East Coast Craft Pioneers
Philadelphia has long been one of our favorite cities, and truth be told, our feelings for the city’s residents and culture have only gotten more appreciative over the years. There’s more than a hint of old school charm, mixed with a modern, infectious enthusiasm, that pervades the Philly atmosphere. We were excited to spend some time speaking with the team over Dock Street Brewing Company, located in West Philadelphia (cue the music).
Dock Street has been a Philly staple since it opened in 1985, and can be counted as one of the original craft brewing pioneers from that era. In fact, by 1990, it was the 26th largest craft brewery in the country. Since that point, Dock Street Brewing has undergone a few organizational changes in ownership and size, but the brewery is back to doing its thing with original ownership, making great food and high quality, small-batch beer handcrafted with Philly love, with more than a few awards to backup their brewing pedigree. We got a chance to speak with the enthusiastic Sasha Certo-Ware, who runs many of the day-to-day brewery operations, and who’s mother, Rosemarie, happens to be one of the original owners.
Hey Sasha. What’s your background at the brewery?
Hey there. I’ll give a little background on the brewery itself first. Dock Street Brewing was started as bottling company (not a brewpub) by my mother and father in Philadelphia in 1985. A few years later, we opened our flagship brewpub in the Philadelphia’s Logan Square, neighboring the Four Seasons. By 1990 we were the 26th largest brewery in the country by volume, and throughout the 90’s we were a very popular brewery. One of our original beers, the Dock Street Amber Ale, helped get a lot of people into craft beer here both in Philly and around the country.
There were a handful of investors at Dock Street during this time, and after a couple failed hostile takeover attempts, my mother and father sold it to the investors. It tanked shortly after. In the late 90’s, my mother bought it back at a sheriff’s sale. We contract brewed for a few years, and in 2007, we re-opened Dock Street Brewery at its current location in West Philadelphia. We currently have a 10-barrel system and some of the best wood-fired pizza around. I’ve grown up at the brewery, and learned my brewing chops from the professionals who worked here. I currently brew full-time along with our head brewer, oversee sales, and help keep the place running smoothly.
You’re exactly that guy that people want to talk to at a brewery…full of passion and excitement about their product. How do you keep it interesting?
We’re just happy that we love what we do. Here’s a great story for you…we brewed a beer with roasted goat brains and cranberry for the season finale of the Walking Dead.
Seriously. We did it and we had folks writing in from all over the world trying to get their hands on a bottle of it (in fact, BuzzFeed did a great piece on it). This is an example of our ability to do fun stuff with great beer. Because we’re small enough, we can create about 40 different beers per year, including a goat brain beer.
In the spirit of collaboration, we’ve woked with Whole Foods, 4 Seasons, and many more on specific beers. A few brewers and friends from Yard’s Brewery (another Philly brewing landmark) grow hops in their West-Philly backyard and we do a wet hop IPA with these hops (picture above). It’s all done by hand and it’s fun as hell to be this creative. We’re also reminded what great people we share an occupation with.
Have you reinvented yourself in some way? Is this a different brewery than the brewery that was around in the 80’s?
We’re a different place then we were in the 80’s and 90’s. The culture and residents of West Philly are infectious; there’s more of a community now. It's an artistic, involved, familiar, and relaxed vibe around town these days. We love who we’ve grown into over the past few years. We’re thriving and proud of our history here in Philadelphia. Apart from being on the brink of releasing cases of Rye IPA in a few new markets, we’re also opening up a distillery. We’ve already begun importing Mezcal under the label Vicio. Along with Rosemarie, Marilyn Candeloro (our Vice President) keeps Dock Street afloat and is one of the founders of Dock Street Spirits. We are having trouble meeting demand and all said and done, that’s a good thing.
Philly’s beer scene is notoriously awesome. How has it evolved over the past few years?
I feel kind of spoiled having grown up here if I’m honest. One of the big changes I’ve seen recently is the number of brewpubs opening up, which is sometimes overlooked in the craft beer scene. Brewpubs are a great way to interact with the customers. The brewpub model is how beer culture in this country used to be, and it’s coming back. It’s the most intimate connection possible with a craft beer fan to have them come to your brewpub, chat with the brewer, and try some truly unique beer.
It seems like you’re a man of the people.
I think brewing is a liquid reflection of the people in the industry. The hard work makes it worth it. Every barback, bartender, brewer, sales rep, and distributor all work together to get the beer in your glass. It’s the caliber of the people that make the industry so great.
What are you thoughts on the sheer number of breweries opening right now? They project over 4000 breweries by the end of 2015.
There is certainly room for it. I worry about the scaling up, but as long as it’s done methodically it’s fine. I hear some people starting with huge production breweries; to me that seems inorganic and I worry about supply growing more rapidly than demand. That being said, craft brewing has nowhere to go but up. We’ve heard that a rising tide floats all ships, and I think this is true in the beer business.
Pirates or Ninjas?
We’re go back and forth on that one. We're going to your pub and we’ve never had your beers. Which four beers are we drinking?
- Our year-round Rye IPA
- Summer in Berlin - Berliner weisse brewed with lemongrass and ginger
- Manful of Trouble (porter)
- Sexy Beast – Belgian Chocolate Stout. 25 pounds of chocolate melted in the beer
What are you drinking right now that isn’t a Dock Street beer?