When it came time to think of what I wanted to do for my 30th birthday in Philadelphia, the first thing that came to mind was try a Philly Cheesesteak and naturally the second was to try a beer made with roasted goat brains. Luckily for me, Dock Street Brewing Co in West Philadelphia just happened to be releasing their beer known as Walker that day – an American Pale Stout brewed with roasted goat brains and conditioned over cranberries – so we made an bonus stop there. We ended up thoroughly enjoying everything the brewery had to offer, so we got in contact with them and went back two days later for an official stop on Tuesday, 4/1/14.
Dock Street Brewing has a very interesting history. It was founded by Rosemarie Certo and Jeff Ware in 1985 when the craft beer scene was essentially non-existent, after they had homebrewed for some time and decided to organize contract brewing in their home office. They contract brewed a lot of different, more robust styles for the time in upstate New York – like the Dock Street Amber and Bohemian Pilsner – then opened up Dock Street Brewery & Restaurant’s first location at 18th and Cherry next to Four Seasons Philadelphia (once they had gained some investors and raised enough capital). They had traditional beers but expanded on their portfolio by doing more edgy, experimental recipes like pumpkin beers before they were popular and a beer that used 15 types of flowers. There was nothing like it at that point in time.
At the height of the company, they were distributed to 26 states around the country and 6 countries around the world, including being the first US craft beer in France. Utilizing a 500bbl system, they had an emphasis on high quality ingredients and styles that didn’t necessarily appeal to everyone. However, some of the investors started making decisions that cut the cost of the ingredients and cut lagering time so, after the company was sold to the investors, it tanked almost immediately. After that, Rosemarie bought the brand and the share of sale back, did limited contract brewing in upstate New York for a few years, then opened up the current facility in 2007. This rebirth of the company has led to a small 10bbl artisanal focus with an emphasis on traditional styles. The name Dock Street is a nod to the street in Philadelphia with that name, which used to be lined with breweries pre-prohibition and was one of the brewing capitals of that part of the country.
Last year they brewed around 1,250 bbl and are on par to produce around 1,300 this year. The biggest volume seller of theirs is the year-round Rye IPA, so they were double brewing it the week we were there. They were also kegging off a Coconut Saison which uses coconuts they toast in the wood fire oven they cook pizzas in and have done a Berliner with wood roasted peaches for the summer; they may or may not brew that again this summer but will more likely do a Berliner with a different twist to it. Justin Low, the head brewer, told us that they had also just done a double Berliner Weisse using blood oranges for one of the staff member’s birthdays, which was carbonated the day after we visited.
In the winter, Dock Street brings out Man Full of Trouble Porter and, since they only had a primary heat exchanger, they were only able to make their Pilsner during the winter as well. However, they had just received a secondary heat exchanger at the time of our visit so they will be able to make the Pilsner all year – it is one of Rosemarie’s favorites. We were also speaking to Sasha Certo-Ware, Rosemarie’s son, who told us that in the late 1990’s Dock Street made a beer to protest the unfair excise taxes that American craft brewers faced. They put labels upside down on the Dock Street Amber and stamped a red protest across the top of the bottles, which brought a ton of public attention to the issue.
The brewpub has a movie night every Tuesday and airs games during football season at a Sunday brunch, where you can get $10 growler fills and unique food menu items. They also hold an anniversary party every year around August 22nd and hold a music fest the last day of Philly Beer Week where five different bands perform. With limited proximity of distribution to Philadelphia and the surrounding areas, you’ll need to make sure to try their beer if you’re ever in the area. After all, “it’s all in your head” is their tagline, playing into the conceptions of what beer is versus what it should be. Huge thanks goes out to Sasha and Justin for hanging out with us!
Note: Philly Beer Week holds a raffle for a trip to Belgium every year where people buy into the raffle and vote for a brewer. The winning brewer goes over to Belgium with the raffle winner and gets to collaborate on a brew. Justin (who completed the UC Davis brewing program before coming to Dock Street) won this year, so he got to go to the Dilewyns Brewery – AKA Vicaris – to make what is being called the Philly Tripel. That collaboration will be the opening tap beer on the first day of Philly Beer Week!
Author: Michael Roberts