February 27, 2012
Craft beer maker Sly Fox starts brewing in Pottstown

“There’s a new Pottstown emerging ... Pottstown is coming full circle, and it’s time to focus on progress. The people at Sly Fox Brewing Company believe that.”

Those words come from the short YouTube video “Welcome to Cantown” produced by Sly Fox Brewing’s advertising agency, Virtual Farm Creative of Phoenixville.

Sly Fox Managing Partner John Giannopoulos said he gets a kick out of video, which he said is “kind of a takeoff of the Eminem ad from the Super Bowl last year.”

The video shows Sly Fox trucks traveling down Route 422, across the Schuylkill River, through downtown Pottstown, and into the company’s new production brewery and headquarters in Pottstown’s Circle of Progress.

The visual is not symbolic: Over the past few weeks the massive tanks, bottling and canning lines needed for the brewing and packaging processes have been trucked in and hoisted into place. Some of that machinery is being moved from Sly Fox’s former production brewery location built in Royersford in 2004, but much of it is new.

By next week, according to managing partners John and Peter Giannopoulos, the state-of-the-art 50-hectoliter (47 beer barrel), highly automated brewhouse will be operational. Sly Fox’s products — including Phoenix Pale Ale, Rt. 113 IPA and Pikeland Pils — will be made in Pottstown.

“Slowly but surely, we’ve been installing our equipment,” John Giannopoulos said during a recent interview with The Mercury. “We’re hoping to be test-brewing by the end of February.”

Giannopoulos noted that test brewing, which entails heating water and sending it through the brewing process, doesn’t take long. Which means Sly Fox will be brewing for real in Pottstown by the end of this month, if all goes well. The company has already stopped brewing in Royersford. That location has been sold and is being operated as Lucky Lab Tavern by a former Sly Fox employee.

The canning line that was first installed at the Royersford location in 2006 will be sold and recycled by another brewery. “We need a bit bigger canning line here,” said Peter Giannopoulos.

Sly Fox is also going through the borough’s approval process to get an on-site tasting room open to the public — something Giannopoulos is hopeful can be accomplished in the spring.

“Hopefully in April or May we’ll have the tasting room open,” he said. The public will be able to try and buy Sly Fox beers as well as enjoy light fare in a large area at the front of the brewery as well as on a patio that will soon be constructed. There will be counter service, but no table service.

The Giannopoulos brothers and Sly Fox Brewmaster Brian O’Reilly took a few minutes out of a recent busy day preparing the brewery to show a Mercury editor and photographer the lay of the land. On the perimeter of the largest room in the 30,000-square-foot facility are the large tanks. In the middle will be the packaging: bottling and canning lines. The tasting room is under construction on the side of the building that fronts Circle of Progress.

A larger beer cooler takes up a good portion of the remainder of the building. After building tenants Pro Tool Industries move within the next few weeks to a new location in the industrial park, the cooler will be expanded further, according to Peter Giannopoulos.

“It’s cool when you see this stuff coming in ... You can see what it’s going to look like,” said Peter Giannopoulos, whose family opened the original Sly Fox Brewhouse & Eatery in Phoenixville in 1995.

About two dozen workers — “technicians, welders, computer programmers, he said — were getting the facility ready. Everyones’ excitement about the company’s new location was palpable.

“We’re pretty happy with our choice,” said John Giannopoulos. “We’re very excited about it. It’s our new home.”

O’Brien, who has worked as Sly Fox Brewmaster for a decade, said he’s looking forward to brewing at the Pottstown location.

“We’ll have more than three times the capacity, with room for a future expansion of seven to eight times the size it is now,” O’Reilly said. “The biggest thing is we didn’t want to have to move in five or six years.”

However, don’t be on the lookout for O’Reilly to name a new beer after Pottstown just yet (John Potts Porter? High Street IPA?). The company is looking at new naming conventions that don’t include a location in the future, he said.

An empty adjacent lot is earmarked for the planned expansion. Until then, Sly Fox plans to utilize the land for outdoor events, such as Octoberfest. Sly Fox is well-known for off-beat, beer-centered events including its Bock Fest & Goat Race held the first Sunday of May at its Phoenixville location.

In Pottstown, O’Reilly and eight brewers will work in two shifts overseeing the fermenting process. The third shift will be automated, according to Peter Giannopoulos.

Once the tasting room is open, the plan is to hire more employees as needed, he said.

Giannopoulos noted that Sly Fox has invested in Pottstown, is excited about being in Pottstown and plans to stay in Pottstown. He said the managing partners’ vision is for other businesses to do the same.

“With us coming in, we hope that other people will follow suit, and it will create some inertia” in Pottstown, said Peter Giannopoulos.

As the “Welcome to Cantown” video says, “Real beer is being made here, and real people are making progress.”

Welcome to Pottstown, Sly Fox.

Story Credit: The Mercury - Michelle Karas
mkaras@pottsmerc.com
Photo by Kevin Hoffman


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