Once Upon a time, more beer flowed out of this city than any other part of the country. From the mid-1800s until the 1920s, a whopping 90 breweries operated within city limits—most in Brewerytown and another 100 cranked out suds in surrounding areas. Then Prohibition happened, and all of them closed. But over the past few decades a heap of new facilities put this city back on the beer map. Learn more about those in our guide to the best Philadelphia breweries, but here we take a look at some of the best new offerings, focusing on five new companies that are changing the game with innovative brewing techniques. Bottoms up, Philly.
Originally from Rome, New York, brothers Andy and Sean Arsenault (pictured) landed in the City of Brotherly Love thanks to their work in the sciences: Andy as a wastewater engineer, Sean a polymer chemist. Though their mathematical backgrounds inform the goings-on at the year-old Brewery ARS, it’s the tweaks the twins don’t make that reap the most meaningful results. “We take a less-is-more approach,” says Sean. “As little automation as possible means more flavor for sure.”
It’s an artistic luxury they can afford thanks to their lean-and-mean 10-barrel system, situated behind a whitewashed South Philly garage door on a nondescript strip of West Passyunk Avenue. The Arsenaults, along with brewer Miles Perry, focus on the three varieties they like to drink the most: saisons, hop-forward ales and dark beers.
Prior to the launch of ARS, the Arsenaults hosted investors to taste their original brews, winning a handful of initial backers with their enthusiasm and generous pours. They now enjoy a steady influx of locals who like to spend time on the laid-back café side—order at the bar, then grab a seat—lured in by limited-edition beers on tap (Salted Caramel Chocolate Stout was one recent hit) and food trucks that vend out front. Available on draft, in growlers and in cans, ARS beers tend toward the drier side, and they rotate quickly, to the tune of one to two new additions a week. For every new beer, Sean comes up with original names and then sketches label art in colored pencil.
For now at least, the Arsenaults have no grand ambitions to drastically scale up their growing operation. Instead, they’re focusing on cultivating a community around what they already have. “We wanted to bring the demand down here,” says Sean.
As much as brewers love to exert control, there is still virtue in unpredictability. That’s what first endeared Ethan Tripp to Belgian lambics, the wild-fermented, barrel-aged beers coveted for their uncompromising sourness and funk. “There’s few things that feel like so much of a left turn in a right world,” he says. So he, along with partners Matt Stone and Scott Hatch, consummated their love of this process with Fermentery Form, a North Philly operation conjuring up one-of-a-kind “ales beyond origin.”
Laid out in a monastic West Kensington warehouse, Form is a low-tech laboratory with a small bar and a staggering solera (the system of stacked barrels used to age and blend lambics). But this lab is nowhere near Brussels. Instead, the partners take advantage of Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board language that allows outside sources to provide them with wort, the end product of the mashing process that has not yet been manipulated to make alcohol.
Every other week, neighboring Saint Benjamin Brewing Company produces wort to the partners’ exacting specifications. It’s then driven three blocks to Form, where the brewers introduce yeast, malt, hops and other adjuncts. “We do a lot of waiting and shepherding here,” says Tripp, whose beers can stay in barrels for anywhere from six months to three years.
Their pleasingly acidic finished products—like Smile, made with New Jersey wildflower honey, rye and pilsner malts; or Soft, a wit flavored with oranges, coriander and chamomile—are available to drink on-site and in 750ml bottles ideal for dinner. “I want them all to be something you can just drink and enjoy,” says Tripp, “and having a place at the table is a big part of that.”
Love City Brewing
The east side of Spring Garden Street has been giving off serious Brewerytown 2.0 vibes in the past year, with the summer 2017 debut of Roy-Pitz Barrel House and the more recent opening of Yards Brewing Co.’s ambitious new facility. Those spots will soon be joined by Love City, an upstart brewery with some big ideas about engaging with the community.
