“Medal Machine” Bob Barrar and Two Stones are partnering in a new craft brewery—2SP—set to begin production in May
If you type the name “Bob Barrar” into Google, your browser will autofill to “Bob Barrar
beer” before you finish typing. The very first link will direct you to an article titled “Meet
the Medal Machine.”
Published in a 2012 issue of Philly Beer Scene, the profile of Barrar lists his brewing
accomplishments, which seem almost impossible for one individual: 14 Great American Beer Festival medals (that number is now 19) and ten World Beer Cup awards.
Of course, if you’re into the local craft beer scene, you probably don’t need a Google search to tell you who Bob Barrar is. He’s currently the head brewer for Iron Hill Brewery’s Media location and the mastermind behind some of Iron Hill’s award-winning beers, most notably a gold medal Russian Imperial Stout.
And now, after nearly 15 years with Iron Hill, he is partnering with several heavy hitters in the local craft beer scene to bring his beers to a much wider audience. This month, he will officially join forces will an all-star cast to form a new production brewery in Aston, Pa.
“I’m super excited about this,” says Barrar, 42, of Rutledge, Pa. “I’m a little nervous, but also really excited at the same time.”
The brewery, 2SP Brewing Company, is a joint venture between Barrar and an entity that arguably has transformed the area’s craft beer landscape—The Two Stones Pub restaurant group.
The 10,000-square-foot 2SP production facility includes a 20-barrel brewhouse with 200 barrels of cellaring space. By May, it will be supplying fresh craft beer to Two Stones’ three area locations. The facility initially will distribute in Delaware and Pennsylvania, and a tasting room will be added by this fall. A bottling and canning operation will likely be in place by next year.
Additionally, 2SP has secured 40 bourbon barrels and a sherry cask that will be used for aging an assortment of beers.
While the brewery has yet to establish its lineup of flagship beers, Michael “Stigz” Stiglitz, co-founder of Two Stones Pub, says there probably will be a rotation that includes IPAs, a Belgian wit, and “DelCo lager,” a nod to Barrar’s native Delaware County.
The idea to form a brewery seems a logical extension of the huge success Stiglitz and Ben “Gumbo” Muse have enjoyed since they opened the first Two Stones Pub in Newark in 2011. Located in the Chesmar Plaza just off Rt. 4, the original Two Stones raised the stakes for craft beer in Delaware by offering 24 craft beers on tap. The pub was a smash hit, and its success led to additional locations in North Wilmington and, most recently, Kennett Square.
Stiglitz and Muse had long discussed the idea of opening a brewery, dating back to their days working together at the Pickled Pig Pub in Rehoboth. Stiglitz was a co-owner and Muse served as general manager.
The pair would routinely go home and fire up the homebrew kettles after putting in long hours at the restaurant, and, like most homebrewers, they often kicked around the idea of commercially brewing their own beer.
“We had dreams downstate of doing a brew pub with the right brewer,” Stiglitz says, “but my partnership [at the time] had no interest.”
So they moved upstate to begin building Two Stones into what has become a craft beer destination. With three locations, Stiglitz and Muse have quickly established a locally-respected platform from which they will launch their own brand of craft beer.
We only serve great beer [at Two Stones]. That’s the reason we waited until we found the right brewer. We wanted to do this because of who Bob is. —Michael Stiglitz
Stiglitz admits that it didn’t take long after opening the very first Newark restaurant for him to begin sowing the seeds for what would ultimately become 2SP Brewing Company.
During the Newark pub’s first few months of business, Two Stones hosted a tasting event for Evolution Craft Brewing Company, formerly a Delaware-based brewery now located in Salisbury, Md. Stiglitz remembers making an offhand comment about opening a brewery to Evolution co-founder Tom Knorr. His reaction was less than encouraging.
“Tommy literally spun around, grabbed both of my shoulders, stared me in the face, and said, ‘when you have a million dollars that you want to throw away, open up a brewery.’
“Because he knew I did not mean a small one.”
By “small one,” Stiglitz refers to the success of “nanobreweries,” which focus on small-scale production.
“These places are making phenomenal beer,” he says of three- and five-barrel breweries. “They’re small, they’re precise, and they’re awesome. But that’s not what we want to do. We want to be at a production level.”
Stiglitz and Muse had both worked with Barrar at Iron Hill in the early-to-mid 2000s, prior to their days at the Pickled Pig, and were familiar with his brewing skills. After opening the first Two Stones, Stiglitz would joke with Barrar about starting a brewery together whenever they ran into each other at a beer event.
“He tried to ‘recruit’ me back in the day,” Barrar says with a laugh.
At the time, Stiglitz’s overtures were not serious – he and Muse were too busy building restaurants to think about the heavy lift that a brewery would entail.
But they knew if they eventually wanted to pursue a brewery, they needed a pro with the bona fides of someone like Barrar.
“It was sort of a running joke for a while,” Muse says. “But early last year, [Barrar] mentioned that he was actually serious about this.
“It was really good fortune for us.”
Barrar got in touch with Muse and Stiglitz and told them of his interest, and that set the wheels in motion.
“We only serve great beer [at Two Stones],” Stiglitz says. “That’s the reason we waited until we found the right brewer. We wanted to do this because of who Bob is.”
With a brew master and partner now in place, Stiglitz again approached Tom Knorr from Evolution to ask him about the feasibility of starting a production brewery. Again, Knorr was skeptical.
“He said, ‘I will help you if you want it, but trust me, you do not want to do this,’” Stiglitz says. “I said don’t worry, we have an all-star brewer. When I told him who it was, he said, ‘Ok, you have a great brewer.’”
Knorr began serving as a consultant, and Stiglitz says he has proved instrumental in everything from equipment acquisition to optimizing the layout of the new facility. Stiglitz says 2SP also has received consultative advice from Dave Benfield of Maryland’s DuClaw Brewing Company.
In addition to Barrar, 2SP has brought in another seasoned craft beer veteran to help build the brand. Mike Contreras, formerly of Rogue and Dogfish Head, will serve as director of sales and marketing.
“I learned a great deal at Rogue and Dogfish,” Contreras says. “But those were established brands. Here we’re starting from scratch, so there’s definitely a learning curve.”
Contreras’s familiarity with the local beer scene is an asset he hopes to leverage to help put 2SP on the map.
“From my perspective, the marketing is fun,” Contreras says of his dual responsibilities at 2SP. “But the best part with all of this is building relationships [on the sales end]. That’s what makes this job so great.”
It’s those relationships that will hopefully prove to be the secret sauce for 2SP.
“We have a loyal following of regulars,” Muse says of the fans that pack Two Stones Pubs nightly. “They will absolutely tell us if we’re doing something wrong. But we hope to hear a lot of great things, of course.”
For Stiglitz and Muse, 2SP Brewing Company represents the “heart” that will pump blood—and beer—out to the many “arteries” that they have created with Two Stones Pub. While they are excited to augment the already impressive beer lists they’ve established, they’re also mindful of the standards they have set for themselves.
“I don’t want it to be selective or definitive with just our beers,” Stiglitz says of serving 2SP beers at Two Stones. “I don’t want it to be forced on anybody. I want our beer drinkers to come in, look up at that board, and say, ‘yes, they do belong up there. They are just as great as those beers.’
“But we have to make sure they deserve to be up on that board. We don’t serve bad beers.”
And with the “medal machine” on board, Stiglitz does not expect that to change.
“He’s perfect,” Stiglitz says of Barrar. “Not just because of the medals, but because of who he is. His passion, his fear of failure.
“If he had said no, we would not have done this.”