*UPDATE 11/16/16* Wissahickon Brewing Company needs zoning adjustments for their tasting room. The Gills go before neighbors in tonight’s East Falls zoning & land use meeting. Join us at Down’s Hall on Philly U’s campus at 7pm — WBC could use our support to open bring beer, food trucks, and music to this forgotten stretch of Schoolhouse.
A sneak peek behind the scenes as a new East Falls brewery nears completion.
Having a brewery come to town for the first time in decades can make anybody excited but when it’s opening within 100 yards of your house (i.e.“stumbling distance”), it really amps up the anticipation. So we were giddy last Friday morning to see shiny new brewing tanks and fermenters arrive at the future location of the Wissahickon Brewing Company (WBCO) on School House Lane.
It was also our first chance to see inside the old warehouse that’s being slowly transformed into a sizeable brewing facility/tasting room and chat a bit about WBCO’s future plans with Tim Gill and his sons Luke and Tim Jr.
Standing inside the loading docks, the improvements were obvious – freshly painted walls, a giant refrigerator to store kegs, new energy-efficient LED lights in the ceilings, and a food-grade epoxy coated floor with a drainage channel that will support the brewing equipment.
“It’ll make life so much easier for us,” said Tim Sr., “Not just for cleaning up but from a sanitary standpoint.” The building’s original concrete floors would’ve absorbed moisture and bacteria, a big problem for a brewing operation.
The new flooring is one of many big changes for the Gill family as they transition from the half-barrel system in the basement of their home to a 15 barrel brewery. Tim Sr. is looking forward to the challenge, buoyed by the advice he and his sons have received from local breweries and the insights they’ve gained from brewing alongside more established brewmasters.
The first rule? “Nothing is cookie cutter when you’re starting up a microbrewery,” said Tim Gill Jr. “Everyone we spoke with said you have to find the best space you can and get creative with placing your equipment. We’re a startup, not a giant outfit that can build a brewery from scratch.”
They got lucky he said finding a building that could be converted relatively easily to a brewery but “envisioning how it all comes together, from the brewing to the tasting to the storage is something you won’t find in a manual.”
Neither is the hyperlocal strategy they’ve learned is also critical to success. “Our goal is to work with as many local businesses as possible,” said Luke. “We’re in talks with a Pennsylvania farm that will provide some of our ingredients, including honey, maple syrup, and hops.” (And you can’t get more hyperlocal than the hop garden they’ll plant along the exterior wall of the building — or the 10-ton grain silo built by local contractors — which will frame an outdoor seating area.)
Even the spent grains from the brewing process will find a local home — donated to W.B. Saul High School on Henry Avenue. “They’re great for the cattle, pigs, and chickens they have up there. The grains have quite a bit of nutrients and protein livestock thrive on in addition to tasting sweet, it keeps the animals happy!”
The local-first strategy has been part of WBCO’s philosophy since Tim Sr. decided to name the brewery Wissahickon. And his crew has already jumped into the community in a big way, pouring their beer at two big East Falls festivals. First, they debuted their Tripel Citrus at the Ringstetten fundraiser on October 1st before tapping Kelpius Kave (Belgian Strong Ale) and Devil’s Pool (Imperial IPA) at the Autumn Festival on Kelly Drive this past weekend.
Both events have left Tim Sr. and his family “overwhelmed by the incredible support from the East Falls community.”
And they’re eager to do more outreach, according to Luke, by conducting events at the brewery like tours and bottle sharing events. A fan of bottle sharing, Luke is eager to have neighbors bring bottles of their favorite commercial beers, or even homebrew, to swap with others.
Speaking of homebrew, WBCO plans to offer brewing classes too. “We’ll be relocating the half-barrel system we have at home to the brewery,” said Tim Jr. It’ll allow them to test new recipes (a pilot system) and share “some of what we’ve learned with our neighbors while increasing their appreciation of good beer.”
Mostly that appreciation will take place in the 800 square foot tasting room, complete with a horseshoe bar made from repurposed wood from old taverns in the Brewerytown section. “We’ve found old wood from the bars and breweries that is perfect for our space. There’s history there and the wood itself is amazing — really rich and dark. It’s got character.”
Natural, local, historical. “It’s what Wissahickon Brewing is all about” Tim Sr. added. It’s easy to imagine that classic bar, even in the half-finished tasting room. What’s a lot harder, especially with a dozen kegs of Wissahickon beer along the wall, is waiting til this winter (fingers crossed) for the first pour.