As the number of small, local breweries continues to grow – it can be hard for a craft beer appreciator to decide which brewery try next. Currently I live in Haverford PA, about 10 miles west of Philadelphia. Within about 20 minutes are fine craft breweries like Tired Hands, Iron Hill, Tin Lizard, Sterling Pig, Conshohocken Brewing and others on the way. Sure there are differences between them all – but as more new breweries open – there needs to be a reason to choose to go there instead.
The folks putting together start up “Triple Bottom Brewing Company” have a distinct business model – offering a brewery with a social conscience that is front and center in it’s message. With a nod to John Elkington ‘s modern concept of “full cost accounting” (with three parts: social, environmental and financial – the triple bottom line) the folks at Triple Bottom want to succeed as brewers and social activists – and I think it’s an interesting and good fit for a great reason to drink their beer.
Partners Tess Hart, her husband Bill and brewing recruit Kyle (of Weyerbacher and Stone Brewing) have an ambitious plan – to not only open their brew pub in Philadelphia in 2018, but also to become an important part of the community by hiring local residents that may not be able to find other jobs. Working with similar minded community non profit groups who will help identify and prepare employment challenged people who want good jobs, Triple Bottom envisions a future where they really help build the community – and help bridge the gap in Philadelphia between the young urban professional and less advantaged long time city dwellers.
Meeting with Tess and Bill for a few beers at Tin Lizard in Bryn Mawr, I asked them – Did the brewing community laugh at the idea of creating a brewery with three missions and a community development agenda? “We were not laughed at – the industry has been very supportive”, replied Tess with an earnest look. “We are trying to create jobs in a community, talking with the people there and using their input. A brewery offers an intersection of many skilled and less skilled jobs: manufacturing, people skills, sales, distributing – people deserve good jobs and we envision training and mentoring our staff for a year or two and then seeing them go successfully on to other jobs in the community.”
I pointed out that this seemed to be a very lofty goal for a start up, especially considering that it’s hard enough to just establish a working and profitable brewery to begin with. “We have no blinders on, we have done the research and worked with local community groups, and we are not scared away. We have run the numbers. A brewery can make quite a positive impact on a neighborhood”.
So, how did this idea develop, and why with Tess, Bill and Kyle?
Tess and Bill have a background and education with a community development focus. After meeting in college in the D.C. area they found mutual interests in both social activism and beer – and talked then about how it might work together in some way. At the time both were involved in non profit community groups did market research. As Tess went on to get her masters in the northeast, Bill joined AmeriCorps – helping establish sports and sporting facilitates in the inner city through charter schools and working with other non-profits. Eventually they decided on Philadelphia as the location for their project due to a proximity to Tess’s parents house in Haverford, and the hope to help bring together the widely disparate lifestyles (and incomes) in Philadelphia.
What about the beer? Well, I can’t give a first hand account, as brewer Kyle is currently only home brewing in his driveway at his Washington Crossing home, while the new brewery is being established. They have been giving away samples of Kyle’s beers at community and other events, and the response so far has been very good. “Kyle is great” commented Tess “we posted an ad for a brewer with only a vague description of what we were doing, and he reached out immediately to understand the opportunity. He’s a great fit for us.”
They are currently looking for the right location for the brewery in the city. “We want to be a border location”, explained Bill, “a place that works for everyone – millennials, local residents, and play off of Philly’s brewing history. We have looked at Francisville, Point Breeze, anywhere in reason.”
They are hoping to be brewing in late spring/early summer in 2018, and have equipment picked out and some pretty big goals. I asked them if there was any particular brewery or tap room that they had seen that they would like to emulate – “We have actually looked at coffee shops, are trying to take pieces from different places – but we did like the look and feel of (Ambler’s) Forest and Main”.
Perhaps the singular bottom line is – will it work? Will a brewery with a social agenda attract craft beer drinkers in this increasingly saturated craft beer market? “Millennials want to do something cool – but smart and responsible, and feel good about it” offered Tess. And who would argue, if the beer is good and the location comfortable – why wouldn’t a discerning craft drinker choose to patronize a place that wants to help the community?
Keep your eye out for Triple Bottom Brewing in 2018, for fresh responsible beer.