Johnny Brenda’s was brand new back in 2006 when John Vettese visited the Fishtown club to see Silversun Pickups, the alternative rock band from Los Angeles.
“The place was half full,” Vettese recalls.
So he went to the bar and tried to order a bottle of Yuengling. When the bartender said they didn’t carry Yuengling, Vettese was stumped. The Ambler-native didn’t know anything about the local craft beers listed on the wall–or anything about craft beers at all. He ordered a random brew from the tap list.
“I think it was a Sly Fox,” he says. “I drank it and thought, ‘Wow, this is good!’ That’s when I realized there was a whole other world out there.”
Ever since, Vettese, 34, the social media coordinator for WXPN and editor of the station’s local music website, The Key, has been obsessed with the nuances of craft beer. He regularly samples random brews, he makes his own beer and he belongs to a small homebrewers club that meets every few months to share their creations.
His love of beer rivals his lifelong passion–music.
When he was 16, Vettese reached out to Rockpile, a now defunct but once highly regarded Philly music magazine, about writing for them. Within a year, he was critiquing albums for the publication. He continued writing about music for the student-run newspaper while attending Temple University.
During college, he interned for City Paper, where he befriended then music editor Brian Howard. After graduating, Vettese took different journalism and media jobs but continued writing for City Paper. And he stayed in close touch with Howard.
Today, Vettese is among the biggest music insiders on the local scene, having documented or recorded nearly every major artist and band in the region.
Vettese showed up at Howard’s annual New Year’s Eve party in 2010 with some of his chocolate espresso stout that he brewed in his East Mt. Airy home.
“John and I had started talking about how we should start a brew club,” remembers Howard, a fellow homebrewer. “It was one of those fits of drunken bravado and endless possibility that New Year’s Eve is known for.”
At one point, they were even chanting, “Brew club! Brew club!”
It turned out to be more drunken bravado than actual planning, and the club did not form that year.
Vettese showed up at the next New Year’s Eve party with a few bottles of his peppermint brown ale and the conversation began again. Soon after, they created a Facebook group (Brew Club To Be Named Later) and began convening, talking recipes and swapping bottles.
Last year, Vettese brewed a wheat beer with banana-flavored undertones, a chai tea porter and a vanilla cream ale.
“I love beers that have really interesting flavors,” he says.
“That peppermint brown ale was made not with candy canes but with peppermint tea,” says Howard. “It was really refreshing. I’ve also had some of his stuff brewed with chai and vanilla and it’s also really good. The flavors are subtle: not overpowering, but distinct.”
Vettese admits that some of his experiments have not exactly been successful.
“It’s OK,” he says. “I’m not rushing to be a master brewer.”