- December 18, 2015
The air was perfumed with the aroma of freshly-baked pizza and there wasn’t an empty seat at the bar to be had. Young families with children and grandparents in tow migrated from the front door to the restaurant’s long wooden tables. In other words it was a typical, busy Friday afternoon inside the pub at the Sly Fox Pottstown brewery.
On this particular day though, brewery owner and partner “Doc” Giannopoulos, his sons John and Pete, and Pete’s son Peter were also in the pub. With pints of O’Reilly’s Stout in hand, three generations of Giannopoulos’s reminisced about 20 successful years in the increasingly competitive craft beer business and the brewpub where it all began. Brewmaster, and honorary family member, Brian O’Reilly joined the conversation after tending to a batch of his eagerly anticipated Sly Fox 20th Anniversary Ale.
“We are first and foremost a family business,” Peter Giannopoulos Jr., Assistant Operations Manager began. “I was five years old when my dad opened the Phoenixville brewpub so I literally grew up in the beer business. It’s where we forged our identity. To know Sly Fox is to know that pub.”
Peter’s dad, the Founder and Managing Partner of the Phoenixville Brewhouse & Eatery, added to his son’s observation, “It’s where the personality of our company is on full display. If you haven’t been there, it’s our version of an Irish pub, by that I mean a place where neighbors and families go and actually talk to one another. It’s also where the focus is selling great beer, one pint at a time. That is something we consciously set out to do. You see, in 1995 we couldn’t afford the kind of liquor license that would have allowed us to sell beer, wine and liquor made by other companies. It would have cost $300,000. Laying out that kind of money just wasn’t an option. So we took a different approach, brewing and selling only the beer we made on the premises.”
“But we sell really good Italian wine, too,” Doc added. “It’s just made in Delaware County. By law we can sell wine, if it’s made in state. Gino Razzi, the owner and winemaker of Penns Wood Winery in Chadds Ford, where we buy our wine, is from Abruzzo, Italy. He makes the kind of wine our family likes to drink. We want to offer our customers the same wine we enjoy.”
Peter Jr. continued, “And we sell the beers we like to drink – authentic, original interpretations of classic styles from all over the world. Like our Helles Lager, made with German pils malt and Saaz hops. It’s our gateway beer; something that even a domestic beer drinker can appreciate and drinking it out of the 360° can makes it fun. You can really appreciate the beer’s aroma because the lid comes off completely. Then we price it fairly so millennials like me can afford to experience great craft beer. You won’t see 20 IPAs from us. We don’t make pumpkin beer and there’s no flavor of the month.”
On that note, Brewmaster Brian O’Reilly joined the conversation. The group brought him up to speed explaining that they were “reflecting” on what 20 years in the beer business had taught them. O’Reilly admitted that he’s been too busy to reflect, but after a brief pause, he said that he’s been thinking about what it means to protect a brand like Sly Fox. His analogy is pure O’Reilly, a Brewmaster who is known to rock out from time to time.
“Great beers are like rock bands,” he began. “They either play in cool venues or they die a slow death. Latching on to an old tune gives you a false sense of security. Pikeland Pils was my original inspiration. And it is both an honor and my responsibility to keep it great and alive. But ingredients change. Beer drinkers’ palates change. Quality must be maintained. On top of that, you have to keep moving forward. We’ve been doing more with dry hopping lately. So our anniversary beer is a dry hopped Belgian golden ale which melds pilsner and pale ale styles. It’s a very dynamic beer and it’s got some interesting herbal notes. This is a special beer so we’re putting it in our big 750ml bottles, but it’s the kind of beer you can feel completely comfortable drinking on a Monday night.”
John Giannopoulos, President and Managing Partner of the Pottstown brewery admitted that he never dreamed that someday he’d be popping the cork off of a bottle of 20th Anniversary Ale. “I didn’t expect this back in 1995. We’ve grown beyond anything I thought we could get to. But somehow it all came together. We put our heads together as a family to solve problems. Brian’s dedication and award-winning beers really put us on the map. And the Borough of Pottstown encouraged us to think big and build a facility that has allowed us to grow, sometimes as much as 20% per year, and realize our potential. They’ve been great partners.”
Doc concurred with John, but while taking one last sip of beer, he turned to his grandson Peter and offered another explanation. “The beer business is in our genes. Your great-grandfather, an immigrant from Greece, wanted me to be a doctor, and I did as I was told. But that bar he owned at 10th & Locust [in Philadelphia] way back when, it infiltrated the family’s DNA. Entrepreneurship skipped my generation. But here we are back in the beer business.”