PBC makes a fresh start after Yards' departure.
|Fork it over: Yards founder Tom Kehoe kept the name, while Philadelphia Brewing Company owners Nancy and Bill Barton (pictured) kept the building.|
"About a week into working here, I realized these people don't talk," says Chris Morris, a former Yards salesman who started at the brewery five years ago and now works for PBC.
The Bartons wanted to dominate the Philadelphia market. Kehoe wanted to grow the company.
"Their focus was the building," Kehoe argues. "The building became more important than anything else. It was kind of hard for us to agree on anything at one point."
By early 2006 the Bartons and Kehoe realized their arrangement needed to be terminated. It took nearly 18 long, bitter months to negotiate the settlement.
After the August breakup, Yards leased the space and equipment in the Kensington brewery until Kehoe found his new home on Delaware Avenue. The Bartons made weekly supervised walk-throughs to ensure nothing was being sabotaged.
Today the two sides refuse to speak, and the Bartons have boycotted drinking Yards beer.
Kensington, of course, has its own tragic tale.
In the mid-1800s Philadelphia was the "Workshop of the World," and Kensington was its manufacturing heart. Textile mills, foundries, machine-works, glass factories, potteries and furniture makers dominated the smog-filled landscape. The mills of Kensington produced more carpets than all of Great Britain and Ireland combined by the end of the 19th century.
Huge waves of German immigrants arrived in the mid-1800s, bringing with them their passion for beer. The Bavarian John Wagner brewed the first lager in America in 1840 near the intersection of American and Poplar streets in Northern Liberties.
Soon brewers were popping up all around Northern Liberties and Kensington, and their brews were exported to Europe and Asia.
"People would put the name 'Philadelphia' on their beer because it had a connotation of excellence around the world," says beer historian Rich Wagner, who'll give a lecture on Philadelphia brewing history at PBC on March 22.
By the dawn of Prohibition in 1920, there were more than 40 major production breweries in the city and dozens of smaller-scale operations.
When the 21st Amendment repealed Prohibition in 1933, only 19 of the larger facilities reopened. Weisbrod & Hess was among the survivors, but they went out of business in 1939.
After World War II the factories began shutting down one by one, and Kensington lingered like a hospice patient refusing to die. With each factory's demise came increased poverty. As people abandoned the neighborhood, the drug trade moved in.
Fires at former manufacturing hubs made for spectacular video on the evening news. Such was the case with the Quaker Lace building, which was torched in 1994 by drug dealers who didn't appreciate police using the vacant building for surveillance.
Wagner visited the dilapidated two-story redbrick Weisbrod & Hess location in 1983. Gray concrete blocks had replaced the old windows, trash was strewn all over the place, and vines had nearly taken over.
"I never thought I'd see a brewery there," he remembers now. "And I wouldn't have been surprised if it was torn down."
He didn't think much about the place until 18 years later when Nancy Barton called him. She and Bill had been scouting locations for Yards when they stumbled across the complex.
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.
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