The City of Philadelphia inadvertently destroyed tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of future beer, and officials are sorry to have killed your buzz.
On Wednesday morning, the smell of fresh-cut grass lingered around the well-kept garden lot next to Philadelphia Brewing Co. But the freshly cut lot was not scattered with weeds — it contained precious hops that were being grown to produce the brewery’s seasonal “Harvest From the Hood“beer.
Brewery co-owner Nancy Barton had arrived at the Frankford Avenue site the day before to a distressed employee saying the hop garden had been laid to waste just a month before the beer was scheduled to yield.
And the culprit was not vandals or invasive pests — but city cleaning crews with the Community Life Improvement Program.
“We thought the lanternflies would take them out, but no, it was the city,” Barton said.
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Blaming the act of beericide on a communication error, officials said they are exploring ways to make things right with the brewery and the neighborhood. But for the brewing company, the damage is done. The scuttled autumn ale — which typically begins selling in October — could spell upwards of $25,000 in lost sales.
It started with a miscommunication.
Officials issued a violation to the lot’s owner, New Kensington Community Development Cooperation, for unmaintained vacant land in June — one of thousands of warnings the city issues every year telling absentee landowners to clean up their blighted lots, or else the improvement program will do it for them and send the bill.
Barton immediately coordinated with the NKCDC to clear the air with the city. The land was not vacant, and those were crops, not weeds. A sign with the message “watch us grow” advertised the lot as a hops garden.
“The folks at CLIP are very courteous,” said Nicole Westerman, head of NKCDC’s director of real estate and economic development. “Everybody’s understanding was that everything was cleared up. Case closed.”
City records indicate the violation was marked closed at the end of August. Two weeks later, the weedwackers came whacking without warning.
Situated in a hub of popular dive bars and restaurants in East Kensington, PBC has been an integral part of the neighborhood’s food and booze renaissance since it opened in 2007. The brewery turned its parking lot across the street into a beer garden whose popularity boomed through the pandemic. And the 7% ABV “Harvest From the Hood” brew has been part of the brewery’s annual portfolio for more than a decade, Barton said. It first grew the hops in partnership with nearby Greensgrow Farms before launching its own garden.
Barton said that the garden was on track to yield about 60 pounds of hops this season.
“It would have been the best harvest year we’ve had,” Barton said. “The hops were doing really well and growing beautifully.”
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City spokesperson Kevin Lessard blamed a “miscommunication and staff error” stemming from the crops being initially flagged as weeds.
“We are reaching out to Philadelphia Brewing and NKCDC to explain the situation, apologize, and explore what we can do to rectify this situation,” Lessard said. “We’re also engaging with staff on the ground to ensure that proper procedures are followed in the future.”
Is the next beer on City Hall for PBC? Unclear. Officials didn’t say what kind of compensation was in the works.
“It’s nice that they reached out, but I don’t know what they’re going to do to rectify this or reimburse us,” Barton said, with a weary laugh. “It’s a pretty significant chunk of our revenue.”
Still, the NKCDC’s Westerman said the cleaning crews play a vital role in alleviating blight and keeping neighborhoods clean — especially in Kensington.
“CLIP has been a great partner,” she said. “The only city service that’s more efficient than CLIP at cleaning lots is the parking authority at ticketing cars.”