Indie brewers band together, hope for business success

Eric Woods, an animator by profession, creates labels for many of Narbrew's concoctions.
Eric Woods, an animator by profession, creates labels for many of Narbrew's concoctions.
Posted: November 26, 2011

Standing at a four-burner stove, Jeremy Boehm carefully pulled a nylon bag full of grains from a silver-colored pot.

The dark-brown liquid dripping from the bag signified the beginning of a long night for Boehm and his childhood friend, Eric Woods, who would stay up until the early morning in Woods' kitchen, caring for their creation, which "we hope to drink one day."

Home brewers Boehm and Woods, both 27, were hard at work on a blend of chocolate, coffee, and cinnamon they tentatively named Santa Java Stout, a new addition to the Narberth residents' line, Narbrew.

One day, they hope to open a brewpub where people can come to make their own beer.

"It takes a lot of money, and there are a lot of brewpubs, but that also means there are a lot of success stories," Woods said.

Though Philadelphia has a pretty saturated market, the Main Line is not overflowing with brewpubs. In July, Tired Hands Brewing Co. began gutting an old physicians' office along Ardmore Avenue for a brew cafe set to open in the coming months.

Villanova graduates Trevor Hayward and Luke Bowen partnered with Mark Braunwarth to create Evil Genius Beer Co., but they do not own a brewpub and use Four Horsemen Brewing Co. in Indiana to brew and bottle.

With a lagging economy, legal restrictions, and only occasional pockets of time, Boehm and Woods acknowledge that opening a brewpub would not be easy. But they see it as a viable business venture. People like beer, and they want to brew it, too.

Matthew Pieters of Havertown began brewing more than 10 years ago, and over the years, his friends began brewing, too. He started meeting people from different towns along the Main Line who expressed the same interest, and over a couple of beers in November 2010, Pieters and his compatriots decided to create the Main Line Brewers Association.

In February, MLBA convened its first meeting at Flip & Bailey's Bar & Grill in Rosemont. Less than a year later, it has 45 members, who pay dues and take one another's advice seriously. At meetings, the officers lecture on brewing techniques, do off-flavor tastings to help members identify how they can fix a brew gone bad, and talk about quality equipment.

MLBA's success, Pieters said, is why a Narbrew brewpub could thrive.

"There has definitely been a growing interest in home brewing," he said, and an unmet need for an outlet on the Main Line.

Boehm and Woods made their first beer from a kit they found. It was old, used, and had two mice in it, but the childhood friends from Mechanicsburg, Pa., followed the instructions and made their first basic brew.

About a year later, Woods got Boehm a newer kit for his birthday, and Narbrew, named after the town they have lived in for the last four years, was born.

Now, bottles with Narbrew labels for beers named Black Sheep, Honey-Money Stout, and German Assassin line a bookcase in Woods' apartment. An animator by profession, he designed the labels.

Boehm, who was a substitute teacher for a time after graduate school at Villanova, now is a server at Rock Bottom in King of Prussia, a restaurant that brews its beer on-site. He's always picking the brewers' brains about the process.

As Santa's Java Stout was brewing recently, Boehm pulled a year-old Narbrew from the refrigerator - they stash away two bottles of every beer they make - to taste-test so he could ask for the brewers' opinion the next day.

To brew more for others to taste, they will need a more controlled environment. And to eventually sell a Narbrew, they will need to apply to the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board for a brewers' license.

So for now, Woods and Boehm share their concoctions only with friends and family. One day, they hope to have tastings at local pubs.

"I always remember when I first started getting into beer, realizing all the different flavors made beer really exciting to me," Woods said. "To be able to introduce new beer to people is something we want to do."

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