Braeloch Brewing: Kennett Square's new Third Place
● By J. Chambless
Kathy Drysdale, left, and Amy Steeves, of Braeloch Brewing. (Photo by Richard L. Gaw)
By Richard L. Gaw
When Kent Steeves' parents bought a
house in the Finger Lakes region of western New York nearly three
decades ago, the home quickly became a serene refuge for everyone who
entered there, and when each visitor arrived, he or she was met with
a welcoming sign that hung on a lamppost.
It read, “Braeloch.”
While its literal translation is a Scottish term that stands for “hill by a lake,” the word came to define for Kent and his family a spirit of energy that can be found when people gather in conversation and camaraderie.
Now, while the final cosmetic flourishes are put on Braeloch Brewing in Kennett Square, the soon-to-open microbrewery that he owns with his wife Amy and their long-time friends Matt and Kathy Drysdale, Kent said that the brewery's name is intentional, because when the doors open to the new microbrewery on Birch Street, it will become a place where these same values will shine under one roof.
“For our family and friends, the Finger Lakes house became a place where you could forget about life, where no one judges you, and where you could just be yourself,” Kent said. “Similarly, we feel that Braeloch Brewing will be a place for people to come to, have a good time, meet new people, and do it all under the auspices of craft beer that's made right there.”
Witty conversation, frivolous banter and community interaction, as the Braeloch Brewing website calls it.
“We're passionate about craft beer and creating the environment and the space to really enjoy it,” Kent said.
Every dream begins somewhere, and no dream is achieved alone. In the case of how Braeloch Brewing came to be, Kent's dream to greatly expand on his newfound passion for home brewing began about ten years ago in the basement of his Delaware home. A home brewer is never constrained by experimentation, and Kent did a lot of it, mostly in 10-gallon batches. With each visit to a microbrewery and a pub crawl with his wife Amy and the Drysdales, the idea to open an establishment of his own design grew. He took photographs. He made mental notes, but as the years went on, Kent realized that in order for a microbrewery to work, he needed more dreamers to join him – out-of-the-box thinkers who would enjoy the journey.
“Kent used to tell me that creating a business of this kind was too big of an undertaking for just two people, so we put our heads together and asked each other, 'Who do you think would be the most into being crazy with us?'” Amy said.
They looked at each other and said: Let's call the Drysdales.
“Kent and Amy's daughters were down in Charlotte, North Carolina at the time, and Kent told us that he wanted to have a brewery there, and we said, 'Uh, no,'” said Kathy. “Then the plan changed, because Kent then told us that he and Amy were going to open the brewery locally, and the idea just became more serious as the years went on.”
In many ways, the Steeves' partnership with the Drysdales is part of a perfect business plan: Kathy is a former chief financial officer, and Matt, who will assist Kent in brewing, spent several years as a chemical engineer at a large company.
“I'm more of a person who looks for where a business should and could be going, and Amy is focused on the direct customer experience,” Kent said. “We love the diversity of talent and skills that Matt and Kathy bring to this enterprise. If you don't have diversity, you incur more risk in business.”
They originally looked at potential sites in Delaware – where both couples live – but nothing suited their needs. Working with a real estate agent, they drove by a 9,000-square-foot brick warehouse building at 225 Birch Street in Kennett Square, built in 1903, that had previously housed a fire equipment business and before that, served as a mushroom-growing facility, and was originally used as a service station for street trolleys.
For the Steeves and the Drysdales, it was love at first sight. Sure, there was a lot of work to do in transforming an old building, but the bones of the place provided them with the vision to imagine a beautiful bar, community tables and booths, an outdoor beer garden near the Red Clay Creek, and a steady stream of friendly and familiar faces stopping by for a pint and conversation.
Yet it was Kennett Square itself, Amy said, that sealed the deal.
“It is the feeling of community here, and the comfort of knowing that you are welcomed here, that was most important to us,” she said. “There are so many reasons to come to Kennett Square – shops and activities and families – and that's what we wanted to be a part of.”
