The evening of Thursday 3/27 consisted of a visit to the first brewpub chain of our American Tour. Iron Hill Brewery & Restaurant currently has 10 locations spread throughout Delaware, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania with an eleventh site projected to open this November in Ardmore, PA. The brewpub gets its name from a Revolutionary War battlefield in DE and was founded by longtime homebrewers, Kevin Finn and Mark Eddleson, in partnership with experienced restaurateur Kevin Davies. Iron Hill is different from some of the other regional brewpub chains in that each location has their own brewing staff making beers on site. Due to this, each location is able to enter competitions individually and Iron Hill brewers have consistently taken home World Beer Cup awards as well as GABF medals every year they have been in operation. We selected to stop through the original location in Newark, which opened November 14th 1996 and is located just down the street from the University of Delaware, where we were excited to share a few beers and chat with Head Brewer, Justin Sproul.
Justin has been with the company since its opening night, though he began in the kitchen while he was still in college. In 1998 he was offered the opportunity to move into the brewery to be an assistant, then moved up to the head brewer role by the summer of 2002 where he has remained in charge of the beer production for the past 12 years. He considers himself very fortunate to have this position and truly cherishes hanging out after a hard day’s work – imbibing the fruits of his labor and talking sports with a group of brewery regulars. With the help of assistant brewer, Justin Rodgers, Justin Sproul was able to have 16 different beers on tap (including one cask conditioned ale) at the time of our visit, though he admitted that was a couple more than he would prefer. To have that many beers on tap also speaks to Justin’s tenure with the company and experience juggling brewing schedules – it is quite the feat considering the limited space in the brewery. The brewers at the Newark location utilize a 10 bbl brewhouse with direct fire kettle and an accompanying six fermenters to produce roughly 900-1,000 bbl each year. To keep beers fresh and product moving, they are coming out with about 3 new beers each month and rarely double batch anything, instead using the 20 bbl fermenter to give space for their higher ABV products and receiving a higher yield without loss to blow off.
Each location is required to keep several House Beers on tap year round – Iron Hill Light Lager, Ironbound Ale, Pig Iron Porter, Raspberry Wheat, and Vienna Red Lager – and other seasonal beers such as O’Sullivan Stout on Nitro and Oktoberfest. Since the beers are brewed at each site, the brewers will frequently meet up with samples to ensure that the House Beers are consistent. Each brewer is also asked to include a seasonal Belgian beer on at all times which can range from Belgian IPA to Saison to Belgian Witbier. All other beers are up to the brewer’s discretion, providing patrons with a different beer experience with repeat visits throughout the year and at all other locations. Justin likes to keep a cask conditioned ale on tap at all times, an Irish Red Ale during our stop, but not all locations follow model. The brewer’s choice beers that we were able to sample included the Burton IPA, Boulder Bank IPA, Keller Pils, Pale Rider, a smoked and tart Polish-style wheat beer called Grodzinski, and Love Potion #9 stout with chocolate, coconut and vanilla. Justin explained that his inspiration is just to make good beers for his customers to enjoy. In that regard, he makes sure to have a more flavorful pale lager on at all time for his patrons with a lighter preference so that they don’t revert to the macro light American lagers in protest. The top-selling summer seasonal, Belgian Witbier, was brewed the week following our visit, will debut at their Springtime in Belgium Beer Dinner on April 29th, and should officially launch the following day then remain available on tap through Labor Day.
Iron Hill does not distribute, although at times bottles are made available for certain special releases which can be purchased for consumption at the dinner table or to take home. Lists of available Bottled Reserves are located on the company’s website which also keeps an updated list of beers on tap, upcoming beers, and food menus at each location. The website also boasts an events schedules and brewers’ blogs to keep patrons informed with what is happening at each brewpub. The Iron Hill in Newark is open Sun-Mon from 11am to 11pm, Tues-Thurs 11am-12am, and Fri and Sat 11am to 1am although the kitchen switches to a late night menu after 9 or 10pm. We definitely recommend making the trip to Newark to share a beer with Justin at the bar or taking advantage of the brewery’s multiple locations to enjoy hand-crafted, award-winning beers paired with fresh food made from scratch. The brewery has a very relaxed, casual atmosphere, each boasting murals by artist, Jeff Schaller, who has also had a hand in developing t-shirt designs and bottle label art. Locals who find themselves visiting frequently to see what new is on tap may wish to take a look at the benefits of their King Of The Hill Rewards Club. Others can enjoy Happy Hour every weekday from 5-7pm or take advantage of takeout with 2 pizzas and a growler of House Beer for only $25. Thank you very much to Justin for sharing his evening with us and giving us insight into his passion for making beer at Iron Hill Newark.
Author: Brandon Wurtz