The twos were just too overwhelming to ignore.
When native Dubliner Ken Merriman was looking for a name for his new brew pub, Second Story Brewery seemed like a natural. It’s at 117 Second Street, a few steps from Front Street, in Philadelphia’s Old City neighborhood. The gleaming stainless steel brewing vats that once held Triumph Brewing’s craft beers are on the second floor of the 19th century former cotton and silk warehouse.
And it’s a second story—meaning a real passion for something–for Merriman, his partner, Debbie Grady, and brewer John Wible. “Deb is a farmer (Tilted Barn Farm in Pottstown) and we’re going to be using the wheat, hops, barley and probably yeast from her farm to make the beer,” explained Merriman last week during an invite-only preview that served as a dry run for the pub. “John is an IT guy in Cherry Hill who started as a home brewer. And me, I’ve been drinking beer all my life and now I’m making it!” He laughs.
It’s a second story in another way for Merriman, who grew up in the hotel/restaurant business. It’s his second Philly restaurant adventure. He was until fairly recently the general manager and partner at Tir na Nog at 16th and Arch and continues to run District Riverton Bistro in Riverton, NJ, where he lives.
Serendipity brought the three together. Merriman and Grady met years ago on the rugby field while watching their sons play for St. Joseph’s Prep. Wible is married to Grady’s daughter who started him on his obsession with beer making when she suggested he “find something to do with my time” while she was living temporarily in Vancouver.
“I didn’t know anything about home brewing but then I found a place close to my office that sold the equipment,” says Wible, 29. “Within two months, my new hobby had become a serious obsession.”
It was something of a learning curve to go from making 10 gallons to 500 gallons, but Wible started brewing and testing his own tried and true recipes on a grander scale for Second Story back in July and has 8-10 winners that will be available, along with a few ciders and six outside beers, including Guinness, and a test line done in 10 gallon batches. There’s also a beer engine at the bar for naturally carbonating beer as it’s pumped from the cask which adds a different texture to the beer, explains Wible.
“He’s really not happy about that Guinness,” Merriman confided later with a grin. “He says he’s working on a good dry Irish stout for me so we may be carrying that.”
Like the craft beer, the food is also farm-to-table, including an imaginative array of “bar bites” like black bean egg rolls, sliders with tomato jam and manchego cheese, and grilled wings that are brined, then baked, then grilled.
And the venue, warmed by oak floors, exposed brick walls, a working fireplace, and heavy fire doors that date back to its warehouse days, does double duty—both as a restaurant and event space. There’s a large room with a separate bar upstairs that can handle large parties.
Surprisingly, in a big beer town like Philly—where one section of the city is called Brewerytown—there are only a handful of brew pubs so Second Story doesn’t have lots of competition and certainly not in its neighborhood.
“Philly is a huge craft beer town but what it has is craft breweries,” says Merriman. One of the latest, for example, is St. Benjamin’s in Kensington, where they brew and deliver beer to local bars but don’t yet have a pub (one is in the planning stage). “If you go to a place like Denver, for instance, there are brew pubs on every corner,” Merriman says.
The brew pub is even catching on in Ireland, where traditional pubs are in decline. “I got a great laugh the last time I was in Ireland,” Merriman says. “The Irish were always trashing American beer. When I was back there in February and on the computer researching brew pubs, when I came across six or seven of them in Ireland and they were all advertising ‘American style craft beers.’” He laughed. “I just loved it.”