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The Local Beer Company on a Social Mission

Member Spotlight: Yards Brewing Company

By Michael Kleiner

You can blame – or credit –  M*A*S*H for Yards beer. Hawkeye Pierce, Trapper John and then BJ Hunnicutt built a still in their tent on the popular TV show set in the Korean War. At Lehigh University, Tom Kehoe tried to do the same in a house he and friends rented.

“We started collecting different things from the science lab, thinking we might be able to distill some beer,” said Tom, Yards founder and brewer. “We weren’t successful but the Idea definitely came from M*A*S*H. The Idea to try it was on its way.”

Upon graduating from Lehigh in 1993 – he did pick up a diploma in Mechanical Engineering – the Haddonfield, NJ native worked for a year at British Brewing in Maryland. Tom returned to Philadelphia to start a brewery. Philadelphia had been a beer city with Schmidt’s and Ortliebs breweries, but both had gone out of business.

“You can’t help but be attracted to the history of Schmidts and Ortliebs in the city,” said Tom. “We had a totally different business model. It was Inevitable they were going to close, because it was two brands, but one style. That was not the direction beer was going. We were going to be Innovative, target a different niche. We wanted to be accepted in restaurants and bars. I knew we wanted to do British ales. I was attracted to them as a drinker and wanted people to want it. Part of the mission is to educate people on beer styles and different options.”

Because they were going to specialize in British ales, they wanted a one-word name for the company that would say British. Scotland Yards came to mind, and they shortened it to Yards, with the tag line, Philadelphia’s Yards Brewing Company. It’s located in Northern Liberties. The assembling of the equipment was more successful than in college.

“My whole family were plumbers,” said Tom. “I had a little background in plumbing and building things. Plumbing is a big part of brewing. I had a good sense in how to put things together. As for the brewing, my mom had been creative with different flavors for meals in the house. She was experimenting with food, and I was doing fun things with beer. I used to do all the brewing. Now, I’m too busy doing paper work and going out and making sales. I get to brew a couple of batches a year. That’s always fun. They have to fit me into the schedule.”

The ingredients in Yards beers are unique. They have an Ales of the Revolution line, paying homage to Thomas Jefferson (Tavern Ale), George Washington (Tavern Porter) and Benjamin Franklin (Poor Richard’s Tavern Spruce) and the forefathers’ favor ingredients. Other ales have citrus, floral, different malts, chocolate, caramel or coffee tastes or aromas. Some ales have won awards.

“We start out with what we like,” explained Tom. “Rule 1 is if we don’t like it, our customers aren’t going to like it. We’re kind of pushing our taste on people, just as we push values on people in our activities. So far, it’s worked out for us. We make a good beer for our customers, the distributors, to sell. The ultimate consumer receives a good consistent product. They know they will get a good beer every time.”

Yards offers eight year round beers, four seasonals, and four limited releases. These are all packaged in bottles and draught kegs. Additionally, they brew smaller batches throughout the year, which are available only on draught. 

One of their most special beers is PYNK, which includes 3,300 pounds of sour and sweet cherries and raspberries, creating a pinkish color. One dollar of each case that is sold, and five cents of every pint that is sold, is donated to breast cancer research and awareness. Since 2013, Yards and its charity partners have donated $18,000 to The Tyanna Foundation, which works to improve the lives of breast cancer patients and increase awareness. This is only the tip of the iceberg of the activities Yards involves itself.

They are the only brewer in Pennsylvania that runs on 100% wind power. Their cardboard boxes are certified by Sustainable Forestry Initiative and 100% recyclable. The packaging line is 100% recycled, which means all of their equipment is repurchased from other manufacturers. Broken glass or defective packaging (aka waste from the packaging line) is all recycled. Yards also composts. The bar tops in the tasting rooms were originally bowling alley lanes. Used grain is donated to local farms to feed animals. Two million gallons of water is collected and reused each year. Their bison meat, whole grain bread and salad greens are bought from local farms.

That’s just on the sustainable side. Approximately 75% of the employees live in Philadelphia, 50% of whom bike to work. Over $20,000 and 2,000 cases of beer were donated to Philadelphia Ronald McDonald House, American Cancer Society and The Food Trust – in 2013. A total of $95,000 was donated in 2013 to charities. Every Earth Day they hand out free Yards Bee Garden seeds to be planted to protect bees. These activities are noted on the web site under The Extra Yard.

“Our mission is to try to be more sustainable in running the company,” explained Tom.“Our staff being young recognizes its value. It makes sense as a business. If we can do something to make it better here, in the environment, and community, we’ll do it. It only takes a little bit of our time. It was a no brainer to join SBN. It’s part of what we believe in.”