Port Richmond: Craft Breweries Expand Throughout Philly

Tom Sheridan gets to work almost every Sunday at 6 a.m. That’s brewing day over at Do Good Brewing in Port Richmond. Sheridan meets his two employees over at the brewery on 3245 Amber Street in the early hours of the morning to start the process.

They start by heating up water in the hot liquor tank to around 170 to 180 degrees. They than begin to mash in, which Sheridan describes as pouring the hot water on top of grains, essentially mixing them together. The grains and the hot water sit together for about an hour, which is when the water extracts valuable sugars from the grains, producing wort.

“We move that over to the boil pedal, where your actual fun and science begins,” Sheridan said.

Sheridan fell in love with the science behind brewing and decided to grow a business out of it. Do Good Brewing has been distributing their beer for around nine months now.

Sheridan’s company is only a small grain in the huge expansion of craft breweries not only in Philadelphia, but also in the United States.

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According to the Brewers Association, craft breweries held 11 percent share by volume of the marketplace in the United States in 2014, the highest it has ever reached. The craft beer industry was worth $19.6 billion in 2014, a 22 percent increase from 2013.

The Brewers Association describes craft breweries as small (annual production of 6 million barrels of beer of less), independent (less than 25 percent owned or controlled by an alcoholic beverage industry member) and traditional (a majority of the beers flavor deriving from traditional or innovative brewing ingredients).

Pennsylvania ranks number seven in craft breweries in the United States, with 108 at the end of 2013, and now around 134. But what’s even more important is that Pennsylvania ranks number four in economic impact from craft breweries, making $1.9 million.

Matt Firman is the founder of PACraftBeer.com, a website dedicated to posting news and updates about craft breweries around Pennsylvania.

“Nowadays, with the number of breweries around, people typically live within 10 miles of a brewhouse,” Firman said. “People are really taking the ‘drink local’ to heart.”

Large craft breweries like Yards and Philadelphia Brewing Company hold tastings and tours each week. Most of their brews flood the Philadelphia beer scene and can be found in any craft beer store around the area.

Yelp Trends shows the increase in craft popularity in Philadelphia.
Yelp Trends shows the increase in craft popularity in Philadelphia.

Sheridan is starting off small and is currently the only sole manufacturing distributor in Philadelphia. This past March, he introduced his second beer, Do Good Milk Stout, to join his flagship beer, Do Good United Ale.

In the past nine months, he expanded his business to supply 36 different bars.

“Our goal was to try and not sell to anyone more than a mile and a half from the brewery,” Sheridan said. “We wanted to see if we could be self-supported by the neighborhoods.”

So Sheridan started by infiltrating neighborhood corner pubs around Port Richmond, Fishtown and Bridesburg. He attributes the success he’s had in the river wards to his connections from being a Port Richmond native.

“These people either went to North Catholic like me or went to the same college as me or know my mom or know my dad or know my uncle or my cousin,” Sheridan said. “When you grow up in that community, there’s always a connection somewhere. There’s always a bridge.”

These connections helped gain Do Good Brewing guaranteed tap space in most of the bars they’re located in. Instead of bars that switch their craft beers every few weeks, Sheridan targeted pubs that have the same beers for years.

“We might not be in 100 bars, but 30 of the 36 that we’re in give us guaranteed placement,” said Sheridan.

Recently, craft breweries have been popping up all over Philadelphia. In May 2014, Saint Benjamin Brewing Company opened up in Kensington, not far from where Do Good Brewing would open that summer. This past month, they opened their brewery for bimonthly tours.

In fall of 2014, Nodding Head Brewery closed down their Center City location, promising to reopen in an undisclosed location this spring. Rumors are flying around Twitter that their next location may just be in Port Richmond. However, owner Curt Decker has still not revealed his plans.

Crime & Punishment Brewing Co. started production this month for the first time, bringing a brewery back to Brewerytown.

Despite the brewing success Philadelphia seems to be having, there is still a ton of competition in the industry and an exorbitant amount of time that needs to be dedicated.

“Owning a brewery is not something to do for fun,” Firman said. “It is a lot of work and the beer making process goes from an enjoyable hobby to a demanding job.”

The increase of breweries just shows an increase in craft beer demand. More Philadelphia residents are interested in local, craft beers, with websites like PA Craft Beer and Philly Tap Finder and huge events like Beer Week and Philly Craft Beer Festival.

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Check out what bars near you have Do Good Brewing on tap.

“People want something more than Bud and Miller in their fridges. They want choices,” Firman said.

On a grand scale, the number of craft breweries is only expanding. But on a more local scale, behind Do Good Brewing is a guy with a huge passion and local ties to the community.

“I would like to say [my success] is because I’m such a good salesman and make the best beer in the world, but a lot of it is just pure luck and friendship,” Sheridan said. “I’m not an outsider, I’m not from Colorado, I’m not from Virginia. No, I’m Tom, I grew up four minutes from here, I still live here, I own a brewery.”

– Text and images by Regan Abato. 

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