(1) THE BREWERY & OUR EXPERIENCE
When we arrived that afternoon, we made our way to the basement brewery and taproom where John was hard at work, so we sampled a few beers and spoke with the knowledgeable bartender, Heather. John soon came out to meet us and graciously took the time to tell us all about Free Will Brewing Company. You can tell John has an extensive homebrewing background by the impressive list of projects he is undertaking. On top of the established line-up that makes its way into bottles for distribution, he frequently creates small batch beers for limited release under the title of the Sputnik series and also has several beers in the works for their growing sour program.
As if that wasn’t enough to keep them busy, the 2 1/2 year old brewery is also undergoing a massive expansion. John showed us the facilities up on ground level that are currently under construction. The new space will offer tons of room to grow and feature an open view from the taproom so that patrons can enjoy a drink and see what is going on in the brewery. Currently, Free Will offers up to six free samples during their taproom hours and, after you figure out your favorite, bottles, growlers, or kegs can be purchased to go. We definitely encourage stopping by this brewery, located less than an hour north of downtown Philadelphia, to enjoy a diverse offering of Sputnik brews and keep an eye on the expansion progress.
(2) VITAL INFORMATION
Date of our visit: Sunday, 4/6/2014
Open since: January 2012
Approx. Barrel (bbl) Output 2013: 1,350 bbl (400 bbl in 2012 – 1st year)
Projected bbl Output 2014: 3,400-3,600 bbl
Brewhouse size: 7.5 bbl
Founder(s): John Stemler & Dominic Capece
Brewmaster: John Stemler
Packaging: Keg only at beginning. Bottling as of January 2013
Distribution: PA, DE and NJ. Next up should be DC and MD markets.
Other things we learned:
* They don’t chase a style, they chase a flavor profile. Motto: “We brew to taste, fit to style.”
* 5- 20bbl fermenters installed 1 1/2 weeks before our visit for a total of 200+ bbl fermentation space among 20 active tanks (not include the souring vessels).
* 16.5 bbl mash-tun online about a month prior to visit – will get stainless lid and wrapped in American white oak
* John also propagates his own yeast, it’s more work but you also get more control. Using several varieties of yeast strains.
* Originally functioning as distribution only. The tasting room opened with 4 beers in August 2012 and 600 people were in attendance. There are now 14 taps in the tasting room – visitors get 6 free samples. Kegs/bottles/growlers are available for purchase to go.
* Saturdays they do tours 1 & 3pm. The tasting room is now opened 7 days a week.
* Special Events: Did an art show fundraiser with 350 people in attendance. Raised $2,000 for alocal firehouse. May do another this upcoming October during Fire Prevention Week.
(3) BEERS WE TASTED DURING OUR VISIT
* Sputnik 27 (mild)
* Sputnik 29 (Mango Wheat)
* Sputnik 30 (Irish Dry Stout)
* Community Kolsch
* Saison De Rose
* Citra Pale Ale
* 10w Porter
*Danae Farmhouse Ale
*Xero Cascadian Dark Ale
*Ralphius barrel aged Russian Imperial Stout
What we learned about their beer during our visit:
*There is a focus on sessionability with the year-round portfolio. Want people to be able to have a couple and be safe.
*The Sputnik series is experimental, small batches. If a particular beer is popular, it can develop into a brand i.e. Xero. Small amounts of Sputnik are released in kegs, allocated by distributor.
*Chasing The Dragon Imperial IPA a nod to addicts chasing the hops. The beer is released periodically with ever increasing amounts of hops as they search for the edge of the system’s capabilities.
*Safeword is a Mango Habenero Imperial IPA brewed in collaboration with Full Pint Brewing that was just released for Philly Beer Week.
*Developing an extensive sour and barrel aging program:
+Belgian Quad in Apple Brandy bbl called Black Friday; Russian Imperial Stout in Jack Daniels bbl; barleywine
partially aged in French pinot noir bbl.
+Plan to do two house sours and utilize them to blend others. The first is Sifl, a base sour with 3 strains
of brett and pedio. The second is under development and will be called Ollie.
+Plan to do 5 releases per year of a variety of lamic. For example, cherries, key lime, peach, Tuscany
+Other examples: Oud bruin from a foeder. Cuvee Igre which means vat/tank sour is a bigger, 7.5% version of
Sifl. Two brothers – red and white bbl aged. Napolean Red aged on Tuscany merlot skins, hibiscus flowers
and french oak chips. Red Reserve is the Napolean Red with Brett Brux.
*Also did a breast cancer charity beer with U Penn. They were able to raise $20,000 with $1 per pint sold. Saison de Rose, a saison with pink grapefruit, ginger, hibiscus, and peppercorn.
(4) EXPANSION PLANS
Currently building 15-17.5 bbl system, should be on line within a couple weeks. Moving into a new space, 13,000 sq. ft, with ceilings high enough for 200bbl fermenters but planning on getting 80bbl to start. Will have a large tasting room with view into the brewhouse mezzanine. Currently in 8,600 sq. ft. downstairs but are planning to vacate that space completely.
(5) BACKGROUND OF PEOPLE WE SPOKE TO
Name: John Stemler
Title: Co-founder and Brewmaster
Been with company since: Founding
Previous Brewing Experience: Homebrewing
Previous Occupation(s): Business owner/Entrepreneur; worked at a local homebrew store; Biology major with minor in Chemistry
Favorite Superhero: Ironman
Been with company since: Volunteer
Previous Brewing Experience: Homebrewing
Previous Occupation(s): Local homebrew shop
Favorite Superhero: Captain Planet, because of her background with M.S. in Environmental Science
(6) MORE LINKS ABOUT BREWERY
(7) You can find the rest of our photos here
Author: Brandon Wurtz