Bonn Place Brewing Company is a tiny brewery in the South Side of Bethlehem run by two cheerful bartending veterans and actors, Sam and Gina Masotto. Their love for beer and tending bar shines through in their quality product and candid manner. They share a goal of creating a comforting vibe for their guests, but what is most apparent is their own warm, friendly attitude toward running a business.
We spoke with Sam Masotto of Bonn Place about their dedication to the industry, their selection of brews and why they love Bethlehem.
Tell us about Bonn Place Brewing Co. What is annual production like and what size system are you working on?
Bonn Place is tiny. Like, 500 barrels of annual production tiny. All our beer is produced on a 7-barrel brew house with four fermenters, one of which is oak, and one brite tank.
Tell us about you and your wife Gina’s history with beer and craft brewing. What drove you two to open a brewery together?
My wife and I have been in the service industry for many years. Most of those years were spent in New York City, and for me, a lot of that was in beer-centered bars and breweries. Gina worked in a pretty high-profile Italian restaurant on restaurant row in New York, and I tended bar at the acclaimed The PONY Bar.
After working for several other restaurants, bars and breweries for years, all the while touring as actors, we decided it was time to do our own thing. Gina wanted to be closer to her parents, and I wanted to live and work with my wife. We had too many years of long commutes and long hours. Visiting other breweries all over the United States and Europe didn’t hurt us on our path to opening a brewery, either.
What guides your choice of production? Can you tell us about some of your favorite beers?
What guides my choice of production for The Bonn Place is mostly what styles I want to brew. Although a lot of our recipes are based on brews I had produced at home over the years, a lot are also inspired by what is possible and what is demanded. A “give the people what they want” kind of thing. I have never been one for very hop-forward beers, but now that I can produce them on my terms, I really have begun to enjoy them.
When people ask me what my favorite beer is, I often ask if they have children and, in turn, whom their favorite is. This is to say, I don’t have a favorite, but I do have some I am more proud of.Tart Cherry Tarte, a wild sour ale, or Merci, an imperial black saison, are particularly high on my list, and mostly because they came out exactly how I had envisioned them.
Nonna Rosalia is another cool beer. This was meant to be Bonn’s answer to a Christmas ale, and like some of our other beers, tastes similar to a Scotch ale. It is malt-forward, but with some interesting twists. There are the obvious notes and hints of cocoa, coffee and vanilla, but then there is this cool roasted cherry thing going on. We used our local purveyor, Monocacy Coffee Roasters, for the coffee, and actually used a healthy amount of Ladyfingers in the mash. I was inspired to make this beer after trying Newburgh Brewing Company‘s C.A.F.E. Sour, a sour coffee beer with flavors reminiscent of tiramisu. So, I said, “I’m going to make a tiramisu beer one day,” and Nonna Rosalia was born! Unfortunately, the real Nonna Rosalia, my grandmother, passed away right before the release, so this is actually a Christmas dessert beer / amazing person inspired beer!
What kind of ambience do you hope to create at Bonn Place?
Warm and welcoming is what we strive for at Bonn. It’s our living room, so it might as well be yours, too. That’s the vibe we hope to create, but it’s all about the community and beer within that community. If our guests are comfortable, then so are we.
What made you pick the South Side of Bethlehem for Bonn Place Brewing?
Well, it was sort of Bethlehem or bust for Bonn Place Brewing, and my wife and I particularly enjoyed the South Side. It’s a mixed bag in every way, and sort of this industrial shadow at the head of the rust belt. It’s such an incredibly historic area with a ton of relevance to everything we do as a society. Really, we were super lucky to land here, and we’re glad that South Side chose us!
What is most exciting about the Lehigh Valley craft beer scene?
The most exciting thing about the Lehigh Valley craft beer scene is how much it’s emerging. With every kind of style and every type of brewery, and brewer, it is making a mark for itself. The area is poised for growth and there are a ton of beer enthusiasts here. I think they’re finally getting excited to have so many great options in their own backyard. That, and the strength of the Lehigh Valley Brewers Guild, that’s exciting!
What advice would you give to an entrepreneur who wants to open a brewery?
Always remember who you are and what you are. Also, never try to do anything with local government between Memorial Day and Labor Day.
The Brewers of Pennsylvania is a nonprofit trade association that brings together leaders of Pennsylvania-based breweries in order to promote and protect the brewing industry in the state. Established in 2011, the Brewers of Pennsylvania serves the consuming public of Pennsylvania by encouraging brand diversity in the market. We believe in the nobility of brewing and hold dear the great traditions and history of Pennsylvania brewing.
Photos credited to Jim Trocchio