Evil Genius: Avoiding beer ‘snobbery’

Evil Genius beer company in Kensington will celebrate its first anniversary next month.

General manager Garrett Lee Williams stands in the brewery room at Evil Genius Brewing Company on Front Street near Palmer on Friday. | SYDNEY SCHAEFER / THE TEMPLE NEWS

Garrett Lee Williams wants to “make beer fun again” — a play on President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign slogan.

Beneath the Market-Frankford Line’s El overpass on Front Street near Palmer in Kensington is the Evil Genius Beer Company, one of the neighborhood’s latest bars that brews its own beer.

The bar — which opened just less than a year ago — has amassed interest from the neighborhood’s newer residents for its in-house brews and the quirky names attached to them, which range from a “Purple Monkey Dishwasher” chocolate peanut butter porter to an “I Love Lamp” pineapple hefeweizen. Both names come from popular culture references in the TV show “The Simpsons” and the 2004 movie “Anchorman.”

Today, Evil Genius’s bottled beer is shipped all over the country to different bars and beer distributors.

Despite the craft beer industry’s stiff-neck reputation, Williams, Evil Genius’s general manager, is quick to promise that the pub is anything but that.

A craft beer is poured from the tap at Evil Genius Brewing Company on Front Street near Palmer on Friday. | SYDNEY SCHAEFER / THE TEMPLE NEWS

“Beer is going toward snobbery,” Williams said. “I love that people are dissecting beers, people are going through their certifications, and all that fun stuff and taking the beers very seriously. But I want people to be able to…enjoy the beer and not think about it.”

Co-founders Luke Bowen and Trevor Hayward came up with the idea for Evil Genius in 2009 while they were pursuing their MBA at Villanova University, where they met.

Finding the corporate lifestyle unfavorable, Bowen and Hayward started contract brewing for fun in their free time. Contract brewing is when people create their own beers in breweries’s unused spaces. Their first venture was with a brewery in South Bend, Indiana, requiring a 10-and-a-half-hour drive for each batch.

From this experience, Bowen has acquired a soft-spot for quality, but accessible brews that appeal to all age groups.

“It’s a very ‘every person’s’ drink,’” Bowen said. “We want to open up access to everybody.”

The bar’s interior is another example of the bar playing on well-known pop culture references. A stack of board games sits atop every table next to the day’s drink menu, which is printed on old VHS tape cases.

Near the entrance to the brewpub, a small area nicknamed “the basement” allows patrons to pick from a selection of 1980s and ’90s televisions shows or play Sega Genesis video games while they drink. Above the counter, a massive steel winch previously used to extract engines from railcars now serves as a chandelier.

But Evil Genius’s interior quirks also fulfill a practical purpose. The wood from the bar’s tables and booths is repurposed from the building’s original structure, a carriage factory built in the 1870s.

Williams emphasizes that a bar’s atmosphere is just as important as the quality of the drinks.

“I wouldn’t be working here if I didn’t believe in our beers,” Williams said. “Really believing in the product that I sell means a lot. Being a part of this is not something I ever saw myself doing, and now I can’t imagine myself doing anything else.”

Evil Genius’s beers are all brewed in-house, with names and ideas for new batches being constantly pitched by its 30-person staff. The pub’s flagship Citra IPA “Stacy’s Mom” — named after the 2003 hit song by Fountains of Wayne — is brewed to resemble the taste of tropical fruits like peach, mango and lemon peel.

Senior economics and political science major Evan Serratore believes these unconventional brewing methods are part of what gives Evil Genius its appeal.

Customers wait in line to place their orders at Evil Genius in Fishtown on Friday. | SYDNEY SCHAEFER / THE TEMPLE NEWS

“I think variety and originality in terms of the beers is the really standout thing about it,” Serratore said. “It’s definitely a good place if you really want to explore some of the weirder brews you might not see from other companies.”

The food menu also features twists on traditional bar fare like dessert nachos, sloppy joe sliders and a meat and cheese board for two, complete with honey from the apiary, which is a collection of beehives, housed on the bar’s roof.

Community events are also commonplace at the bar, like its monthly burlesque night. In celebration of its upcoming one-year anniversary, patrons in attendance will be tasked with running a single lap around the bar.

Kevin Keller, Evil Genius’s East Coast account manager, believes community involvement and these open events are paramount to the pub’s success.

“Everyone wants to help everyone, especially in Philly,” Keller said. “When a new brewery opens up, we don’t see it as competition, we see it as community.”

Despite recent success, Bowen feels his work at Evil Genius is far from over.

“I want to keep innovating and doing things that are creative,” Bowen said. “I want to keep meeting new and exciting people who turn me on to great beer. We want to push the boundaries of what craft beer is and what beer could be.”

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