The Yards Brewery split

August 29, 2007

Yards brewery interior

One of the owners of Bella Vista Beer Distributors (my new favorite beer store) told me something profound. He said of us beer geeks: “no one has an allegiance to any one brand anymore.” He’s right. To a point… but here in Philly at least, a LOT of beer drinkers pledge allegiance to Yards more than any other brand. Yards IS Philly beer. Yuenling Lager doesn’t count. Real beer snobs don’t drink it.

I remember 4 or 5 years ago or so, when cask-conditioned Yards Extra Special Ale was on hand pump at almost every real establishment in the city. Damn that stuff was heaven.

I’ve been on vacation for a while so when I heard that Yards was splitting up, I was shocked.
Partner Tom Kehoe is taking the name and the brands to another location, while Bill and Nancy Barton are keeping the old brewery in Kensington and renaming it the Philadelphia Brewing Company. They even have a website already.

An anonymous post on BeerAdvocate.com sums up the split:

The title and message of the post “Yards Brewing Company to Relocate This Fall” has prompted me to post a need response and clarification! This will be more than simply a ‘relocation’ of a brewery. As I see it, this is actually the death of a brand, and the beginning of 2 new brands.

As anyone who has ever been to the Yards Brewery can tell you, it has been obvious who has been the real force behind the growth and popularity of Yards in Philadelphia — Nancy and Bill Barton. The brewery tours, promotional events around the city, and even deliveries were managed personally by those two.

If you were to ask an employee who the brewers of Yards are (as I have), they were not mention Tom Kehoe. In fact, I have inquired several times in the past about Tom’s role in the operation. He was, after all, listed only as ‘co-founder’ on their website. Well to the Yards business and its patrons, that’s all Kehoe has ever been. Not a brewer, or a manager, or even a friendly face at the Brewery. He was the ‘silent’ partner.

This company split should only prove to be good to us, the costumers, as Kehoe struggles to maintain the popularity of Yards, and the Bartons begin their new (and likely, better) Brewery, which is apparently going to be called Philadelphia Brewing Company, and located at the current Yards facility. It seems Kehoe is getting the name ‘Yards’, and their recipes and merchandise, but the facilities, equipment, and certainly the business relationships will be remaining with the new Philadelphia Brewing Company.

As you can see, I’ve made my decision about what this means for the future of Yards. It’s entirely possible that Yards will remain a great brand after this, but certainly it will have changed dramatically. No one as uninvolved in his business as Kehoe was can take control and simply ‘remain the same.’

Look for Philadelphia Brewing Company to be Philly’s new home brewery.

Tom Kehoe actually replied in the thread:

Hello Beer Advoate,
This is my first post on the forum, and I am Tom Kehoe. It seems that with all of the activity of this page I wanted to just let you all know that I am reading the posts and I hope to communicate with the beer community through my actions as the President and founder of Yards Brewing Company.
The official seperation happened on August 2nd and all “three” parties got what they wanted. The details are details. The big picture is Yards will be leaving It’s lease early and moving to a new location (which I can’t disclose now). And a new brewery will be formed at the former location. Philadelphia gets TWO breweries and we need more. Philly needs to take back the reputation it once had as the brewing center of the country.

Yards will be making it’s fourth move in the city since it was a small 3 barrel brewery in Manayunk. We incerased the size of the brewhouse to 30 barrels when we moved to Roxborough and kept it the same when we moved to Kensington but expanded the amount of fermentation to increase capacity. Each one of these brewhouses was designed by me to brew Yards. Now I am working on a new larger Brewhouse — one that will be designed by brewery engeneers to my specifications to produce Yards Beers. Yards brews (and the Yards drinking public) will benefit from the move by having Yards produce a better product and an increase in availability.

It’s all about the beer — Cheers, Tom.

The first poster mentioned that Bill and Nancy are the “real force” behind the brewery, and the Inquirer article quoted Bill saying “Kehoe would show up late and leave early… He was on a free ride.”

So it sounds to me like the Bartons are the ones behind all of the hugely successful (and always free) events at the brewery, including the spectacular Christmas party each year, the Rich Wagner lectures series, the Fishtown/Kensignton community cleanups, and their Buy Fresh Buy Local events.

They’re also the ones who are most passionate about the pre-prohibition brewery building that they’ve revived as a community meeting spot/watering hole. I kiss the ground they walk on for that alone.
Where else can a loser like me ride my bike right through the front door and lean it on the wall while I drink free beer at the bar while listening to a lecture on the history of Brewerytown?

