Conshohocken Brewing Company
‘It’s Only Been More Than A Century”
By Jack Coll
On Saturday March 29, 2014, the newly opened Conshohocken Brewing Company, located at 739 East Elm Street held a private soft opening, with tours of the brewery, along with a glass of this, and a glass of that, “THAT” being home brewed beer. I’m not a drinker but I’m certainly not bashful when it comes to checking out new businesses in town so with the rain coming down, I drifted down to the brewery on Saturday afternoon to have a look around and see if they had any coke-a-cola to offer me.
I walked in just as the brewery tour began and this guy named Andrew Horne was explaining the beer making process, (which by the way Andrew stated they would be making ten different types of beer throughout the year not including seasonal blends). I don’t know much about the beer making process but I stood there and couldn’t help but wonder if this was the way they made beer a hundred years ago in Brewerytown in Philadelphia.
Brewerytown is a neighborhood in North Philadelphia and got its name because of the hundreds of breweries that were located along the Schuylkill River during the late 19th century and early 20th century. Columbia Park was located in Brewerytown, former home to the Philadelphia Athletics and when you mixed baseball and breweries well, at its peak 700 breweries operated in the Philadelphia region many of them in Brewerytown. When prohibition hit, it destroyed the make-up of the community, and only a few breweries returned to their former hey-day. As of 1987, there are no more operating breweries in Brewerytown.
As Andrew held the rather large audience attention explaining the difference between some breweries in St. Louis, and the process he will perfect on Elm Street, my mind drifted off yet again, (as I stated earlier I don’t drink so the beer making process didn’t tickle my fancy). I thought about the Adam Scheidt Brewery in Norristown. The Scheidt Brewery was founded way back in 1866 by a couple of brothers named? If you said the Scheidt Brothers you would be wrong, (hell I thought it was the Scheidt Brothers) but the brewery was actually founded by the Moeshlin brothers. Actually the very first brewery in Norristown was founded in1830, think about that, 185 years ago, by a couple of guys who operated out of a small frame house on Main Street near Markley Street. They pumped out about five or six barrels of juice a week, by 1885 the business had increased with nine employees and produced about three thousand barrels of ale and porter per year. The beer was called Rock Creek, the business was later sold to the Scheidt Company and run as an auxiliary business. In their final years the business was run by C. Schmidt and Sons but closed for good in 1974.
Looking back up at Andrew, who was going on about the quality of the Conshohocken Brewing Company product and the demands of the owners for the best tasting beer in the state of Pennsylvania, a pretty tall order I might add, Pennsylvania is the second largest purchaser of Alcohol in the world behind Russia.
As Andrew goes on I see former Philadelphia Eagles Head Football Coach Dick Vermeil out of the corner of my eye. Vermeil coached for 15 years in the National Football League, seven years with the Philadelphia Eagles, Vermeil won a Super Bowl, un-fortunately not with the Eagles. I wonder how many coaches have the distinction of being named “Coach of the Year” in high school, junior college, Division One College and NFL Coach of the Year twice. Anyway I remembered that Vermeil also owns Vermeil Wines, and perhaps knows something about brewing beer. Just as I start thinking about Vermeil and his wines I noticed Fran Dunphy standing next to him, of course Dunphy, the LaSalle grad is the current head coach of the Temple Owls Basketball Team. I though “WOW,” the Conshohocken Brewing Company is drawing a lot of attention to the brewery, and a lot of attention to Conshohocken, that’s pretty cool!
All of a sudden I’m not hearing Andrew talking anymore because then I see Ray Didinger standing next to Dunphy, Ray is the Pro Football Hall of Fame sports writer, film writer, Radio host, TV Commentator. Another sports book author was standing next to Ray whose name slipped my mind and it’s my understanding that Merrill Reese, the voice of the Philadelphia Eagles had been at the brewery earlier in the day, pretty impressive lineup.
