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.