Good beer is worth the wait. For Fermentery & Blendery Form, it took more than a decade to open their doors, and some of the beer they have aging now might not be ready for another ten years. This Philadelphia blender shows us all why it’s okay to slow do
MUCH LIKE THE BEERS they make, the plan that eventually turned into Philadelphia’s Fermentery & Blendery Form (Form) took time. If you talk to some homebrewers who get bitten hard by the bug and decide to hang their own shingle, some will talk in terms of weeks or months, with the longest stretches coming from writing a business plan and then waiting for the equipment to arrive. Talk with Ethan Tripp, one of Form’s cofounders, and he talks in terms of years, and they didn’t even have to wait for a brewhouse to be installed because the blendery doesn’t have its own.
Tripp got his start like so many others before him. Working in an office, he casually mentioned to a coworker his interest in homebrewing and was gifted a
copy of Charlie Papazian’s The Joy of Homebrewing in return. As he embarked on a homebrewing journey with friends, they found themselves mirroring their own beer experiences. “Papazian is a romantic and convincing guy,” Tripp
craft—almost says. “He portrayed this perspective of having this
appealing—and home in the old homesteading way that was as a dabbler and multi-hobby person, I thought this sounded cool.”
That was a decade ago, and with friends Matt Stone and Scott Hatch, who are part of Form now, Tripp embarked on homebrewing.
Tripp says that none of them had spent much time drinking BMC (Bud, Miller, and Coors) but had
“At some point, we hit an acid wall, especially when there was a glut of that everywhere, and it became less enjoyable to drink. I used to get excited by anything sour, but I had so many terrible, ripping sour beers that I just couldn’t enjoy it anymore. And that’s when we started to think about what we were making and what we were attracted to and realized it was a softer lambic, a more rounded mixed fermentation, and we started to get ourselves under control.”
focused on local options such as Yards Brewing Company’s Philadelphia Pale Ale or Yuengling. That led them to the famed Monk’s Café, a stalwart Philadelphia bar known for its international beer selection—especially rare, respected, and standard bottles from Belgium. It’s here that they were introduced to beers from Cantillon and Rodenbach.
“And we were hit with the realization that there was more to beer than the regional aspect we had been introduced to and that pushed us to where we are today.” So rather than make pale ales or stouts or recipes that usually come out of homebrewer’s kit, they set out to make spontaneous beers. Tripp immersed himself in the history of these beers, the regions, the brewers, and the methods. He learned how to keep multiple cultures at home and started a small barrel program that turned into a larger barrel program.
“The only way to do this kind of beer and to give it the justice it deserves is to get oak involved,” he says. “I had some at my house, and we had some at Matt’s parent’s house, including one single-barrel solera that ran for like five or six years.”
With gallons of wild, dry-hopped ales, they eventually needed to make room for new batches, so after hand bottling, they distributed to a small group of friends. Reactions were positive, and soon enough they started seeing check-ins for their homebrew on Untappd.
Still, there wasn’t a firm plan to open professionally. But as Tripp and crew looked around them, they realized that maybe things had gotten away from them.
“More and more American breweries were releasing spontaneous ales. Some were good; some were not so good. In those cases, it was like the idea of wild yeast was the cure-all for everything, and there was sour for the sake of sour. At some point, we hit an acid wall, especially when there was a glut of that everywhere, and it became less enjoyable to drink. I used to get excited by anything sour, but I had so many terrible, ripping sour beers that I just couldn’t enjoy it anymore. And that’s when we started to think about what we were making and what we were attracted to and realized it was a softer lambic, a more rounded mixed fermentation, and we started to get ourselves under control.”
They did this by starting a 3-vessel solera system (in the solera method, a portion of aged beer is drawn out of a barrel—or series of barrels—containing a sour culture, while fresh beer is added). Three 60-gallon oak barrels with a yearly brewing and blending session that was focused on tradition and properly aging hops and approxa
imating the amount that the notoriously private Belgian brewers were using (hint: it’s a lot higher than people think) led them to making true-to-form lambic-style beers. The bottles that went out to the friends and fans soon got a bigger cult following, and the chorus of folks urging them to open suddenly sounded like a good idea. Plus, as Tripp points out, there was a need for the kind of beers they were making, especially in their home region around Philadelphia.
They found warehouse space, and Tripp recalled listening to a podcast with Troy Casey (Casey Brewing & Blending, Glennwood Springs, Colorado) who theorized that a blender could save a lot of money by simply contracting out wort and not worrying about buying a brewhouse. This appealed to the Form team who could be freed up to focus on blending, aging, and marketing. So, they worked out a deal with local Saint Benjamin Brewing Company to make wort for their project.
“We can do this with our own money, try it out, and if it fails, it’s not the end of the world,” Tripp says. “I don’t owe money to companies and people all over the place that I’ll have to struggle to pay back over time.”
Fermentery Form opened in 2017, and based on its reception both regionally and around the country, you can expect it to be around for a long time.
Since they’ve opened, Form has produced a dizzying array of beers. Some are more rare than others, but one that stands out is the simple, 3.5 percent ABV table beer, Form to Table. It’s noble hops–forward with a citrus tartness and a dry, herbal finish. There are others that are aged with fruits or that pay homage to styles such as tripels. Tripp wants to make sure there is variety for customers to taste and not just the aged rare offerings.
“I want to put more young beer on tap for people to taste because [young beers] can grab your imagination. Then over time, you can taste how the beer evolves and gets more complex.”
Form is working toward a day when they can have one- to three-year blends available, pushing them into the territory where they can produce true-to-style gueuze.
They think of the process much like making sherry: As new beer comes in and new barrels are filled, the older ones get moved down the line and over time, an endless array of blends is possible. Throughout it all, Tripp says, they want to honor tradition while keeping rooted in the inspiration that started them off on this journey to begin with.
“We want to be creative but deliberate,” he says. “It’s not magic, but it can feel like that sometimes.”
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