The day before my 30th birthday was a rainy (yet awesome) Saturday that started at Yards Brewing Company during their public hours on 3/29/14. As soon as we walked in the door, we were given a free sample of their IPA as well as a wooden chip which was to be redeemed later for a tour of the brewery; the color of the chip determined what time our tour was. Rather than join that tour, we purchased a $5 flight of their beer and met up with brewer Andrew Rutherford who first sat with us to go over a few facts about Yards before taking us through the brewery on a private tour.
Andrew (who goes by Drew) started at Yards right out of College around six years ago and told us that the owner, Tom Kehoe, was very into English beers. When Tom was making test batch beers before starting the brewery, he did not have a name for the brewery, but was trying to come up with a name that revolved around Scotland Yard or something similar. During that time, people would ask him “hey, what’s up with that Yards beer?” and it ended up sticking. Once he had settled on that name, Yards began brewing but has moved three times since – the original building was in the Manayunk borough of Philadelphia and they have been in their fourth building since 2008. The current location was at one point a logging facility, then an iron facility, and was most recently a skate park. Due to the nature of skate parks, there are spray paint tags all over the walls in the brewing area.
Yards has four core, year-round beers: an IPA, an ESA (which is an American take on an English Bitter and was also the first beer they made), Brawler English Mild, and Philly Pale Ale. As for seasonal offerings, Yards Saison is out in the market now for the spring and, once it is done around July, Pynk will be coming out – it is a fruit ale with a sort of lactic acid finish and has a lot of raspberry puree in it. Another seasonal of theirs is Rye IPA which was originally made for Philly Beer Week a couple of years ago but was turned into a seasonal after being a big hit; it was tweaked to have more rye and less alcohol. For a few years now, the brewery has been bourbon aging on a small scale and one of those beers is known as Washington’s Reserve. They also use coffee from La Colombe in some recipes.
Specialty beers made specifically for bars who sell Yards’ beer quickly are also made. For example, there is a Black IPA that is only in firkins for The Dandelion – a Steven Starr restaurant. They also started making Ales of the Revolution year-round for City Tavern, which is a tavern from the revolutionary times who wanted historically accurate beers. However, rather than stick to those classic recipes, they made slight tweaks to them to make them more palatable. For example, Thomas Jefferson Tavern Ale has ingredients that were found in Monticello like wheat, rye, corn, & honey, General Washington Tavern Porter is made with molasses and is based off a recipe in the library of congress, and Tavern Spruce is basically a light beer with a lot of molasses and about 30 lbs of spruce steeped in like a giant tea bag. They also do a rotating recipe known as Cape of Good Hope every year, which are usually different types of IPAs or double IPAs.
The original 3 bbl system is still used to fill one 5 bbl and three 7 bbl fermenters, while the new 4-vessel 50 bbl brewhouse fills five 100 bbl and eleven 200 bbl tanks. At the time of our visit, they were planning to get two more fermenters, so they had to move their brite tanks to a new section. There is space for six more total fermenters before they’ll need to expand again, at which point their space would allow them to brew 60,000 bbl. They also have a brand new filter which had not been used yet and back in 2008 they purchased a Guy 9003 24-head bottling line that maxes out at around 150 bottles per minute. Every year the brewery expands at a rate of 30% on average and they are on track to produce about 40,000 bbl this year; last year they made somewhere in the ballpark of 36,000 bbl. Currently their beer is distributed to PA, NJ, DE, MD, and northern VA, are hoping to be in DC soon, and tours are offered throughout the day on Saturdays and Sundays. I cannot thank Drew enough for spending time with us!
Author: Michael Roberts