Finally reestablishing dominance in the East, Pennsylvania breweries won 16 medals at GABF 2017 in October: three golds, six silvers and seven bronzes. A dozen of those medals were collected by brewers in the Philadelphia and suburban region, which is the primary focus of this column every month, and the other four were from brewers in western Pennsylvania. Several familiar names dotted the list, along with a couple of suburban Philadelphia brewers making their debut.
Sly Fox Brewing’s Grisette Summer Ale took its second gold (to go along with two silvers). The relatively new 2SP Brewing, which debuted with two medals in 2016, repeated its gold this year for The Russian, an imperial stout. The Iron Hill Brewery & Restaurant Group won a pair of silvers, both from the suburban Media, Pa., location, to maintain a 21-year winning streak that began with the group’s first entry in 1996, bringing its total to 47 medals. This year’s winners were Solzhenitsyn, in the Aged Beer category, and Russian Imperial Stout. As a side note, it would be great fun to do a joint tasting of Iron Hill’s RIS and 2SP’s The Russian, since both were created by brewer Bob Barrar. Another silver was taken by Philadelphia’s oldest brewery, Yards, for its ESA (Extra Special Ale), the beer that started the city’s craft beer revolution (more on that below). Newcomer Bonn Place Brewing in Bethlehem took a silver for Mooey, in the Ordinary or Special Bitter category, and a bronze for Nemo, in the English-Style Mild Ale group.
Four more beers won bronze medals. Dock Street Brewery got one for Man Full of Trouble Porter. (Dock Street is the city’s oldest brewpub; it was gone for a while after the crash-and-burn years at the turn of the century but has been reborn as an exciting new neighborhood brewery.) Neshaminy Creek Brewing won bronze for Croydon Is Burning, in the Smoke Beer category, just as it did in 2016. Newcomer Stickman Brews in Royersford debuted with a bronze for Cousin Stoopid, a Belgian-style ale, and Easton’s Weyerbacher Brewing returned to the winner’s circle for the first time in six years with a bronze for Riserva, a barrel-aged sour.
The Little Brewery That Could
Tom Kehoe and Jon Bovit opened Yards Brewing in Philadelphia’s Manayunk neighborhood in 1995. The brewery’s initial offering, Extra Special Ale, was a cask-conditioned beer that set off the craft beer revolution. Other craft or would-be craft brewers came along soon after, all larger and better financed, all them short-lived and soon forgotten. A lot of things went wrong at Yards during that stretch, and eventually the two partners split, with Kehoe keeping the brewery. He formed another partnership with Bill and Nancy Barton, who eventually purchased the former home of Weisbrod & Hess Oriental Brewery in one of the city’s worst neighborhoods to house the company. In 2007, that partnership fell apart as well, and Kehoe got the brewery in the settlement yet again.
By the time you are reading this, the Yards Brewery and Taproom, a $19 million project, will likely be open on Spring Garden Street in Philadelphia.
Yards has flourished and grown since Kehoe found … wait for it … a new partner and a location on the Philadelphia waterfront. The brewery’s success made the need to expand again obvious. By the time you are reading this, the Yards Brewery and Taproom, a $19 million project, will likely be open on Spring Garden Street. It will have a modern industrial feel, an open floor plan and 25-foot ceilings, and it will offer views of the entire brewing operation. “For the first time in the brewery’s history, there will be a kitchen churning out pub fare. Chef James Burke, a James Beard Award semifinalist, will be in charge of the taproom’s menu, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. There will be seating for nearly 300 people, and all of Yards’s standard beers will be tap, along with a recurring series of limited releases. The facility also features a private event space on the second floor and outdoor seating, separated from the taproom by roll-up garage windows.
The Other Happy Ending
What became of the Bartons after they split with Yards? They founded Philadelphia Brewing Company in the old Kensington plant. In September, they commemorated the brewery’s 10th anniversary with the launch of a new bar, the Peacock Room, a 30-seat tavern serving PBC beers and Commonwealth Ciders (a brand the Bartons created in 2012). The bar replaces a retail shop at the brewery’s front entrance and has outdoor seating — clear evidence that the neighborhood has changed, not least because the presence of the brewery has been emblematic of the shifting tone of the community. When the brewery first moved in, every window and door was boarded up or covered by steel, with double gates and double locks. The beers are solid; Kenzinger, a 4.5% pale ale, is the flagship and a local favorite. And PBC is a great place to work; the Bartons prepare a home-cooked meal for their entire staff nearly every day, including a brunch on most Saturdays.
Comin’ Round Again
Jon Zangwill was sui generis, the Big Hoppy Beer Guy before there were Big Hoppy Beer Guys (in this part of the world, at least). He’s a man today’s beer lovers might call “the one we have been waiting for.” After 10 years on the local beer scene at his own brewery and on staff at two others, Zangwill earned a degree in food engineering and worked his way up to the role of Master Roaster and Coffee Expert at Mars Drinks in nearby West Chester.
He and his wife, Deirdre, who was one of the earliest female craft advocates on the local scene (she was a teacher at an exclusive Main Line school for young women destined to become debutantes and hosted some incredible parties from her great personal beer collection), will be opening Stolen Sun Craft Brewing and Specialty Coffee Roasting in suburban Exton this spring, literally a stone’s throw from where they have lived for the past dozen years.
Stolen Sun will make and serve artisanal beers and coffees on-site and will be, Zangwill says, “an alternative to the standard bars and pour houses and… a place to educate people.” Stolen Sun will have a 10-barrel brewhouse turning out Zangwill’s signature hoppy beers, but it is the coffee roastery that has him most excited. He compares fruit- and citrus-forward beans from Africa and South and Central America to hops. Stolen Sun will have 20 taps featuring specialty coffees as well as craft beers and a full kitchen focused on meats, along with seating for 70 guests (no table service). There are no plans for distribution, but a small canning line for takeout beers might be added.