Husband-and-wife team Kevin and Melissa Walter are the energetic couple behind Love City, and they will be contributing very different things to this 9000-square-foot space, slated for mid to late February. Kevin got his start at the Media, Pennsylvania, outpost of Iron Hill, later graduating to a regional position in which he oversaw brewing operations at five different locations of the brewery and restaurant. “What we’re trying to accomplish is beer that bridges the gap between big beer and [the craft scene],” says Kevin, who will lead with flagships like Love City Lager in the hopes that it will encourage the transition into bolder styles, like his lemongrass-peppercorn Belgian white.
Melissa, meanwhile worked for years in the nonprofit mental health sector—an experience that shapes Love City’s charitable arm. “Every quarter, our plan is to brew a beer, [and] a portion of the proceeds of that beer will be given back to the nonprofit that we’re partnering with,” she explains. Polling social media, she has come up with the first three orgs Love City will support: Pathways to Housing PA and For the Least of Our Brothers, both of which combat chronic homelessness; and What Is: Mindfulness, which provides mindfulness education to Philadelphia school kids.
Wissahickon Brewing Company
In 1694, the Transylvania-born mystic Johannes Kelpius settled in what is now Wissahickon Valley Park, convinced that the world was going to end. Thankfully, he was wrong, allowing Tim Gill to name a beer after him.
Kelpius Kave, a Belgian golden ale that references the hermit’s supposed retreat, is the best seller at Gill’s Wissahickon Brewing Company, close to completing its first year in East Falls. But it’s not the only choice on draft that shouts out its immediate environs. The brewery also features Devil’s Pool, a double IPA, named for the popular swimming hole. Opiksu borrows its name for the Lenape word for “pale” (ale). Then there’s the dry-hopped Hail Mary to honor the banker who finally gave Gill’s dream a chance, after eight other banks had turned him down.
A city employee for close to 35 years, Gill started home brewing 12 years ago, when his kids bought him a kit as a gift. Fast-forward to 2018 and beer is his full-time job, and his wife and four children are heavily involved in everyday operations at the 15-barrel brewhouse and tasting room. A warm, wood-paneled space with a cozy living-room feel, the public-facing portion of the brewery is (as Gill describes it) European-style—more of an all-ages, family-friendly gathering place than your average American bar.
If all goes as planned, canned Wissahickon beers will begin appearing in local bottle shops sometime in the first quarter of 2018, meaning Kelpius can help you await the coming apocalypse from the comfort of your fridge.
Workhorse Brewing Company
Though their logo features a pair of upturned horseshoes forming a curlicue “W,” Dan Hershberg promises his expected-in-April King of Prussia brewery won’t overdo it with the equine imagery. “We don’t want to be all horse puns,” says the Mount Airy native. Good thing Hershberg’s “Workhorse” moniker refers less to a mammal than a mentality—one built around tradition, consistency and the no-BS attitude so endemic to the region.
A former ESPN production assistant, Hershberg founded the sports apparel brand Philly Phaithful in 2008, but opening a brewery has always been his longtime goal. Partnering with his uncle Peter Fineberg, he looked to King of Prussia, an underserved beer area, to secure Workhorse its 70,000-square-foot, 30-barrel facility. Next, he enlisted brewmaster Nate Olewine, of the award-winning Devils Backbone in Olewine’s home state of Virginia.
After completing the prestigious Masters Brewing Program at UC Davis, Olewine broke into the industry locally, at Victory Brewing Company, before moving to Devils Backbone, which was acquired by Anheuser-Busch in 2016. With his new appointment, he has a chance to construct Workhorse’s identity from the ground up.
“We want beer for the people—a portfolio that is able to not only reach out to the true craft beer connoisseurs, but to the relative newbies to the craft scene,” says Olewine of Workhorse’s accessible philosophy. He can’t share too many details yet, but he lets on that a few of his flagships—including an IPA and a German-inspired pilsner—will be brewed with unexpected combinations of foreign and domestic hops. Regional distribution via keg and can is a long-term plan, but at first Workhorse will devote itself to the on-site tasting room, where they’ll pour one-offs and seasonals.
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