Take a look at that beautiful architecture that was almost certain to see the wrecking ball before Yards came along and saved it.

This isn’t a bad thing, people. It’s great.

Inquirer article and photo of the brewery here.



  1. Guess what, genius.. The Christmas parties were Tom Kehoe’s idea, too. Tom did it all and then some greedy snakes move in on his company…

  2. Also, the people who did this to Tom Kehoe are so underhanded and greedy, they will soon be fighting each other for power, so don’t expect them to be around too long.. The whole idea and dream and beer name and how his beer would taste, etc. came from Tom Kehoe years ago, before these business sharks came in. I’m glad Tom Kehoe has taken his beer name and recipe to a new location that will be awesome!.. Without Tom Kehoe, those people are probably reading directions on how to make beer from a book they borrowed from the public library!

  3. Not a genius, I’m a “loser” like I said in the article.

  4. loafer91 – Hi Tom 🙂

    Bold words for an anonymous post.

    thinman – good post, very observant

  5. Hey loafer91, maybe if you got your head out of Tom Kehoe’s ass you would see what really was going on at Yards for the past 10+ years.

  6. You and the Bartons didn’t have to use the media to grind Tom into the dirt. Yards would never have existed without Tom Kehoe.. To start Yards, he had to spend every dollar he had. I watched it. I said don’t do it because the market was saturated with micro brewers. Everyone was making their own beer. It was the worst time on earth to start a brewery.. He did it anyway. Where were the Bartons then? The Bartons know how to take something that already exists, but they don’t know how to have a dream and start from nothing.. Just answer one question for me, just ONE question. WOULD YOU HAVE EVER HEARD OF, OR DRANK A BEER NAMED YARDS IF IT WASN’T FOR TOM KEHOE? It’s a simple yes or no question. Don’t rip on Tom. What I have read by a few individuals is just cruel. It angers me..

  7. loafer91- This comment is much nicer than the first, so it deserves a real reply:

    It was not my intention to bash Tom in this post. In fact, after re-reading it, the only negative words toward tom were quoted from the beeradvocate forum and the Inquirer.

    Tom’s a nice guy and I’m TRULY VERY VERY grateful for what he CREATED. I merely praised the brewery events and the building in my post, and noted that IF the Bartons are behind those events, well then, cheers to them.

    I really could have left any mention of Tom and the Bartons out of the post. My aim was to really just give props to YARDS period.
    Since Yards is Tom’s creation, then I guess I do owe Tom a “thanks”.

    The other point of my post is that the split may in fact have GOOD consequences. Philly basically just gained another brewery. Cool.


  8. WOW loafer91. I really think you should have a beer – how about a Yards – and RELAX! Nobody was bashing Tom or Yards. Infact, if you really knew the beginning story you would also give credit to the other co-founder of Yards – Jon Bovit. He really is the one who took a huge risk on a start up business while trying to support a new family. So, before you get back on your soapbox and start spouting about things you obviously don’t know much about you should sit back and think about your own life. Why do you have so much anger bottled up inside? Really though, have a beer. You will feel much better.

  9. Hey Kenso-
    Loafer didn’t sound all that angry this time- just a little defensive.

    I feel bad I got into this thing at all. I just wanted to mention the breakup and the city’s loyalty to Yards!
    I don’t even know any of the owners besides a few quick hello’s over the years!

    Can’t we all just get along?


  10. Yes. I think we should just have a beer and get along 🙂 I do like your blog and I appreciate the mention of the whole Yards thing. I’m sorry it brought up bad feeling. I am looking forward to the new brewery that the Barton’s are starting!

  11. Thanks, Thinman. Sorry I got angry earlier.. I do hope it works out for all.

  12. And Kenso, your right about Bovit.


  14. […] Joe Sixpack has more. More here. I really do wish Tom good luck, even though some readers took my older post to the […]

  15. I agree with the self-professed loser. I’ve been to the brewery dozens of times. Bill and Nancy are always there, always smiling, always generous. I feel that I have gotten to know them quite well just from going there to buy beer and take advantage of Sat. tastings. Of all the times I have been there, I NEVER met this Kehoe dude. I always wondered who he was – but never really cared, either. Now I know who he is – and I still don’t care.

  16. Sorry, just came upon this idiot’s article and had to throw my thoughts down.

    Not sure what angle the writer is trying to take by bashing Tom. Is this your axe you’re grinding or did Syd and Nancy let you borrow theirs??? WTF is it to you? Yards was a great beer before the other two and it will continue to be a great beer.

