Philadelphia has long been an esteemed beer city dating back to the colonial times. Taverns and pubs were meeting places for revolutionaries. The tradition of immigrants finding community in pub life continued throughout the industrial boom – and not just in Brewerytown. In the late 1800s, there were over 100 breweries in the Kensington section of Philadelphia. In 1906, Weisbrod & Hess finished construction of their brewery, and as it remains, it is currently the sole functioning brewery in Kensington. That facility now belongs to Philadelphia Brewing Company. Nearly two years after separating from Yards Brewing Company, Bill and Nancy Barton have rooted themselves in the thick of a competitive craft brewery revival. The local competition reaches from the city limits to Downingtown, South Jersey, Delaware and the surrounding areas. PBC can compete with more established competitors because their line of beer is readily available, cheaper than most and tastes pretty good, too.
There’s a reason for the three aforementioned points. PBC beer is readily available because they put a conscientious focus on serving the area, and Philadelphia, in particular. They do something no one else on the East Coast does – hire their own drivers. By only reaching out as far as Philadelphia, Lancaster, Berks County and parts of South Jersey, beer stays fresh. Nancy Barton, co-owner of PBC helps manage their distribution, and has standards based on the relationship between proximity and quality.
“Beer is perishable. Some people think they can store beer in their basement and they can have this aged ‘whatever.’ It’s not usually a good idea. It’s the same as with the food movement,” said Barton. “That’s part of our reasoning with staying more local. Victory sells in 26 states – that’s great for them. That’s their business model. You can’t tell me Victory Hop Devil tastes as good here as if you got in Southern California. There’s just no way it can. It’s definitely the same thing as with your food. If you get it within a 20 mile radius you’re going to get fresh beer.”
In comparison, or by a traditional business plan, a local brewer will find a beverage distributor who will take a cut, even if a keg is going to California or a couple blocks away. If PBC can cut out a middle man, make a pint of their ale cost less, and ensure a fresh beer, you’d hope they make a decent brew.
As of now, PBC only has four mainstay styles of beer–its Kenzinger Ale, Newbold Indian Pale Ale, Walt Wit Belgian White Ale and Rowhouse Red Philadelphia Style Ale. They also have a few seasonal brews such as the currently available Fleur de Lehigh and out-of-season Shackamaximum stout. The commitment to a minimal lineup is partly due to the nature of a growing business, but it is also a strength.
Barton added that many of the local breweries like Dogfish Head, Victory and Slyfox have their own brew pubs, which make it easier for them to quickly experiment and test how the public likes a new brew.
However, even with four beers, and what probably can’t be said for any brewery, the company has trouble keeping up with demand. The brewery is in the process of adding new fermenters and using more of the factory space. Admittedly, the company hasn’t used all 40,000 square feet of the building.
Keeping in line with the rekindled tradition of holding Philadelphia as one of the best beer towns in the nation, Barton said the company may try introducing a lambic beer as a seasonal select beer, which no one in the area has tried making. This is exciting news for anyone who has ever tasted this unique style of brew. It is made from fruit and still has live cultures when drunk. Barton has been talking to a farm in Gettysburg that grows organic cherries, which the brewery could use in the drink. The flavor is similar to champagne and leaves a nice fruity aftertaste after each sip.
In a city that sells more Belgian beer than Belgium itself, and where you can get any beer your heart desires, there is still a welcomed place and steady demand for the stuff coming from the last brewery in Kensington.
For more pictures of the brewery head over to Flickr.