A growing number of breweries are planting roots in Philadelphia, and each has a distinct personality in terms of aesthetic and offerings. Those traits can be based on location, trends or the crew’s preference, and it is interesting to see how all of those factors mesh into a cohesive brand identity. Perhaps most interesting is when a new company flawlessly engrains itself into a 240-year-old aesthetic while remaining at the forefront of Philadelphia’s hip brewing industry.
With a sleek, industrial spot in the Kensington section of Philadelphia that pumps out classic styles and creative oddities, Saint Benjamin Brewing Company upholds tradition and explores current trends with a thoughtful touch. Housed in a defunct brewery that operated in the 1800s, it is positioned in an area with high potential for growth. Owner and brewer Tim Patton weighs in below.
Can you tell us about Saint Benjamin brewery? What size brewhouse are you working with?
We are working with a 10-hectoliter German-made brewhouse. We are pretty thrilled with it. It is very well engineered and allows us to do a few things like decoction brews that have really transformed how we brew. It also included a few horizontal lagering tanks, so we have embarked on more frequent brewing of lagers.
What made you choose the building in Kensington? Can you tell us a bit about its history?
The building stood out to me for a few reasons. One of the big ones was that it was clean, dry and structurally sound. The facade was beautiful industrial-era brick. Inside, the floors were made of concrete and reinforced with steel girders. The building could hold a lot of weight. There were also floor drains already built in on the second floor.
After buying the building, I found out it was the carriage house and stables for a defunct brewery, the Theo Finkenauer Lager Beer Company. It operated from the 1870s until Prohibition. After that, the building was a sewing machine factory and a warehouse.
What guides the selection of styles that are produced at Saint Benjamin?
We have tried to brew some styles that have fallen by the wayside but due to flavor, brewing technique or history, are really interesting. We also don’t want to chase trends. We are really big fans of clean, clear, well-fermented beer and the styles we brew showcase that.
We also like to have the flexibility to brew whatever interesting concept comes to mind and leave space in our brewing schedule for this.
St. Ben has started distributing a lot more in the past year. What is annual production looking like? Will we see more cans in the future?
We brewed about 430 barrels last year, and this year we expect to brew 1,000. There will be more cans coming, starting with Junto, our coffee kolsch, this month.
What is the mentality behind the attitude and decor of the taproom? What is it like being a part of the current growth of Kensington?
I wanted the taproom to be a comfortable place to hang out first and foremost. We are currently the only place in our neighborhood to get craft beer, as well as craft wine and spirits. So for some people, this will be their neighborhood bar. We also wanted to showcase our brewery so people would always keep in mind that we aren’t just a bar; we make beer here. Finally, we wanted to incorporate architectural features of the building into the design, both overtly by not covering things up, but also by referencing different features of the building in the design.
I think Kensington has a lot of growth potential. There is so much new construction going on here. I think as the neighborhood fills in, we will be one of those anchor businesses that helps focus people’s attention on the area.
What makes Philly water ideal for brewing beer?
Philly has very clean, well-monitored water. It also has a great balance of minerals and can be adapted for almost any style. Baxter’s Best was brewed with unmodified Philadelphia water from the Baxter Treatment Plant—hence the name.
As owner and brewer, your schedule is no doubt hectic. What does a normal day in your position look like?
I’m not sure if I even have normal days. Some days are full of meetings or paperwork. Other days, I am on the road helping with sales or deliveries or at events pouring beer. I have to keep up with every aspect of the company.
Why do you consider Ben Franklin a saint?
The reference was meant to be tongue in cheek, but Franklin did do a lot for the city and the country. We are surrounded by institutions that I couldn’t imagine Philadelphia without that were started by Franklin.
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.
Tim Patton photo & beer photo, Jackie Cusack; Taproom rendering, Hexagon Studio Architects