Crowded Castle Brewing Company puts hospitality above all else. The brewing collective seeks to become a stalwart member of the Phoenixville community this spring when they open their first official location, a brewery and taproom at 242 Bridge Street, right in the thick of the Philly suburb’s burgeoning beer scene.
“We wanted a great community, with good foot traffic, that had a great small business culture. Phoenixville definitely has that,” said Anna Winter, a co-owner of Crowded Castle. “What we’re looking forward to most is having a location that we can call our own and that can give to our community.”
What sets Crowded Castle apart from most breweries is their multi-partner ownership structure. The brewery is co-owned equally by 10 friends and family members who all bring unique skills to the table. The group began home brewing together in 2011 under the name “W5 Craft Brew” when, circumstantially, they all moved within the same neighborhood. They began hosting homebrew days where friends, family and anyone who was interested were welcomed to join in. The open format of the homebrew days and W5’s participation in local brewing events developed a strong following for the group in the Exton/Downingtown area. Encouraged by their success in home brewing and the joy that they found in providing quality beer to others, they decided to start Crowded Castle Brewing Company.
“We have someone who is in finance, we have a bookkeeper, we have someone who has a background in human resources … we even have a neurologist among us,” Winter explained. “But the one thing we all have in common is brewing.” Outside of Crowded Castle, Winter works for a non-profit and has a background in marketing and public relations.
Winter hopes this ownership structure facilitates clear communication between Crowded Castle and their customers. “We’re excited to be able to bring people into our own space and be able to experience all of Crowded Castle in one space” she said. “The brewers are going to be there all of the time pouring beer at the bar and talking to customers. People coming in are going to be able to interact with the brewers directly.”
Head brewer Mark Sofio plans to cater his brews to what the community tells Crowded Castle they want to see. He explained that even now, in the preliminary phases, potential customers are stopping by and sharing their thoughts. “One guy in particular said he really enjoys belgians so I told him I’d have one on tap for him,” Sofio said.
Sofio will be working with a seven and a half barrel brew system featuring six fermenters. He expects to have 12 unique beers ready to be tapped for Crowded Castle’s opening. The group’s emphasis will be on variety. “We want to have a beer for just about every beer drinker,” Sofio explained. “Everything from a pilsner to a lager, stout, IPA … you name it. For the model we have, we need to have something for everybody.”
One beer that will definitely be making an appearance is their tried and true COPR IPA. Crowded Castle initially tested the markets in Allentown a year ago with the malty IPA before deciding upon their Phoenixville location. The group distributed through Allentown Beverage and contract brewed with Free Will Brewing Company, who had just expanded their brewhouse.
“Over the course of the year we would visit the festivals pouring our beer and we talked to restaurant owners who had been selling our beers to see what they thought,” Winter said. “What we found was that people loved the beer and it sold out pretty quickly. What we also realized is that it’s hard to control quality and quantity when you’re contract brewing because it’s not your own facility or equipment. So we tested the market and we knew we could sell it. We decided to open our own location from there.” Winter added that Crowded Castle plans to continue to distribute beer in the Allentown and Bethlehem areas and expand distribution in the near future.
Winter hopes to open the taproom and brewery on May 5th because the date coincides with Phoenixville’s First Friday event. Once open, the taproom will be able to seat 87 patrons, split among high-tops and bar seating. In addition to draft beers, the taproom will offer small bites and local Pennsylvania wines and ciders. According to Winter, right now, the plan is to offer charcuterie and cheese boards, but they’re also going to work on forming partnerships with nearby restaurants to allow customers to order food from them and then be able to enjoy it at Crowded Castle.
More than anything else, Crowded Castle wants to keep craft beer communal. “We could not have stumbled, fallen and somersaulted into a better community than Phoenixville. Not only has the community embraced us with open arms, but people have been so kind as to just stop by and check in,” Sofio said. “We really lucked out.”