Beer lovers rejoice! East Falls returns to its brewery roots this fall with Wissahickon Brewing Company opening a new brewery/tasting facility on School House Lane.
Here we thought mid-summer would be a sleepy news cycle. Maybe our August edition would feature an article about speed bumps or a cat rescued from a tree but then BOOM, Wissahickon Brewing Company announced in July plans to build a brewery on School House Lane this fall!
Long-time readers know we’ve been jonesing for a coffee shop around here forever, but a very close second is a place to get good local beer. East Falls had a painfully near miss with Foodery but that was just takeout six packs from breweries in other states and countries. This is WAY bigger – you’d have to look back a long time for the last East Falls brewery.
Founded last year by Tim Gill and his family, Wissahickon Brewing Company was named after the Wissahickon Valley Park, an area that impressed Gill with its beauty and rich history (indeed, their space on Schoolhouse Lane practically sits on the old Guckes Park property, named for one of the area’s first breweries).
Gill and his three sons have been brewing since 2009, when Tim received a 5 gallon homebrewing kit for Father’s Day. Having grown up with Rolling Rock, Pabst Blue Ribbon, and Budweiser, the thrill of homebrewing opened up a whole new world of craft beer, “full of new flavors and nuances,” said Tim, “kinda like wine in that regard.”
The group perfected their recipes and improved the technology they used, eventually buying a professional-grade half barrel system that’s the same type Sam Calagione used to launch Dogfish Head Brewery.
After winning several awards at regional and national competitions for Devil’s Pool, Kelpius Kave, and Raisin’ Cane Ale, they decided it was time to go into business. Having the equipment and brewing know-how was one thing, but setting up a commercial operation was another. So he turned to the people who’d know best – other breweries in the area. One of the reasons Tim loves the brewing business is that “you don’t have to watch your back – everybody is really open and they share information and experiences.”
Local brewers like Neshaminy Creek, Broken Goblet, Vault, and Prism all provided valuable advice about the brewing game – from permits to building construction – and “welcomed me into the brewing fraternity.” None was more sharing, or influential, than Tom Kehoe and Trevor Prichett of Yards Brewing.
For Tim, they are the “mayors of beer in Philadelphia. They consistently brew great beers (including excellent reproductions of English ales) and their operation is first-rate too, particularly their marketing. And more than that — they’re great guys. They were only too happy to share what they’d learned. Really practical advice too.”
It’ll come in handy in the new operation, which will feature a much larger 15-barrel system. It’s also been very helpful in adapting the warehouse on Schoolhouse Lane to a brewing/tasting operation. “It’s almost perfectly suited for this kind of operation,” said Tim. The main warehouse is 5,000 square feet, which will be the site of the brewing and storage facilities.
A separate, connected space of about 2,000 square feet will be the tasting room. The space is already equipped with central air conditioning, heating, and has three bathrooms. Installing those kinds of upgrades would’ve been extremely expensive.
As for the feel of the tasting room, “it’ll be more rustic/natural than super polished — like most successful tasting rooms we’ve seen. We want people to be comfortable coming as they are and relaxing.” There’s also a small space for live music and an area for a local artists’ gallery.
The building, which was once a medical transport company, will obviously need some modifications, such as new trench drains to keep the production facility floor completely dry. Also Tim’s installing epoxy flooring, which will be extremely durable, heat resistant, and impervious to chemicals.
Tim won’t be serving food at the brewery, relying instead on Philadelphia food trucks parked in the front of the building with outdoor seating when the weather’s nice. When things get nasty out, Tim plans to bring the food trucks into the brewery.
“There are roll up doors that open into the brewery. We can pull the trucks in and have them connect to our electricity to power their refrigerators and other equipment.”
As perfectly suited as the building is to a brewing operation, Tim also chose it for its location. Born in West Philly, Tim’s family moved to Roxborough when he was a child and he’s lived there ever since. He was excited to find a location in East Falls, “which is so close to home and has so many memories for me and my family.”
It’s also close to Philadelphia University and lots of homes. “We like to be in the middle of a community and are excited there are so many people within walking distance.”
And right on the edge of the Wissahickon valley, which inspired the brewery name and several of its beers. Tim’s loved the Wissahickon for as long as he can remember, and for more than 30 years he’s maintained its trails as an employee of Fairmount Park. “I enjoy the beauty of the place but also its myths and history,” he said. So names like Devil’s Pool (Imperial IPA, 8.5% ABV), Teedyuscung (Session IPA, 5.1%), Ole’ Wiss (American Pale Ale, 5.5%), and Kelpius Kave (Belgian Strong Ale, 7.2%) were natural choices for his beers.
He plans on offering those beers, along with Czech, Please! (Bohemian Pilsner, 5.1%) year round with an occasional seasonal beer (like Raisin Kane, a winter spiced ale) added to the lineup. (Tim describes the full line of Wissahickon beers as “ale-focused with a wild side.”)
After the grand opening this fall, what’s next for the brewery? Tim would like to host outdoor festivals, which would include local artisans, and adoption events with local rescue organizations. For him, it’ll be a way to further involve the brewery with the community.
“I’m a Philly guy and I want this to be part of East Falls. I want to help make it more vibrant. I want it to be a moving and shaking kind of neighborhood. I could go to Lansdale or some other suburban town where it’s a lot easier to open a brewery, but this is my home and I want this brewery to be part of making it better.”
Help the Cause
Want to help make the brewery better? They’ve launched a GoFundMe campaign to assist with utility and tasting room upgrades.