    I truly admire Tom for stepping into the line of fire and addressing this public flogging. A true man that he is. Yards has brand recognition in Philly and it will continue to prosper based upon the product itself, quality speaks for itself.


  17. Hey, cool tips. I’ll buy a bottle of beer to that person from that forum who told me to visit your site 🙂

  18. just found this post randomly, and way late, but i wanted to comment. when i heard about this split, i thought the same thing, that’s yards would go downhill and PBC would grow into a better brand, but now that we’re not looking into our Crystal Ball anymore, i think it’s clear that Yards has emerged as the better brewery. i have no idea on sales figures, though, and i realize that PBC is pretty popular, particularly the Kenzinger and Walt Wit brews, but personally i think the yards products are a cut above. how bout you?

    • This post generated a lot of traffic back then and I’d forgotten about it till now.

      I agree with you completely. I’m happily surprised that Yards has achieved success. I don’t have any real data to go on, but I think PBC isn’t doing as well in other parts of the city outside Kensington and Northern Liberties. I don’t particularly like their packaging (esp. Newbold), and I think they need to change things up a bit, like adding more one-offs and seasonals to the lineup. And don’t even get me started on Rowhouse Red. I don’t think I’ve EVER seen anyone drink one of those!


      • Rowhouse Red is bad. Whenever someone brings a PBC variety case to a BBQ, you can be sure you’ll have 6 floating RR’s at the end. The labels on everything but kenzinger are pretty bad, but nothing is worse than their newest beer PPA (pennsylvania pale ale). not sure if you know “design speak” but the kerning on the PPA is embarrassing. very amateurish. and i definitely agree on adding some seasonals, just so maybe they can stumble upon a decent beer. i do appreciate Kenzo’s though, as a summer drinking beer. very drinkable, and not disgusting.

      • Oh Gawd that is bad. I actually never saw that beer yet! Everyone seems to like Kenzinger. Yard’s packaging and design beat every other brewery in the area, hands-down.

        Thanks for reading.

  19. You know, it’s funny to read this almost 4 years later. It’s undoubtedly obvious that Yards has come out stronger than ever. There brewery is bigger and I heard they are producing something like 24k barrels of beer. The packaging is better, the beer is better. It’s not even a question. Props to Kehoe.

  20. Just found this, had to chime in…

    “kerning” ?!?!?!?!
    are we talking beer or the Obama birth certificate?

    hmmm, yards is making 24k barrels a year?
    what is the proof of that statement?
    even if they are making that much, how much are they selling?
    anybody seen the PLCB records to check?
    ever check the date on a Yards case to see how fresh it is?

    Is Kehoe even running Yards anymore?
    Is Kehoe the COO? the CEO? he does what exactly?
    Seems to me that– as usual–when he set up the new brewery he got another set of outside investors to pony up cash and do all the work.

    Meanwhile, PBC chugs on, with Kenzinger an ubiquitous brew in Philly at a price that cannot be beat.

    Pretty sure that if we could audit both companies one would be in really good shape and one would be riddled with debt and have lots of fingers in the pie for profits –should any even exist.

    And here’s a thought, how come nobody ever takes a look at how the employees of the old Yards decided to carry on?
    Surely if the driving force behind the company was Kehoe, all of the brewers and workers would have went with Kehoe rather than staying at the new company when it had no beers, no reputation, no name, no nothing.

    So, how many employees working at Yards BEFORE the split went with Kehoe to the new Delaware Ave location?

    If, in fact, the PBC owners were just “silent partners who stole Tommy’s brewery” as was portrayed by many in 2007, how is it possible that those evil capitalists could completely re-form a company, make all new beers, run a new business model–self distribution–and become just as successful as the old Yards in less than a year’s time?

    The lack of coverage of these issues by the beer geek press in general is quite telling.
    Rather than doing any research–how come nobody ever looked at the court records from the break up?–they just make assertions about who is or is not a “nice guy.”

    Being a “nice guy” says nothing about your work ethic, your business acumen, or your character, and the court settlement made it pretty clear which parties were responsible for growing Yards from 1997-2007– with both sweat equity and capital.

  21. Need to revisit this topic… now in mid 2017. PBC still runs a successful, albeit relatively local, brewery/distribution. You can get Kenzinger on tap pretty much as a standard in PHL, and I see several of their beers around regularly. While I agree that the graphic design isnt very good, the Nubold is a tasty beverage.

    BUT… Yards has been incredibly successful. I have not researched profits, debts, investors / minority share holders, etc… but with the impending move from the Delaware Ave site to the massive building on Spring Garden (former “Destination Maternity” building), they must be doing something right.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: