Yards Brewery opened in 1994, in a tiny space in Manayunk, on a small, 3.5-barrel – or about 100-gallon – system. At the time Yards was one of only 536 other craft breweries in the entire United States. Eighteen years later, both Yards and the craft brewing industry have grown. Today there are almost 2,000 such breweries, and Yards moved from its original location in Manayunk to Roxborough and Kensington and to its current, much more spacious location in Northern Liberties. Yards’ production has been growing upwards of 40 percent the past three years running, and now has a 50-barrel system that produced over 30,000 barrels last year. Since Yards opened in 1994, it has gained a loyal following throughout the Philadelphia area.
When Yards started, President Tom Kehoe didn’t plan on a large operation. He and co-founder Jon Bovit just liked craft beer and, as it turned out, people liked the beer they were making. Kehoe ascribes the growing interest in craft beer to interest in local food. People were really thinking about what they were eating, and their interest in local drinks naturally followed. Local bars began tapping a lot of Yards kegs, and the brewery easily sold out its small output. As their venture took off, the Yards’ guys had to decide whether to stick close to what they knew or branch out into the increasing popular world of brewpubs. Since neither of them cared to tangle with the restaurant business, they put their effort into making quality beer and kept their focus in the Philadelphia area.
Philly “takes care of its own,” Kehoe says, and the company has thrived in the area. Yards received its first big notice when their Extra Special Ale debuted in 1995, at the Philly Craft Beer Festival. Philly continues to be Yards’ good friend, since the vast majority of their output is sold in the ever-expanding Philadelphia area. They moved into their Northern Liberties digs in 2008, which has a little growing room, and will probably use it to expand to 50,000-barrel capacity.
Since the interest in craft beer came from local, sustainable culture, Yards has always been mindful of their ecological footprint.
“Brewers like being green. It fits with the mission of craft beer,” said Kehoe.
Yards applies this philosophy in every aspect of its operations. Yards was one of the earliest wind-powered breweries in the United States, and the first in Pennsylvania. All of its furniture is reclaimed, it recycles all its cardboard and glass, and its spent grain and other ingredients in the beer are fed to local bison, who provide the meat used in the tasting-room chili.
The staff is also especially committed to keeping green. Frank Winslow ’00, a head brewer and Director of Quality Control at Yards, noted that keeping Yards green is both an environmental and economic concern; a good business “cuts down its waste,” as Yards does with its bison.
While a student at Haverford, Winslow was in the Homebrew Club, but hadn’t considered making a career out of beer until coworkers at the Abrahamson Family Cancer Research Institute, where he started a homebrew club, thought that he should give it a try. After working at Manayunk Brewpub and Flying Fish, Kehoe convinced him to come work for Yards, where he now checks the quality of the beer at every stage.
While this might sound like a never-ending life of beer tasting, it actually involves a lot of analysis and lab work. He has to test every ingredient going into the beer, and follow it as it goes through each brewing stage, checking pH levels and for any spoilage or bacterial growth. Still, to hear Winslow tell it, “The mouth and nose are as effective as any GC Mass Spec.” Under Winslow’s watch, Yards has made further strides in its brewing process, doubling its fermentation capacity in 2011.
Yards Brewery, as well as its tasting room, are located at 901. N Delaware Ave. There are free tours of the facility on weekends, but the tasting room is open every day. This writer recommends the Saison—a light, funky, unfiltered Belgian-style ale that’s incredibly refreshing as it gets hotter outside. Pair that with the grilled cheese, or try the IPA with the bison chili. To be honest, you can’t really go wrong.
ABOVE: Yards founder and President Tom Kehoe at the tap. (Photos courtesy of Yards Brewing Compnay)