“Nothing strengthens your resolve more than people telling you that it’s not going to work.”
Philly imports the best beers from around the world. Some are found in the country of production . . . and Philly. Beer geeks travel from afar to get their hands on West Coast brands that make Philly their only East Coast stop. Why would anyone open a bar in Philly that closes their taps to these treasures?
Why would you do such a thing? It’s 1999. The Philadelphia brewing scene was coming into its own. After three years of rehabbing a building in Northern Liberties, William Reed and his partner were ready to open their first bar—but this bar would be different. This bar would be Philadelphia’s first bar with an all-local tap list. William wanted a “Philadelphia tavern” with a feeling of localism running throughout. William wanted that bar where a local would send out-of-towners if they wanted to see what Philly was all about.
Standard Tap opened for business with ten taps (later increased to twenty), two hand pumps, and the legendary Yuengling Lord Chesterfield fridge. Four years later, William and his partner opened up Johnny Brenda’s. While he didn’t want Johnny Brenda’s to become Standard Tap II, he stuck to his guns—localism was a philosophy not a gimmick. William still pours some of the same breweries as when he opened, including Stoudt’s, Yards, Weyerbacher, and Dogfish Head, while others in his original rotation no longer exist, such as Heavyweight and New Road.
William’s decision to keep his taps all-local was not about business. He wasn’t even sure that it would work from a business perspective. But his passion prevailed. He liked to see the money go back into the region. He also appreciated the personal service that he received from the local breweries. His beers were generally fresher. William, however, made some sacrifices. Tom Peters of Monk’s goes to Belgium to visit breweries; William goes to Kensington.
The haters. William faced skepticism. Some in the industry told him “that’s cute” or “you’re never going to make it in the long run.” Even today, William faces pressure from some distributors, non-local breweries, and extreme beer enthusiasts. He’s seen people look at the tap list and leave. But William was not trying to be everything to everybody. He just wanted to be the “Philadelphia tavern.”
What’s “local?” William has a strict 90-mile rule, but he adjusted the boundaries to capture more of Pennsylvania (Tröegs, in particular), but to exclude New York and Baltimore, who have their own markets. If a local brewery contract brews, he serves only the product that is brewed locally. If a West Coast brewery operated a nearby facility, he serves the locally-brewed beers only. For example, William hosted a Samuel Adams’ event during Philly Beer Week that poured only those beers brewed in the Lehigh Valley facility. For some events, such as the Wet Hop Rodeo, he admittedly serves beers that are not local because he can’t get enough locally.
While there was a time when filling thirty-seven taps with local beer was difficult, it’s not anymore. William enjoys the new local breweries, but he also remains loyal to the “old guard” that is still making great beer. William does not settle for lesser-quality products by sticking to local. He believes that many local beers, like Weyerbacher Verboten, are not just great by local standards, but are great on an international scale. Philly’s amazing import scene challenges the locals to step up—and they have consistently responded.
William has pulled off what many thought was impossible. Standard Tap and Johnny Brenda’s have become the “Philadelphia taverns,” slinging the local suds that William always wanted.