Tom Kehoe has big plans for the future of a Philadelphia favorite.
Tom Kehoe stands behind the newly constructed bar in the Yards Brewery on Delaware Avenue. It’s shortly after noon on a Saturday, and Kehoe, whose stout build and genial disposition suggest a man who could drink you under the table but would also happily pick up the tab, is welcoming visitors with freshly poured beer.
The shape of the brewery’s new “tasting room” is rapidly unfolding, anchored by a retail counter by the entryway, and a long bar in the back of the room. Just two weeks earlier, the room was in much more austere condition, with an open wall separating it from the rest of the brewery, and open trenches in back dug for laying of water pipes. Now the space between the tasting area and the brewery has been enclosed with glass, and the new bar masks the previous site of the digging. Flashy banners representing Yards' lineup of beers hang from the rafters.
Kehoe, founder and brewmaster of Yards, is telling a visitor about the plans for the space, intended to serve as a gathering area for brewery tours as well as an events space available from anything from weddings to corporate events. “We don’t want to work restaurant hours,” says Kehoe, sipping from a cup of water. “We get here early in the morning. We see the restaurant people on the way home.”
In fact, because of the demands that come with tending to a living, breathing product like beer that’s undergoing fermentation, on many days there will be a representative from Yards’ staff of 12 in the brewery around the clock. And even on Saturdays, when brewing operations are on the backburner, it’s clear that the primary function of the establishment is not to serve as a social hub, but to produce beer, specifically, English-style ales.
After eight months of work spent readying the building, which formerly housed a skate park, for the start of production, a process that entailed laying of new concrete floors even before the installation of mash tuns, fermenters and the bottling line, Yards produced the first batch of beer in the new facility last September.
The milestone marked what Kehoe hopes is the culmination of a journey that started with the establishment of the original Yards brewery in Manayunk in 1994, then a move up the hill to Roxborough in 1996 and into Kensington in 2001. “Hopefully we can eventually buy the whole building,” says Kehoe, enthusiastic about the prospect of continuing to expand production.
They’ve already expanded their lineup, adding the Brawler to the brewery’s three other year-round staples. The Brawler, an English-style session beer, is technically not a new entry, but is instead a reinvented recipe for a beer that was last made when Yards was located in Roxborough.
This rounded, malty, dark (and reddish) ale is rapidly becoming a mainstay in the city’s taprooms, and while it has enough richness and complexity to satisfy serious beer enthusiasts, it’s also refreshingly unintimidating, free of the excessive hoppiness that scares off many novices. When recently asked to recommend a quaff for newcomers to craft beer, Jon Myerow, owner of Center City beer destination Tria, advocated the Brawler, noting that “It’s got the same alcohol content as Bud Light, and it’s not at all threatening, but has loads of flavor.”
Kehoe’s favorite beers are English ales, so much that the brewery’s name is loosely derived from Scotland Yard, and the Brawler succeeds in returning to fashion a style of English ale that’s largely been overlooked by American craft brewers.
Back at the bar in the tasting room, some visitors are sampling some beers, in preparation for their tour. One points at the ESA from the bar’s lone tap, another asks for an IPA, remarking, “I like the hoppy one.”
A third, looking for something new, says, “I’ll try the Brawler.” Lifting the freshly poured glass to his mouth, he sips, pauses, and concludes enthusiastically, “I can get into that.”
Yards Brewery, 901 N. Delaware Ave., is open for retail sales Mon.-Fri., 10am-5pm and for informal tours Sat., Noon-3pm.
Fork it over: Yards founder Tom Kehoe kept the name, while Philadelphia Brewing Company owners Nancy and Bill Barton (pictured) kept the building. caption: caption: Tanks for the memories: PBC makes...
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