Tucked away in an alley in the heart of Olde Kensington, you wouldn’t notice the Fermentery Form brewery if you didn’t know where to look.
On Palethorp Street, a pathway off Cecil B. Moore Avenue between 2nd and Hancock streets, the bar’s entrance is marked only by a single green light over the doorway. But that doesn’t keep away the crowds of people who gather at the bar, sit alongside a pyramid of wooden beer casks and socialize outside on the large, brick-walled patio.
Dozens pack the brewery to sample “mixed fermentation” beers every Saturday from 2-8 p.m., as well as during rotating hours announced on Facebook and Instagram.
Ethan Tripp, the brewpub’s owner, used to sit next to a pallet of beer cases with a cash box, giving out free samples during special events at Fermentery Form. But visitors’ interest in the brewery quickly outpaced what he could handle.
“At some point, you have to say, ‘People want to do this,’ meaning they want to hang out here and they want to drink here,” Tripp said. “So how can we make it happen?”
To meet the demand, Tripp bought a small dual-tap kegerator — a refrigerator that holds a keg — and built a tasting room which he opened in Fall 2017.
Fermentery Form is unlike most breweries, because Tripp brews every beer with a special house-mix culture of yeast and bacteria, he said.
A traditional style of beer, like an ale or lager, is brewed with a single specific yeast. Mixing multiple yeasts and bacteria during the fermentation process, Tripp said, produces beers with a tarter, fruitier taste that Fermentery Form specializes in.
“People aren’t typically used to hearing about bacteria in beer, but it’s a lot of the same microbes that would be used in making yogurt or fermented pickles,” Tripp said.
The menu includes varieties like Soft, a white beer with orange juice, coriander and chamomile, and heavier beers like Merry Merry, a dark ale aged in bourbon and white wine barrels. Drinks are served by the glass or bottle, and Tripp encourages patrons to share with each other.
“We’re not in it to get people smashed,” Tripp said. “We’re in it to get people flavor and also to have people share something.”
Sam Cooper, a 2012 risk management and insurance alumnus who lives in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, has frequented Fermentery Form since its inception. He invested in a now-discontinued membership program that allows him to call ahead any week and reserve bottles, he said.
Cooper, 29, developed an interest in beer during his early 20s when his uncle introduced him to imported European beers. Fermentery Form’s focus on sour and wild ales helps distinguish it from other Philly breweries, Cooper said.
Seeing the growth from two years ago to now, has validated Tripp’s mission of showcasing mixed fermentation beers and introduced Cooper to a community of beer lovers, he said.
“Everyone here is just awesome,” Cooper added. “Everyone’s trying to do the same thing: find good beer and drink good beer with good company.”
Outside on the patio on Feb. 16, a group of five friends talked over a round of drinks during their first trip to Fermentery Form. They liked how the atmosphere felt like a cross between a wine bar and a traditional brewery.
“Their beers are very unique,” said Kelly Benesh, 29. “Other breweries in Philly, you’re not going to get the sour, the tart, the bourbon-barrel fermented. You’re going to get your run-of-the-mill India pale ales and pilsners, so I think it has something different to offer.”
“This is a place that I would take someone who was like, ‘I don’t like beer that much,’” said Benesh’s friend Frannie Bower, 28.
Among new breweries, Tripp sees a trend toward establishing a niche market and focusing on the local community, not trying to become the next big “regional player,” he said.
“I don’t know why people think if you make something good, everyone should have it in the next six states,” Tripp said. “Maybe it’s better if people have to go out of the way to get your special version.”