Navigate your city with the ultimate survival kit from Benefit 2016. Gift certificates, tickets, fashion items, and more grant you access to your favorite restaurants, theaters, and local designers.
Or taste your way around the neighborhoods with a series of tastings, from the local distilleries at our Young Professionals Night on February 5, to beer tastings by Saint Benjamin Brewing Company at our VIP party leading up to the Main Event on February 6. Co-founder Timothy Patton discusses the story behind the Kensington brewery.
Erica: Can you tell me about the background and history of Saint Benjamin Brewing Company? Specifically what it’s like to work from a historic carriage house, and how that affects the setup of your brewery – if at all.
Tim: Saint Benjamin was started at my home (in the carriage house you talked about). The name was chosen to tie into Philadelphia’s history, though in a tongue-in-cheek way. My house was a fire company, which were started in Philly by Ben Franklin. He was also a homebrewer and many other things. The saint part is a reference to the Belgian Trappist Breweries, which make some of my favorite beers. Erica: You live in a former fire house, your brewery was a carriage house, you brew some historical beers. Why do you feel it’s so important to maintain this link with the past? And how do you do so in a way that doesn’t impede innovation?
Tim: When selecting a building to house the brewery, I also wanted to be tied into the city’s past. Specifically its industrial past in the 1800s when dozens, if not hundreds, of breweries flourished here. I lucked out and found something more amazing than I expected. Besides being part of the Theo Finkanauer Lager Beer Company, the building just looked like it was built to be a modern brewery. It has high ceilings and is built out of concrete and steel, but the brick facade has the old-world charm that I wanted our home to have.
I think it is important to maintain a link to the past because there is a lot to learn from it and also there is a lot of beauty there. A new building wouldn’t look like our brewery. A lot of our beers are based on historic styles that tend to be neglected by modern craft brewers and we take great pride in bringing those flavors to the masses. But, we never want to be hobbled by the past. I really love the philosophy of many Belgian brewers. They innovate constantly even while they maintain strong brewing traditions. The one thing they look for is balance, and I feel that is something we strive for in our beers. Even when we use unusual ingrediets or put them in a style where they are unexpected (like Laison – our lavender siason, or Junto – a coffee kolsch) we don’t do it as a gimmick or have jarring flavors.
Erica: You’re named after THE Benjamin. Do you think the Fishtown/Kensington area, as a hotbed for new creative industries, carries on his innovative spirit?
Tim: I think Kensington itself is a hotbed of innnovation. Everyone in the neighborhood seems to be making something, whether it is art, or beer, or film sets, etc… The creative community is really great. I think it carries on Franklin’s spirit of innovation as well as the industrial tradition formed here in the 1800s. Erica: How do you go about naming your products? For instance, Foul Weather Jack has some historical context behind it. Is that the general approach?
Tim: Names come from all over, some are meant to be silly, some are friend’s suggestions, some just pop into our heads. We have tried to make sure we don’t take all of this too seriously (beer should be fun!) and the names are one way we do that.
Erica: You personally started in software development. Are there any skills you developed in that very different industry that you were surprised to learn carried over into founding a brewery?
Tim: I did find that some skills translated well. Besides needing to understand a very technical field that is a craft and not a science, I also think my troubleshooting skills work well in the field. Fixing problems happens all day in both fields, as well as needing to think outside the box.
Erica: What would be your advice to someone planning to enter a drastically different career path?
Tim: If someone wants to switch careers I would say try it out any way you can before you commit (homebrewing, volunteering, shadowing someone) and make sure it is something you love. I would also say be prepared to find out there is so much you don’t know once you get into it that you assumed you had figured out.
Erica: As far as your tasting at the Benefit, what can guests expect from that?
Tim: I think the guests at the Benefit will be very surprised how well beer pairs with art. In our beers they will find some interesting flavors that we hope provoke conversation and allow people to engage, all the while being involved in the art community.