PBC makes a fresh start after Yards' departure.
They've also donated beer to the Fishtown Neighbors Association, the Orianna Hill dog park, the Music Fest at Liberty Lands Park and numerous other charitable causes. They brewed pink beer for the Susan G. Komen breast cancer awareness events, and they donated $10 from every keg to the foundation.
"That became a big part of the day," says Nancy, who dyes her blond hair pink during the Komen events. "There was a lot of dealing with arts organizations and other groups."
But the community involvement extends beyond giving away free beer.
The brewery has become a focal point for the community. It hosts Buy Fresh Buy Local events and the annual Slow Foods pig roast. Tom Knox held a spaghetti dinner for neighbors in the brewery's tasting room during his mayoral primary campaign. Representatives from the SugarHouse Casino project made their pitch to the New Kensington Community Development Corporation (NKCDC) here as well.
|Liquid assets: PBC's head brewers John Rehm (left) and Josh Ervine man the tanks.|
"They do find the time on a regular basis to get involved in a lot of community things," says NKCDC president Richard Levins. "They do that, and they don't have to do that."
Their relationships with community members--the Kenzos--are so tight that the Bartons employed them as taste-testers for the Philadelphia Brewing Company's inaugural beers. They had the happy hour regulars sample four versions of their Rowhouse Red, a French farmhouse ale, to determine which they'd produce.
"It was a really cool thing to be on the ground floor of that," says McHugh.
The story of the Bartons and the Philadelphia Brewing Company is directly intertwined with the history of Yards beer. You just aren't allowed to say their former partner's name while you're in the Kensington brewery.
The breakup was that ugly.
Haddonfield native Tom Kehoe began brewing beer in 1988 while attending Western Maryland (now McDaniel) College. He turned his hobby into a career after graduating when he went to work for a small Maryland brewery. Then he and a friend, Jon Bovit, decided to create their own production brewery in Philadelphia.
In 1994 Yards was officially born in Manayunk using a three-barrel system that produced six kegs at a time. They were the first production brewery to open in the city since the 1987 demise of Schmidt's. Yards made about 18 barrels a week, 900 a year, and was profitable right away, Kehoe says.
The craft beer movement was in full swing in the mid-'90s, and Yards developed a following. They quickly outgrew their original 900-square-foot home and moved to Roxborough, where they added a bottling line and a larger brewing system. But as the brewery grew, the finances became more complicated, and the company began to struggle.
Kehoe and the Bartons knew each other through friends, and they'd hang out and drink beer together occasionally. When Nancy, who'd recently been laid off from her job as a mortgage closer, learned of the brewery's financial problems, she volunteered to be a salesperson.
"It just sounded good," she says. "I wasn't doing anything except collecting unemployment."
Bill had been processing transactions at a New Jersey auto brokerage firm and running a staff of 400 people. Then he was fired. He fought the dismissal and won a meager wrongful termination suit. The Bartons took that money and every other cent they could scrounge up, and bought their way into Yards in 1999.
Kehoe made the beer. The Bartons ran the business.
Soon Yards was producing 10,000 barrels a year, and distributing 13 varieties in seven states. They gained recognition across the country--in 2005 The New York Times named their pale ale one of the five best in the nation--and reached an almost iconic status in Philadelphia.
But differences in business philosophy and company goals quickly began to tear the partnership apart.
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.