Philly Beer

How Yards gets beer into kegs twice as fast

The 21-year-old Philadelphia brewery’s forthcoming expansion has already been set in motion.

Danya Henninger

There’s a lot going on at Yards Brewing Company these days. The 21-year-old Philadelphia craft brewing pioneer is gearing up for a move to a bigger facility, and though there are still a few issues to resolve before the new location is definite, the expansion has already been set in motion.

Assuming Yards gets approval for a use variance at the site — it’s considered likely, since the former Destination Maternity warehouse on Spring Garden was only switched from industrial to commercial/mixed use zoning six months ago — the 85,000-square-foot spot will be more than twice the size of the brewery’s current Delaware Avenue home. There will be room to host more events, and also room to make more beer.

But making more beer isn’t simply a matter of space. It takes new equipment. (Oh, and people — Yards founder Tom Kehoe says he expects to more than double the staff, which now counts 50 full-time and 20 part-time employees.)

The most critical piece of the puzzle is a whole new brewhouse (where the grain is mixed with hot water and yeast), one that’s bigger and also much more automated — in the current brewhouse every valve has to be turned by hand. The final model hasn’t yet been chosen; this month, Kehoe is heading to Germany to check out a contender.

Yards is targeting an annual starting production of 100,000 barrels at the new facility. That’s more than twice as much beer as it makes now, which means it also needs more “bright tanks” — where finished beer is stored before packaging. One of those has already arrived, a 250-barrel steel column that now sits next to four smaller ones at the back of the brewery.

A canning line is on tap, but there’s no way to wedge it into the old floorplan. “Heck, if we had room for it, we’d be canning right now!” Kehoe says.

What there is room for is a new keg line. In fact, it’s already installed and up and running. The old keg line has been relegated to a spot in the back, where it’s used to fill firkins (non-carbonated casks) of one-off specialty brews.

The new system cost around $250,000 — a small portion of the $19 million Yards has budgeted for the move, but nothing to sneeze at. Made in Bergamo, Italy, by a company called Comcac, it’s totally automated, taking kegs through the complicated washing and filling process via custom software. It fills up to 60 kegs per hour, double what the old one could do.

Check out how it works in the video below.

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