One of Philly’s newest breweries is going to look – and taste – a lot like one of its oldest.
It will re-create long-lost beers that helped establish Philadelphia as the brewing capital of America in the 18th and 19th centuries. Brands like Robert Smith’s India Pale Ale, Tiger Head Cream Ale and Robert Hare’s Colonial Porter will soon be brought back for the enjoyment of modern-day beer drinkers.
And the new brewery will feature open fermentation and krausening – traditional beer-making methods that – though they create a distinct, flavorful character – have been largely discarded in America.
Ür Brewery, slated to open in Lansdale (Montco) in May, is the brainchild of longtime brewer Lou Farrell and business partner, Chuck Schoeder.
“We’ve spent a lot of time researching these old styles,” said Farrell, who told me they’d already trademarked a dozen Philadelphia brands produced between 1790 and 1965. “We’re re-creating them with authentic equipment and formulas.”
In an era when so many breweries have launched with nouveau sours and ultra-hopped IPAs, this project is both unique and ambitious.
For one thing, Ür (pronounced “your,” a Germanic term meaning “original”) will use only open fermentation. That’s a method, still practiced by traditional European lager brewers (and notably by San Francisco’s Anchor Brewing), in which fermentation vessels are uncovered.
These days, most American beer is fermented in closed vessels, for ease and prevention of contamination. Open fermentation, however, produces increased esters, yeast flavor and a unique aroma that enhances a beer’s character. (As an example, compare the superb character of an authentic Bavarian hefeweizen, fermented in an open vessel, with a typically less distinctive American wheat beer.)
Also, open fermentation – with its exposed, billowing foam top – just looks cool.
“We can talk all day about why open fermentation makes better beer,” Farrell said. “But bottom line, it makes better beer.”
Farrell said Ür Brewery will make heavy use of krausening, a German method in which the foam from fermenting wort (called krausen) is added to finished beer to promote carbonation.
“It’s a really great technique because it pushes down final gravity and brings in the character of young beer,” Farrell said. “You really can’t do cream ale without it.”
In another intriguing nod toward tradition, the brewery will also make a stock ale, a high-gravity brew that is aged for four months or more, then blended with young, mild beer. The method was quite common 200 years ago in Britain, where publicans often performed the blending. But outside of sour beer producers who sometimes age a stock ale for blending, I’m unaware of any American brewer who regularly uses the method for producing more common pale ales.
Farrell, one of the early brewers at Dock Street Brewery on Logan Square, more recently brewed at Tower Hill in Chalfont (Buxco). I last mentioned him in 2014, when he helped brew a re-creation of East Fall’s historic Hohenadel lager.
With his degrees in history and archaeology, the production of historic beers is right up Farrell’s alley. He said he’d consulted extensively with Rich Wagner, a Pennsylvania beer historian who has written extensively about Philadelphia’s old brands.
The brewery will include a 10-barrel brewhouse with enough fermentation and aging capacity to produce 4,000 barrels a year – an ambitious goal, compared to the 1,000 or so barrels most start-ups are aiming for.
“It’s lots of capacity,” Farrell acknowledged. “But that, to me, screams bock beer I can sit on for six months.”
Too many for a small town? Nah, Farrell said.
“I don’t really see anyone in Lansdale as competition,” he said. “Everyone has their own lane. Our focus is going to be more traditional and food that goes with beer.”