UP ON Tioga Street, in the vacant shadows of a postindustrial city, the sign above Kensington Pub declares, “Born Here. Raised Here. Still Here. ” Inside, there’s a life-size wall drawing of a guy pitching halfsies, the stickball game they used to play down the corner.
The bar is mostly empty on this Friday afternoon.
“Yo, what happened to the keg that guy brought in?” owner Kevin Konieczny asks his bartender.
“What keg? The new stuff? ” Nicole Kearney replies. “It’s not on, yet. “
“Well, what can we take off? “
“Miller Lite. Nobody’s drinking it anyway. “
And so goes the home debut of Do Good United Ale.
No Twitter announcements, no opening-night party, no long lines of crazed beer geeks. Just an honest pint of good cream ale enjoyed on a comfortable barstool in a corner bar.
Fittingly, the tap handle isn’t even labeled with the beer’s name.
Brewed just two blocks away in the basement of a former carpet mill on Westmoreland Street, United Ale is a modest brew – but one that very well could represent the next step in the evolution of American beer.
For, despite its phenomenal growth nationwide in the past decade, craft beer still hasn’t spread much beyond busy city centers, gentrified neighborhoods and metropolitan suburbs. With few exceptions, handcrafted artisan ales are unheard of in poor, working class neighborhoods – places like Bridesburg, Tacony, Harrowgate, Eastwick, Nicetown, Ogontz and other huge swaths of our town.
Here on Tioga Street, on the indistinct border of Kensington and Port Richmond, the local brew is Jacquin’s Blackberry Brandy. They toast the Flyers and wash down the crabs with cans of Budweiser.
Tom Sheridan, founder and owner of Do Good Brewing, would like nothing better than to brew his neighborhood its own beer. So far, he’s convinced seven locals to pour United Ale, and he says that’s about all he can handle for now.
“When I first went into some of these bars, they didn’t want to hear anything about craft,” said Sheridan, 25. “I tell the bar owners, ‘I grew up here. I went to Joan of Arc. I went to North Catholic. I got married to the girl across the street when I was 18. I got two kids. We live here. I’m a neighborhood guy. ‘
“I tell them, ‘Trust me, I’m not going to hurt your consumer base. I know what your customers want in a beer. ‘
“I’m not going into these bars and asking them to buy a double IPA. “
No, what he’s selling instead is a full-bodied, easy-drinking ale with a sweet finish that anyone fond of Yuengling Lager will enjoy. A beer like this, you want to quaff in large gulps that leave a mustache of foam on your upper lip.
United Ale is Do Good’s only beer, and Sheridan – with his head brewer, Tom Conkwright – has spent months getting it into kegs. It’s been a trial, enduring various license reviews and the intricacies of operating a small, 3.5-barrel brewhouse. At one point, Sheridan found himself trying to defrost his walk-in cooler with his wife’s hair dryer.
When I stopped by this weekend, he was working on an easier way to hoist heavy quarter-kegs up a steep set of stairs. “I’ll have to bring my cousin Freddy over,” Sheridan said. “He lifts weights all day. “
It might seem like a stretch, trying to convince blue-collar joints to devote a tap handle or two to craft beer. Mainstream brands still thrive in these neighborhoods, partly because it’s a bit cheaper but mostly because the reg’lars change their beer about as often as they change their tattoos.
When you think about it, though, it wasn’t so long ago that the reg’lars drank local beer: Schmidt’s or Ortlieb’s.
Why not Do Good?
“There’s nothing I’d love more than to prove that I can get the locals to drink this beer,” Sheridan said.
Back at Kensington Pub, Konieczny and I are onto our second pint. He’s telling me about the wall sketches of the long-gone Midway Theatre, at K&A, and the Route 60 trolley that used to rumble along Allegheny Avenue.
What did you do before you ran the bar?
“Concrete work,” he says. “I like to say that if Kensington had grass, I would’ve been a landscaper. “
Why did you buy beer from Do Good?
“Hey, they told me he was a local guy. Turns out, I knew his mother way back. . . . Besides, the young crowd is starting to ask for these microbrews. They’re good kids with good girlfriends, you know . . . “
He takes another gulp.
“It’s not too harsh. It’s really smooth. . . . Nicole, how about another one? “
A few hours later he’s on the phone to Sheridan.
“Send me another keg. That first one kicked already. “
United Ale is available at Kensington Pub (2116 E. Tioga St., Kensington); Bridesburg Pub (4254 Richmond St., Bridesburg); Cheers Cafe (2601 E. Westmoreland St., Port Richmond); Sean Thornton’s Public House (2401 E. Allegheny Ave., Port Richmond); Mick’s Inn (2526 E. Clearfield St., Port Richmond), Barcade (1114 Frankford Ave., Fishtown) and Cedar Point Bar & Kitchen (2370 E. Norris St., Fishtown).