Throughout the construction phase, the Steeves and the Drysdales have enjoyed the steady stream of visitors who have inquired about its opening date. Often, its been families with baby strollers, who are given tours of what will soon become a 10-barrel microbrewery that will feature beers made on premise by Kent and Matt in a state-of-the-art brewing area at the rear of the brewery.
Up front, a 4,000- square-foot tap room, accented by stylistic white-washed red brick walls, will feature stone-sealed flooring, community tables, booths and tables, and a stunning bar that weaves along the far right wall that was designed by Kent's brother, Brett. Behind the bar, guests will enjoy one dozen different varieties of beer, including varieties with names like Blue Hen Gold, Kennett Brown Ale and the 33rd Marc, to name a few, and one tap will be reserved for small batch releases.
Braeloch Brewing will also feature an outdoor beer garden that will allow families and friends to enjoy evenings next to the East branch of the Red Clay Creek, and a small kitchen will provide a lite food fare including snacks, finger foods, flat bread pizzas and sandwiches, that will be supplemented by frequent visits from local food trucks.
Through the heavy lifting of excavation and dust clouds that has slowly turned a warehouse into a future microbrewery, the owners of Braeloch Brewing had some help along the way. They give a lot of credit to Don Robitzer, the owner of the building; Mary Hutchins of Historic Kennett Square; Kennett Borough Manager Joe Scalise; Rusty Drumheller, Kennett Borough code enforcement officer; and Mike Stiglitz, director of operations for the Two Stones Brewing Company.
“The thing about this industry that continues to amaze me is how cooperative other brewers have been to us,” Kathy said. “We sat down with Mike before we went into construction, and he was awesome, and had so many ideas for us. I spent my career as a numbers person, and I'm used to running a business where you look for ways to remain ahead of competition, and where industry secrets are not shared.
“Yet the microbrewery industry is wide open for ideas. There's no hesitation to pick up a phone and call another brewer and ask for help, and if they call us, we'll be there to help them, too.”
In business, timing is everything, and for Braeloch Brewing, it's soon-to-be opening is a hop aboard the steam engine of an industry that has taken the nation by storm. At the end of 2017, there were 6,266 craft breweries in the U.S. subdivided into 2,252 brewpubs, 3,812 microbreweries and 202 regional craft breweries. Closer to home, Braeloch is the latest marker on a local map that's teeming with other establishments, whom Kent looks at not as the competition, but as partners in a collaboration.
“There is the phrase, 'A rising tide lifts all boats,'” he said. “I still believe that if you look at all of our neighbors and people involved in this similar microbrewery journey, we're all in this together. Each of us has a different environment. Each of us approaches the making of beer a little differently, but we're all part of a core community.
“I see all of us working together to build a critical mass, and now that we're a part of that community, I don't want to let any of them down. It is critical that we come in with good quality, that we represent craft beer and the local community and all of our brewing neighbors. It's like being a new part of a family, and I want us to live up to those expectations.”
Although no date for its official opening has been set, Braeloch Brewing has already introduced itself to its new neighbors. They've been regular visitors to the Kennett Brewfest for the past two years, and collaborated with the refurbished Kennett Creamery in hosting the post-race celebration at the Mushroom Cap 13.1 half marathon on Nov. 3. When that opening date comes, however, Kathy envisions a day filled with adrenaline and high energy.
“I see families smiling as they walk through the door,” she said. “We want Braeloch Brewing to become a small part of those family's lives, to meld ourselves into the fabric of this community. It's about families. They're why we all decided to come here.”
“People are looking for that third place in their lives to go to. It's a place that's not home, that's not work, but it's somewhere in between,” Matt said. “It's the third place, and we're ready to become that third place.”
Braeloch Brewing is located at 225 Birch Street, Kennett Square, Pa. 19348. To learn more, visit www.braelochbrewing.beer
To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email firstname.lastname@example.org.