Fishtown: Will Run for Beer
Free beer was less than 10 minutes away but took 30 minutes to find. The meandering roads of Fishtown led to the winding streets of Kensington and then finally to the stark brick façade of the Philadelphia Brewing Co. (PBC).
“Are you looking for the tour?” asked a man moving boxes of freshly brewed and packaged beer.
A confused and eager nod indicated, yes. Do they really just let you walk right in?
“It’s just right through there,” he said as he pointed up a ramp into the brewery. “Just go right up the stairs and into the bar.”
Guess so. Jackpot.
The Philadelphia Brewing Co., located just outside of Fishtown’s borders on Amber and Martha streets, offers free Saturday tours from noon to 3 p.m. Tours last approximately 30 minutes and take visitors through the process of making local and quality beer. While you wait for tours to commence, you can hang out at the bar on the second floor of the brewery and drink for free. That’s right, free. It’s common courtesy to tip the friendly bartenders, and it’s likely that the more you drink, the more you’ll tip.
So why offer free tours? Why serve free beer? Why provide a friendly, warm and welcoming environment to neighborhood locals and beer connoisseurs?
“Just good will, for people who are fans, people who are coming in from out of town and want to do something fun in Philadelphia,” said Dean Browne, who has worked for the Philadelphia Brewing Co. for 10 years.
Well, technically, Browne has worked for Bill and Nancy Barton for 10 years. The two entrepreneurs severed ties with Yards Brewing Co. in July 2007 to create their own brand- Philadelphia Brewing Co. The brewery operates in the old Weisbrod and Hess Oriental Brewing Company, which ceased brewing and bottling production in 1939. The Philadelphia Brewing Co. was officially in business in 2008.
The revival of the Weisbrod and Hess Oriental Brewery building brought about significant changes to the neighborhood that the Philadelphia Brewing Co. continues to support.
“The community when we first moved here was a lot different,” said Browne. “If we had an event like this [tour] we had to have the doors shut and keep a person on the doors.
“It really wasn’t the same as it now. It’s a really livable neighborhood now. And we think that supporting the neighborhood associations and local charities has helped to improve our business, as well as help to improve the way that people live here.”
The Philadelphia Brewing Co. is all about locality: buying local, selling local and distributing locally. They are the only brewing company that ships their own beer in their own trucks. That means customers are guaranteed a fresh pour, each and every time. And if not, call them up and they will deliver a new batch.
“We’re grounded right in local [and] selling in local markets. We only sell in Philly except for a couple pockets around, and that’s really what we’re after is local Philadelphia,” said Browne.
PBC doesn’t advertise much, so a lot of their publicity is word-of-mouth through sponsorship of local charity events and nonprofits. And through their Saturday open houses.
“Tours give us a way to connect with people living in the neighborhood; we get a lot of local guys […] that come in on weekends to see us and they help out with things that are going on around the brewery. So [tours] connect us to our brewery. And also most people come in here for just an introduction to our beer, and a lot of people, even though they live in Philly […] never had our product before so it’s a good way to extend out a little bit of good will and to try and make a connection.”
PBC supports the Greensgrow Philadelphia Project, Flat Iron Wildcats, Slow Food and Sustainable Table, among other local charities and nonprofits in the neighborhood.
“We are working to improve life here in the city,” said Browne. “Generally we like to support charities that are about improving life in the city in some way.”
Help in the advertising effort and take a tour, which are given at the top of the hour from noon to 3 p.m. and led by Dave April.
“Make sure to top up your beer at the bar before we go,” instructed April.
As an employee at the PBC and president of the Fishtown Beer Runners, April knows his beer. The runners embark from Susquehanna Avenue and run two to five miles to their destination, usually a bar with PBC beer.
PBC proudly brews Kenzinger, Walt Wit, Newbold IPA and Rowhouse Red and seasonal brews such as Winter Wunder, Joe Porter and Fleur de Lehigh.
Cases can be bought and bottles can be mixed and matched on site on Saturdays between noon and 4 p.m. Tours and open houses run every Saturday, so if you happen to drink too much the first time and miss out on the tour, it’s all right. You can always go back.
Go back enough, and everyone will know your name. And your brew.