Philly Beer

Inside the $19 million plan for Yards’ brewery on Spring Garden Street

Forget SoNo or Callow East. How about “Yardstown”?

Courtesy of DIGSAU

Correction appended

The rollerblader. The gay couple walking their dog. The woman on her bike and the guy pushing the stroller and the hipster dude in the back with a beard and a beanie hat.

Thanks to dozens of meetings held every single Tuesday over the past six months, the Yards Brewing Co. executive team has gotten pretty familiar with the characters urban design firm Digsau uses to bring life to architectural drawings of their forthcoming new brewery at Fifth and Spring Garden.

“There’s this woman at one of the outdoor tables who looks like she’s wearing a witch’s hat,” said Yards president and founder Tom Kehoe. “We’ve started giving them all names. At one point they had a guy on a bike who looked exactly like [Philly Beer Scene editor] Mat Falco.”

Whether or not they’re meant to be populated with actual likenesses, Digsau’s just-released design sketches do show something very real, Kehoe said: The lively atmosphere that will surround the new facility — which also has a tasting room, an outdoor beer garden and a large event space.

“I think that’s what’s gonna happen in that neighborhood,” Kehoe predicted.

He joked that the area — which developers have begun giving names like “SoNo” and “Callow East” — could instead be called Yardstown. “We’re gonna really be a part of it,” he said.

As shown in the drawings, the brewery’s presence will be obvious from afar, thanks to a row of giant fermenters hugging the building along the Spring Garden side. They will replace the “box” art that currently adorns the side of the former furniture warehouse (the art will be reinstalled a bit further down the street). The 600-barrel tanks will tower over the top of the structure — “I don’t think we’ll need to have a sign on the roof,” Kehoe said — but also be integrated into the retail space.

Courtesy of DIGSAU

Customers enjoying pints and plates at the picnic tables on the patio will be able to walk between the structures’ steel legs and know that the beer they’re drinking was fermented directly overhead. Integrating the working brewhouse with the public tasting room and 175-person event space was an idea Kehoe and Yards partner Trevor Prichett were set on from the start.

It was also a concept that presented more than a few design challenges.

“The most challenging part of the project is also the most exciting,” said Digsau principal Mark Sanderson. “Designing an efficient and highly productive manufacturing facility that is a great place to spend time.”

Roll-up garage doors will connect the 55-seat beer garden to the tasting room, which will have a full kitchen — “Our bison chili isn’t going anywhere,” Kehoe promised — but no table service, similar to Yards’ current setup on Delaware Avenue. Also similar to the current layout is the view offered patrons in the bar, who’ll be able to gaze into the actual brewhouse through glass walls — although the new brewing system will be much bigger. Through glass windows along another side of the dining room, people will be able to watch beer being packaged on the new canning and bottling lines.

Head up to the second floor mezzanine, Kehoe said, and you’ll get a full view of the entire brewery floor, including the recently purchased keg line and fancy new yeast propagation lab.

Equipment swallowed the biggest gulp of the project’s funding: $13 million of the $19 million total budget. Most of the rest of the money, which came from a combination of bank loans, state business loans and city business loans, went toward renovations. Upgrades to the warehouse structure include underground plumbing, metal work for piping and stronger floors to hold the tanks full of heavy liquid. (That last is an engineering issue with which Kehoe is intimately familiar — Yards’ very first brewery was in a tiny Manayunk rowhome, where the weight of the brew tanks split the concrete floor with a crack right down the middle.)

Despite the challenges, construction is proceeding on schedule for a mid-October launch.

“Hopefully we’ll be able to start brewing then and also open to the public,” Kehoe said, “although it’s almost two different projects — opening the tasting room doesn’t have to depend on the brewery being ready.

“We just want it to be a fun place to experience beer.”

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