Call it the little brewery that could.
Tim Patton, the Fishtown resident behind the proposed Saint Benjamin Brewing Co., says he found a new site for his business after wary neighbors shot down his pitch for a Richmond Street location last December.
Patton hoped to open a nanobrewery — that’d be a notch below micro — in his home, a refurbished historic firehouse at 310 Richmond St. in Fishtown.
The plan soured when neighbors voted against a needed zoning variance, 36-32, at a Fishtown Neighbors Association meeting.
Undaunted, Patton recently found a location in the Kensington South area at 2nd Street and Cecil B. Moore Avenue where he said zoning wouldn’t be an issue.
While the software engineer turned amateur brewer’s initial plans were for a two-barrel brewing system, the new industrial space will allow him to increase to three barrels. He anticipates producing 250 to 300 barrels of beer per year.
That’s still just a drop in Philly’s beer bucket.
Philadelphia Brewing Co., located just north at Amber and Hagert streets in East Kensington, brews about 12,000 barrels of beer each year.
Yards Brewing Company on Delaware Avenue in Northern Liberties is due for an expansion this year that would allow production of 24,000 barrels a year.
But don’t take Patton’s miniature plans for a lack of ambition.
Tom Kehoe, Yards’ founder, started his brewery in 1994 in a Roxborough garage. The capacity of his original system? A measly three barrels that produced about 700 barrels a year.
Indeed, Patton, who said he hopes to be producing beer commercially by November, sees the nanobrewery as a step toward a bigger future for Saint Benjamin — named after Philly’s patron suds saint himself, old Ben Franklin.
Patton envisions leasing the 2,000 square foot space for about five years before moving on to something bigger. Of course, the avid homebrewer is still far from joining the big breweries on the local taps.
There is still a maze of paperwork to navigate with the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board, city agencies, and other bureaucracies that regulate a brewery in Philadelphia. And then there’s actually adapting the space for brewing — “making sure there’s drains and things like that,” says Patton — an expensive and timely process.
Still, he has been actively acquiring the needed equipment, including fermenting tanks and a brew kettle.
Patton also is working to keep Saint Benjamin on the minds of area beer lovers as he moves forward; his homebrewed beers will be available for tasting at three events during the upcoming Philly Beer Week, including the festival following the Opening Tap ceremony at the Independence Visitor Center on Friday, June 3.
While he can’t legally sell the beer to cover the cost of ingredients, Patton said donating his prototypes at events where beer drinkers congregate is important.
“It gets my name out there, and it gives me an idea of what people like,” said Patton, who has donated homebrew to a number of events to conduct some informal market research. “I’ve gotten a lot of feedback.”
This Saturday, June 4, Patton will be one of the featured homebrewers at BeerCamp Philly — “a locally-grown beertastic celebration of DIY beermaking” — held at the Jamaican Jerk Hut on South Street.
Curious beer drinkers can also get a taste of potential Saint Benjamin brews at the “Super Secret Beer Concert Series” on June 9, where fellow would-be nanobrewer Sean Mellody will also be donating beer.
Featuring live music by TJ Kong and the Atomic Bomb, the concert and “future of Philadelphia nanobrewery showcase” will raise money for the nonprofit Philadelphia Mausoleum of Contemporary Art.
The event will be held at the venue, 531 N. 12th St.
Like Patton, Mellody hopes to open a very small-scale brewery in the near future, his specializing in “real ale” and possibly opening in Queen Village.
While nanobreweries have been cropping up in other parts of the country, particularly in the Northwest, Philly can’t yet claim such a facility despite the robust beer culture being celebrated during Philly Beer Week.
There are four brewpubs — bars that brew and serve their own beer — in the city, but Patton stressed that Saint Benjamin is not a brewpub.
He said he felt that confusion over the term was one of the big factors that led to neighbors voting down his first proposal.
“People kept using that word, ‘brewpub,’” at the zoning meeting, said Patton.
But his business plan is to focus on selling kegs directly to bars, with very little walk-in or retail at the brewery itself.
To him, it’s much more valuable to have one of his tap handles in a popular bar than to have a keg tucked away in someone’s refrigerator.
In fact, the brewing license he is seeking only allows him to sell kegs and cases. If he wanted to sell pints of beer at the brewery, he’d have to fork over an extra $50,000 just for the proper license, Patton said.
Right now, he’s concentrating on tweaking his beers and looking for a way to incorporate locally sourced ingredients whenever possible.
That experimentation, the fun part, is what Saint Benjamin is really all about. During the June 9 event, he’s looking forward to testing out his beers on a crowd that might be interested more in music and art than the often geek-centric details of brewing.
He’ll be pouring his Troubleshooter Pale Ale, an English brown ale, and a Belgian wit beer he hopes will be the signature brew of his fledgling company.
To follow the brewery’s progress and find out about upcoming tastings, check out the Saint Benjamin Brewing Company page on Facebook.
Reporter Brian Rademaekers can be reached at 215 354 3039 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Getting a taste of Saint Benjamin Brewing Co.
Samples of beers made by Tim Patton will be available during Philly Beer Week at the following events:
Philly Beer Week Opening festival
Friday, June 3, at 7:30 p.m. at Independence Visitor Center, 6th and Market streets. Beer Festival doors open at 7:30 p.m.
Saturday, June 4 from 6 to 9 p.m. at the Jamaican Jerk Hut, 1436 South St.
Super Secret Beer Concert Series
Thursday, June 9 from 8:30 to 10:30 p.m. at PhilaMOCA,
531 N. 12th St.