Cofounders John Remington and Ken Buonocore led the gang of on-lookers down the hall to the on- site taproom, a wide open area that overlooks the Montgomery County Bike Trail. The room is inviting, warm, wide open and calls for you to throw one back, maybe two. Remington is no “Johnny-come-lately” to the Conshohocken scene, he is a St. Joe’s grad and lived in the borough for more than a decade. As Remington, Buonocore and Horne worked the small crowd of visitors, a small crowd of visitors with nothing but a smile on their face and a glass of home brew in their hands I might add, as the trio worked the room I noticed a list on the blackboard behind them, I’m guessing a few of the featured beers of the day including Cascadian Dark Ale, Spring Ale, Extra Special Bitter, Golden Ale, Pale Ale, Oatmeal Stout and a few others, nothing with Butterfinger candy bar in it, I might have thought drinking my first beer in about 35 years.
Looking around the room I walked over to the two big clear garage doors located on the back wall, the scene was kinda cool, it overlooked a small deck, and the bike trail. I would love to have a seat on the bike trail on a warm spring day, maybe a Saturday afternoon, the bike trail would be full of bikers, runners, walkers and daydreamers, what a beautiful site. Looking out just beyond the bike trail is the Septa R-6 train tracks, I giggled a little thinking about how some poor guy would be riding home on the Septa train after a really bad eleven hour day, and see a group of guys and girls sitting out on that deck with a cold one in front of them, laughing and having a good time.
Just beyond the tracks is this old warehouse I think it’s the home of the Whitemarsh Boat Club and for some reason it hit me, hey, Conshohocken had a brewery, yea, more than a century ago, I’m not counting all the breweries, (Stills) located in every other house in Conshohocken during prohibition, but Conshohocken had a brewery.
In the year 1900, Montgomery County had four operating breweries, one of them in Conshohocken and one of them in West Conshohocken, well just beyond the West Conshohocken line in the Gulph Mills section of Upper Merion Township on Balligomingo Road. Conshohocken’s Brewery was just a few blocks from the Conshohocken Brewing Company and was located on the corner of Hector and Jones Street across from the Conshohocken Italian Bakery on Jones Street.
Although there are varying dates as to when it opened, the best I can tell is that the Conshohocken “Crystal Spring Brewing Company” opened in 1898, and closed four years later in 1902. The brewery was opened in 1898, by F. A. Loeba, and sold in 1900 to the Crystal Spring Brewing Company, who closed it in November 1902. In March of 1904 a petition was filed by Gustave K. Schindler of Philadelphia to re-open the brewery at Hector and Jones Street but was denied due to petitions filed by the West Conshohocken Temperance Union. The building sat vacant until the summer of 1928 when the Church of The Holy Trinity Parish purchased the building to convert it to a church. Years later the Acme Saw Company occupied the building before being converted to condos.
The Gulph Brewing Company was around a little longer than the Crystal Spring Brewery. Gulph Brewing Company was established in 1892 by West Conshohocken resident John C. Griffith. The Gulph Brewing Company produced quality beer until September 8, 1898 when the building burned to the ground. An old friend of mine Chick McCarter told me his father Thomas said, it was the worst fire that he ever fought, Chick said they knocked it down but the flames just kept coming, Thomas McCarter was a 65 year firefighter and a former councilman who noted that several fire companies fought the blaze for more than five hours, they never rebuilt.
I strolled back down the long hallway alongside the brewery, and I was sure of one thing, somewhere along the line either Remington or Horne had stated that they are committed to serving only hand crafted beers that are brewed in small batches, the quality taste of the beer matters to them, the satisfaction of the customer is the number one priority at the Conshohocken Brewing Company, and I believe them. I danced through the rain back to my van, and I thought about the Conshohocken Brewing Company’s time in Conshohocken, looking forward a hundred years so I can look back a hundred years thinking, what will their history be, here’s the thing: I think these guys have bought into Conshohocken, I think they have bought into the borough one hundred percent, just talking to them, these guys have taken pride in their product, concern for their customer, and the fact that they have nothing to hide in the ingredients that they use to come up with the taste of the beers.
I’d like for everyone within shouting distance to head on down to the Brewing Company, and remember they put our name on the business, the Conshohocken Brewing Company, throw one or two back, look out over the bike trail, take a deep breath, and tell me that I didn’t hit the nail on the head, and I don’t even drink.
Conshohocken Brewing Company
739 East Elm Street
Monday – Thursday 5-10
Below is an ad from the Conshohocken Recorder from August 29, 1899