Northeast Times

Here’s to home brewing!

Barry’s Homebrew has opened a loc­a­tion in Kens­ing­ton and is brew­ing homemade beer on North Amer­ic­an Street.

Something is brew­ing in Kens­ing­ton.

And no, it’s not an­oth­er squabble over turf or a zon­ing dis­pute over some va­cant land.

In­stead, two long­time cus­tom­ers of Barry’s Homebrew — South Philly’s icon­ic wine- and beer-mak­ing sup­ply shop — took over the busi­ness and pulled up roots.

Now, they have placed the new loc­a­tion in the shad­ows of Kens­ing­ton’s dis­ap­peared brew­er­ies along North Amer­ic­an Street.

The res­ult?

They’re selling nearly double the amount of beer-mak­ing equip­ment than the shop sold when it was loc­ated in a com­pact little corner store at Front Street and Snyder Av­en­ue.  That equates to plenty of batches of homemade beer fer­ment­ing away in the homes of sur­round­ing neigh­bor­hoods, with each brew as dis­tinct as its cre­at­or. 

Their wine busi­ness isn’t hurt­ing, either.

For co-own­ers Nick Less and Jimmy Mc­Mil­lan, that real­iz­a­tion is a ful­filling one.

Prot&ea­cute;g&ea­cute;s of Barry Mul­her­in, who foun­ded the shop al­most 15 years ago, the pair said they took over in part be­cause it would have been too pain­ful to watch the busi­ness fold after so many good times.

Today, the former Front Street brew shop is home to a Metro PCS loc­a­tion.

“I had been brew­ing with Barry for eight years,” said Less, 33. “I didn’t want to see the store close, so Jimmy and I de­cided to take over.”  

He and Mc­Mil­lan, 34, were reg­u­lars at the weekly South Philly Ale Makers (SPAM) meet­ing at the shop, and both ended up work­ing part-time in the home-brew sup­ply store.

“Barry was hav­ing some health is­sues, and I guess he had a few beers, but he ba­sic­ally whispered to us that if any­thing happened to him, he wanted us to take over the store,” re­called Mc­Mil­lan.

That put the idea in their heads, and when Mul­her­in de­cided to sell earli­er this year, Less per­suaded Mc­Mil­lan to join him in tak­ing over Barry’s.

Like Mc­Mil­lan, Less bought his first home-brew­ing kit at Barry’s. The hobby turned in­to a pro­fes­sion on Sept. 27 when the two men opened the new store at 1444 Amer­ic­an St.

“My first kit was a Ger­man Ok­to­ber­fest, and it turned out to be one of the best beers I ever made be­cause I was so nervous mak­ing it that I just did everything right,” re­called Less.

Memor­ies like that made it easy for the pair to de­cide to keep the shop, and its name, alive.

“It’s pay­ing homage to Barry, and we wanted to re­cog­nize the tra­di­tion be­hind a store where some cus­tom­ers have been com­ing for fif­teen years,” said Less. “And Barry was my ment­or.”

Mc­Mil­lan brewed his first batch of beer when he was just 17, work­ing in a kit­chen in North Car­o­lina.

“It was hor­rible,” re­called the former sous chef.

To him, brew­ing al­ways has been an ex­ten­sion of the culin­ary arts.

ldquo;Even that first batch, it wasn’t just some at­tempt to make hooch and avoid buy­ing beer from some home­less guy,” said Mc­Mil­lan.

He re­kindled his brew­ing in­terest when he walked in­to Barry’s Homebrew in 1999 and bought a kit. It be­came a hobby, and soon he was mak­ing a few cases of beer a month.

“But come 2003, I was single and I had noth­ing bet­ter to do, so I star­ted brew­ing beer a lot,” said Mc­Mil­lan.

Those brew­ing en­deavors in­cluded the Fri­day night SPAM meet­ings, where he be­friended Less.

And while the beer-mak­ing busi­ness has been tak­ing off in the mi­cro­brew-rich neigh­bor­hood, many of the wine en­thu­si­asts from Front and Snyder fol­lowed them north.

For the last few years, they’ve been fer­ment­ing about 600 gal­lons of wine in a space near Frank­ford Av­en­ue and Dauph­in Street, where Less lives.

While they buy grapes from whole­salers, Barry’s provides all the sup­plies — from fer­ment­ing ves­sels and yeast to the bottles the wine ages in — and Mc­Mil­lan now heads the store’s wine club.

Both said the act­ive beer scene in Fishtown, North­ern Liber­ties and parts of Kens­ing­ton cre­ates a built-in cus­tom­er base. It helps that there are many cre­at­ive do-it-your­self people liv­ing nearby.

ldquo;Phil­adelphia is con­sidered one of the biggest beer cit­ies on the East Coast,” Less said. “We also have a lot of artists, so you bring those things to­geth­er, and it’s def­in­itely a nat­ur­al sort of DIY thing go­ing on. We had a big wine base down there, but we’re see­ing a big in­crease in beer sales. It’s nice.”

Mc­Mil­lan likes that the neigh­bor­hood also has a long his­tory in brew­ing.

“This is kind of like a Brew­erytown in it­self, said Mc­Mil­lan, ges­tur­ing to the ru­ins of nearby his­tor­ic brew­er­ies like the Gretz com­plex on Ger­man­town Av­en­ue and the very act­ive Phil­adelphia Brew­ing Co. just up the street. “Bring­ing a home-brew­ing shop here just seemed like a lo­gic­al, use­ful ad­di­tion.” ••

You can reach at brademaekers@bsmphilly.com.

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