pressured into taking the position at Schlenkerla. “My parents never forced me to do anything around the business, and therefore I quite enjoyed doing it,” he recalls. “I am sure that they had hoped I would follow in their footsteps and were quite happy, when I did, but it was not mandatory. My father told me a couple of times, that—if I was sure about it—he would have no problem with me pursuing another career.”
And this younger generation’s feeling towards their own children—now born or yet to come—reflect the same tolerant attitude.
Asked if his children might follow him into the brewery, Hugues Dubuisson replies “Why not? But I’m not obsessed by this. Before all, running a brewery is now a question of training and ability. Of course, if the brewery activity stays in the family, I won’t be displeased, but on the contrary, if no family member wants to continue, it’s their own choice and I’ll respect it without any problem.”
Continuity of any company depends on its ability to survive challenges and adapt to changing circumstances. For the American family breweries, no challenge was greater than the scourge of Prohibition from 1920 to 1933, which robbed these growing concerns of their source of livelihood, with no suggestion of reprieve.
Adolph Coors, founder of that company, ended his life in 1929, convinced that the beverage he loved had no future. Melissa Coors explains “Prohibition was not an easy time in the beer business. The family focused on keeping the company running and keeping employees in their jobs at all costs. It is a good thing that their concerns for quality led us to producing our own malt. Malted milk became a large part of our business for years. The family had also started a porcelain company that produced a number of products from tiles to dinner plates to malted milk containers.”
Other breweries specialized in low alcohol “near beer” or confections.
Dick Yuengling recalls stories that suggested less legitimate sources of income. The older brewers at Yuengling told stories of a false vessel soldered inside the walls of the larger fermentation tank at the brewery. Government inspectors who came to sample from the tap on the side of the tank got a glass of low-alcohol near-beer from the false vessel—but the tank was full of the real thing.
“A pipe ran from the tank under the street, and across the street where they were kegging real beer,” grins Yuengling.
Each generation has had to bring its own solution to modern problems, sometimes going head-to-head with an older generation with Oedipal predictability. As Dick Yuengling became more involved in the running of the business, he and his father disagreed over modernization. Ultimately, the son left the company to work for many years in beer distribution, before he bought the company from his father in 1985.
All four of his daughters are now working in the family business, with one trained as a master brewer, the other three in marketing and accounting. They are the sixth generation but the first women to be involved professionally in the family business. Perhaps the name has to be changed to D.G. Yuengling and Son…and Daughters.
The Dubuisson family also disagreed over modernization. “The new generation represented by Vincent Dubuisson and myself had a different point of view than the ‘old’ one,” says Hugues Dubuisson, “About the commercial aspects [such] as publicity, material, commercial promotions…And about the production: we wanted to invest in production tools and modernize the brewery. How were these resolved? We bought out the brewery!”
In a previous generation, August Busch III also pushed his father out of the leadership position. His own son, however, finds him a source of inspiration. “I have learned a lot from my father—from his knowledge, from his example and from his character. He has strong values and possesses a true passion for this business. His dedication to quality does not end with the product—it’s the foundation for the way the company maintains our facilities, conducts our relationships and implements our business standards. His core belief in quality as a business strategy continues to drive our business today.”
Society, as well as family, tests a company. At Fuller’s, changes in the beer market and the culture of drinking brought challenges that the company was in the right position to meet: “In the seventies, we sold only eight percent of our production outside our own pubs,” noted Anthony Fuller. “Now we sell over three-quarters of our production outside our own pubs. We improved the beer, and started marketing it actively. In addition, in the mid-seventies CAMRA had a dramatic effect on us. We grew over 30 percent in two consecutive years. Then we had the wherewithal to modernize.”
“We’re seeing a lot of changes: the individual pub is selling less beer, and the English are drinking more at home,” continues Fuller. “However they’re eating out more. So, in the past, pubs relied on beer, wine and spirits for 90 percent of their income: now, the half the income is from food.”
When Your Name is the Name on the Bottle
The globalization of brands has brought two of these very families into conflict. The family names Dubuisson and Busch are the French and German words, respectively, for the English word “bush.” Dubuisson brewery chose the anglicized name “Bush” to take advantage of the popularity of English beers, producing in 1933 a beer called Bush with the strength of a specialty Belgian beer and the amber color of an English pale ale.
But, following a recent complaint lodged by the American brewer Anheuser-Busch alleging possible brand name confusion with A-B’s Busch brands, as of 2004, Brasserie Dubuisson can only use the name “Bush” in a small number of European countries. Their beers are known in other markets by the name “Scaldis,” the Latin name for the river Schelde, which runs near the brewery.
The concern for name and tradition goes beyond branding. These breweries are successful companies in the bruising modern market: yet they express an attachment to values that might be regarded as sentimental in today’s market—or which might be the source of their strength.
“Long term” was the term invoked by almost every member of this group.
Anthony Fuller reflects that “You’re really a guardian, a custodian of the company for future generations. If there is a short-term dip, it’s not the end of the world, because there’s a long-term perspective.”
“We have to integrate the family values, even if they are irrelevant to the enterprising (commercial) values,” notes Hugues Dubuisson. “Also, we have to care about patrimony, but in this case, it is a “plus” because we can work on a long-term basis and do not look for immediate profits like in big companies.”
“We cherish the brewery as a child,” says Dirk Lindeman. “Quality is priority to quantity. In this context, we, the new generation of Lindemans, have the same vision as the old one. As long as the whole family shares one mission and one goal, there is no generation conflict.”
Richard Kershaw put it simply “Leave it in a better state than you found it for the next generation.”
The Next Round
It’s the late twentieth century, give or take a decade or two. You are an ambitious young man.
Unlike your predecessors, you are attracted to brewing not by the technological changes that will let brewing grow huge, but by the social changes that make a new approach to beer possible and profitable.
Whether you are called Maytag, Grossman, Koch, or Austin, you are a member of the generation that has led the first substantial expansion in the number of breweries in a century. The microbreweries have changed the face of beer, and now represent the only niche in the American brewing industry enjoying healthy growth.
At this time, these companies are too young for any speculation about inheritance. At Anchor Brewing, the oldest company of the group, founder Fritz Maytag has expanded his interests to encompass wine, distilled spirits and cheese. His nephew, John Dannerbeck, plays a leading role in the brewing company.
At Sierra Nevada Brewing Co., now a quarter of a century old, founder Ken Grossman’s daughter and son are involved.
John Hall and Greg Hall, father and son, are the power behind Chicago’s Goose Island Brewing Co.
The sons and daughters of modern entrepreneurs don’t feel the heavy hand of family tradition pushing them into the brewhouse. There are other options for them to pursue in their working lives, just as there are other pressures—boards, stakeholders, “exit strategies”—to push the founders out after a single generation.
There is every reason to believe that the multi-generational juggernauts of nineteenth century brewing will keep rolling. But has the climate for new family companies changed? In 2230, we may well still be drinking beers called Busch, Coors or Heineken, but will other beers bear any of these new names? The future of the modern family company is an open question.
Julie Johnson Bradford
Julie Bradford is the editor of All About Beer Magazine. Thanks to Roger Protz, Tim Webb, Dan Shelton for their information, and to members of these family companies for their interviews, a fraction of which I was able to use.