2790 Gallons of Beer on the Wall...
Philadelphia boasts several stellar micro craft breweries, but family-owned Wissahickon Brewing Company (WBC) is something special. This dynamo of a brew pub is nestled in a perfect location, tucked away on School House Lane—a stone’s throw from the wooded trails and natural beauty of its namesake Wissahickon Valley. It’s easily accessible by SEPTA bus routes and commuter rail (the R6 runs right behind the brewery). By car, WBC is conveniently close to 76, City line Avenue, and Kelly Drive, and has ample parking. The vibe as soon as you walk into WBC is genuinely welcoming, laid back and family friendly, including dogs. You can enjoy one of roughly two dozen local food trucks in rotation every day of the week; or attend frequently hosted community-oriented events such as yoga classes, game-watch parties, Quizzo, and special programming. More recently, you don’t have to wait until beer o’clock to enjoy WBC’s ambience, as they recently launched Wirly Bird coffee. So, if you work remotely and need a change of “office scenery,” you can head to their tasting room as early as 7am to work on your laptop and sip a delicious Americano. And we haven’t even gotten to their award-winning beer!
Wissahickon’s origin story is a relatively common one—home brewers turn pro—but it exceeds “common” because of its fantastic trajectory. It starts in 2006 with the Gill family, of Philadelphia’s Roxborough neighborhood. As a Father’s day gift Tim Gill, Sr. received a home brewing kit from his kids. “It turned out to be something that we enjoyed doing frequently. As your kids grow, you go through a period where they need everything from you, then they get older and they don’t want anything to do with you. Fortunately, making beer has become something that we love to do together. We would tie up mom’s kitchen all day, brewing five gallon batches of beer every two weeks.” Before long, Tim and his sons graduated to a larger system—capable of 15 gallon batches—and gave the kitchen back to mom after moving brewing operations into the basement. They spent the next 12 years perfecting and sharing their brews. “We got a lot of great feedback during our homebrewing years—not just from my mom.”
The Gills entered their beers into home brew competitions and did pretty well, even with the tough styles like IPAs—a particularly competitive category which emboldened them to make a go of it. In 2015, they got their business papers with the state of Pennsylvania, then they sought funding, acquired their School House lane location in 2016, did their build-out, and opened their doors officially for customers to come in April 1, 2017. This all sounds pretty straightforward, but the process wasn’t quite so streamlined. The Gills had gone to more
than ten banks seeking financing and had been shot down across the board. Despite having won multiple prestigious awards for their beers, they were viewed by the banks as “hobbyist brewers”—in other words, too risky to finance. They were on the verge of throwing in the towel when they received a sign at a Fourth of July picnic. They’d been telling a family friend of their struggles to finance the business. That friend happened to be a banker and she ultimately helped them secure funding to move into their Schoolhouse Lane location…almost. Brewing Operations Director Luke Gill explains “Even with bank funding, we had to launch a GoFundMe campaign so we could open our doors. And that family (banking) friend? After she got us our funding we promised to name a beer after her, and we did—Hail Mary, it’s a West Coast IPA which is our second best seller.” Luke describes Hail Mary as “kind of a triple entendre—our dream of a brewery was on the verge of collapse and Mary was our last best hope; it’s our salute to her; it was also the year the Eagles won the SuperBowl by denying the Patriots’ hail Mary attempt.” Throw in the fact that the Gills all attended Catholic school and this beer makes perfect sense.
To illustrate just how far the Gills have taken their passion for brewing beer, consider this: Wissahickon Brewing Company now brews 2500 barrels a year (77,500 gallons) about 600x the annual volume of their salad days in mom’s kitchen. They’ve brewed roughly 150 different beers in the six years they’ve been open. Their all time top three sellers are Wigwam, Hail Mary, and Devil’s Pool, which won a bronze medal in the prestigious World Beer Cup in 2022. They currently have about 20 beers on tap at the brewery, with 12 core beers in their stable; and about eight seasonals. All this goodness is brewed in their 8,000 square foot brewery, with an additional 3,000 square feet of beer garden where visitors can enjoy their suds.
As if all this weren’t enough to love about Wissahickon Brewing Company, they recently partnered with Legacy of Hope through the efforts of Mike Rowe; and thus was born Philly United, a citra hopped lager that benefits cancer patients in Philly by generating funds for Legacy of Hope’s Emergency Patient Support Network. Brewmaster Luke shares “The challenge with Philly United was to create a beer that would have mass appeal, not be overboard in any direction—not too sweet, not too sour, not too bitter. We wanted to make it something that you could drink more than one of, because the whole goal of this is to raise money. So we created a lager base beer. Lager is still the number one consumed type of beer in the world for good reason. It’s easy to drink. We wanted to add a little flair to it; so we hopped it with citra instead of using what are called ‘noble hops.’ Citra is a little more flashy, more flavorful hop to attract folks that might not ordinarily drink lager, which is sometimes called “uncle beer or dad beer.” But lagers are such an agreeable beer. It really is a beer for all—Brewed in Philly for Philly.”
“Partnering with Legacy of Hope falls right in our wheelhouse. It gives us the opportunity to create a new beer as well as raise money for a great cause.” Philly United has been a resounding success. “Initially, we thought it would be great if we could sell maybe two 15 barrel turns. We started with a 30, and added another one early on. We’re currently on our third 30 barrel turn!” (Of note, one barrel equals two kegs, or 31 gallons. So three 30 barrel turns = 2790 gallons of beer.) “Not only are our customers loving Philly United—it’s been our number one seller since its release—and has been just as successful in the market, far outpacing what we’d hoped for as a baseline.”
WBC won Best of Philly 2019 for BrewPub right before COVID hit. During the pandemic they found ways to promote their product online and reach out to their fan base with online ordering, and incorporate an extensive delivery process, which they did themselves. Tim Sr. reflects “We were literally driving four packs of beer to people’s homes just to keep the production going, keep moving forward and be able to pay salaries around here.”
When asked about the most signi