written by Dave Miniaci
If you enjoy the recent brews from Manayunk Brewing Company, you could probably thank Food Network.
No, the network didn’t brew any of the delicious suds. But it was a love for cooking and watching the channel that led Evan Fritz to brewing.
Fast forward to 2015, and Fritz is the head brewer at Manayunk Brewing Company and growing it to new heights.
But it started with Alton Brown. The renowned chef and TV personality focused an episode of his popular show, “Good Eats,” on homebrewing in 2002. Fritz is a fan of the show and watched that episode. Afterward, he was hooked.
“I watched them make this beer and was like ‘I could do that,’“ he said. “I went online that night and bought my first homebrew kit.”
He claimed he “went big” with his first brews, an English IPA and a smoked porter.
“Man, they came out good,” he said, thinking back fondly. “I still have a few bottles of each, though I’m sure they’re not good anymore at this point.”
From there, Fritz continued to homebrew and hone his craft. He began meeting with other local homebrewers as well. He found a homebrewers’ association in South Jersey, Barley Legal, and joined. Within a couple years he became the group’s president and membership grew into the hundreds.
It was that kind of passion for beer that led him to pursue a career with it.
Fritz looks and sounds the part of a brewer: beer gut, bushy beard, big and jovial personality. But with those traits comes incredible intelligence and business savvy. Fritz went to Monroe College and the University of Phoenix and graduated with an MBA. He worked in sales for years, but his company folded and that expedited his career in beer.
Fritz said he began to hang out at local breweries and got to know a lot of people in the industry.
He wanted to put his sales experience to work but also work with beer. That’s when he arrived at Manayunk Brewing Company, in 2011.
The job was more sales than beer, but Fritz steadily made his mark. The brewery was primarily self-distributing when Fritz arrived. Most of their sales came from the bar. Within a few years, the brewery was selling 200 kegs a month and up to working with nine wholesalers.
He helped brew too, and his skills and motivation grabbed the eye of then-head brewer Doug Marchakitus.
“The homebrewing experience is pretty big,” Marchakitus said. “Just being able to do that and have that self-taught knowledge. He could figure out any challenges he came across. He really has that drive.”
But growing sales wasn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Fritz wanted to work with beer more. And above all else, he wanted to spend less time on the road and more time with his family.
Then came an opportunity in fall 2013.
Marchakitus announced he was leaving his post of four years and accepting a job with Iron Hill, where he got his start. Fritz was put in charge of interviewing replacements. But in his mind, there was just one suitable candidate: himself.
“We got some good candidates and some bad candidates,” he said, “But I said to [my bosses] ‘Look, I want the position, I don’t wanna do the sales thing anymore. I want to be able to spend nights and weekends with my two kids, and if you don’t think I’m right for it, that’s fine, but I’m gonna look elsewhere.’ And they didn’t want to lose me, so they offered it to me.”
Since the promotion, Fritz has experimented as much as possible. Not only has he created new beers, but he has taken old recipes and turned them on their heads.
Most recently, he changed up the brewery’s summer beer, Summer Paradise. While the old recipe was less hoppy and had some sweet notes, the new recipe, fresh for 2015, is more of a Berliner Weisse. It has a lighter body with a crisp, tart flavor.
It’s a notable difference from the previous recipe. And it also highlights Fritz’s beers of choice. He names sours and flemishes among his favorites, and that has played a role in other projects at the brewery. He has been acquiring barrels in order to age beer in them. Tequila, wine, whiskey; you name it.
“I just love experimenting,” he said. “I love barrels and barrel-aging things. I got my hands on as many barrels as I could. When I started here, we didn’t really have any barrels and now we have a couple dozen.”
But while he does a lot with beer, Fritz still loves to cook.
He said it was early on in high school that he really got into Food Network and Emeril Lagasse at their early popularity.
“I loved seeing all the creative dishes you could make,” he said. “To this day, I still love going out on weekends to get greens at farmers’ markets and collect all my ingredients and come home and make a big meal.”
His favorite thing to cook is barbeque (“anything over an open flame tickles my fancy,” he jokes), but he’s also made homemade meatballs, pasta fagioli from scratch, and, more recently, Jamaican curry dishes. His wife, Tamika, is Jamaican and she has influenced some of his tastes.
Though he doesn’t have much say in the food at the brewery, he has still made a mark there, helping to plan events such as the “BBQ, Bourbon and Blues Craft Beer Festival” the brewery hosts in April.
While Fritz and the brewery have had success, they’ve also had their lows–most notably, the flooding from the Schuylkill River that frequently plagues the area.
Though the brewery wears the flooding like a badge– there are signs throughout the building indicating water levels from various hurricanes and storms– it is still detrimental to the business. A rain storm last spring devastated the brewery, closing it for more than a month. Fritz said they got a bunch of 40-foot dumpsters for the cleanup and estimated they filled up at least 10 of them.
“We lost so much,” he said. “It was rough. We had to throw so much out. But I gotta hand it to our crew and staff. We all came in, rolled up our sleeves and cleaned out. There was no job too small or dirty. It was great teamwork.”
It has gotten to the point where Fritz has had discussions to move the brewery, keeping some operations in Manayunk but expanding the brewing operations to a larger warehouse.
The flooding is just the tip of the iceberg. The brewery is running out of room (the storage room for bottles and cans is stacked to the ceiling) and the rent is high. There is also the problem of canning and distributing; the brewery doesn’t have its own in-house system and presently brings in a mobile canner on specific days.
These problems would be easily relieved in a new location and ideally the brewery would stay close by, though nothing is close to being finalized, Fritz cautioned.
What matters to Fritz is continuing to grow the brewery and brew good beer, no matter where that is.
“One of the most satisfying things as a brewer is just watching people enjoy what you made,” he said. “I’ve walked around here and people don’t know who I am and they talk about how much they like the beer they’re drinking. That is the most gratifying way a brewer can rest his head at night, knowing he’s making something that makes people happy.”