Tasty Surprises

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Inspiration and experimentation fuels 2SP Brewing Company’s coffee stout collaboration with Wawa

It’s Friday the 13th and surprises abound. Thankfully, none of the unfortunate kind.

No broken mirrors; no black cats crossing the path; no maniacs in hockey masks popping out from behind a nearby tree. Nothing perilous is in sight.

Instead, it’s a sunny November day in Aston, Pa.—one more in a splendid week that has seen temperatures reach up into the mid-70s. It’s been a nice surprise.

However, as I walk into 2SP Brewery’s tasting room—past people smiling and laughing together at spaced-out tables on the patio—little do I know that the week’s biggest surprise lay in store for me just beyond the front doors: a first taste of 2SP’s third-annual coffee stout, a collaboration the brewery has done with Wawa for the past three years.

A WINNING PHILOSOPHY

Waiting at a table in the tasting room is Mike Contreras, one of 2SP’s co-founders and director of sales and marketing.

As I sit down at the table across from him, he summons the bartender and encourages me to try something I haven’t tried before. I go with the Slowdive, 2SP’s Citra-based seasonal New England IPA.

From left, Mike Stiglitz, partner, Bob Barrar, owner/brewer and Mike Contreras, director of marketing and sales stand in the warehouse where 2SP Brewing Company will be located in Aston Pa. Photo by Tim Hawk.

As a fan of 2SP’s most popular beer—Up & Out, another hazy NEIPA—I find the Slowdive to be hearty, but still nimble. Only later do I learn it clocks in at 7.7% ABV.

“A lot of what makes craft beer special is the experimentation and people being like, ‘Alright, I’m willing to spend a few extra bucks to try something new even if I might not like it.’” Contreras says.

It’s not a surprising statement coming from Contreras, who flashes a wide Cheshire-cat grin when we toast moments later. Contreras’ background comprises work with two other powerhouse breweries: Rogue and Dogfish Head. Like his associates at 2SP, the man bleeds beer.

But what does come as a surprise is hearing that Contreras was a philosophy student in college. Later in the interview as I enjoy another Slowdive, Contreras will take a deep slowdive of another kind, reflecting on the perspectives of Hume, Kant, Leibniz, Freud, and, his personal favorite, Hegel.

In retrospect, the philosophy degrees make sense. After all, Hegel once said that “nothing great in the world has ever been accomplished without passion.” And if you ever have the pleasure of getting to know any of the members of the 2SP team, you likely have seen that passion in action.

Similarly, a simple philosophy serves as a core principle at 2SP, one which put its beer-loving audience first: affordable excellence.

“Our head brewer, Bob [Barrar] is not just a nationally known brewer, he’s internationally recognized,” Contreras says. “Bob’s from Delaware County. He could be brewing anywhere. But he wants to stay in this region because he so identifies with it. He’s a working-class guy.

“Bob wants to make beer that his buddies down the block can afford, but something that’s also a world-class beer.”

BREWERS’ GOLD

Photo by Tim Hawk.

Barrar’s rise to fame in the brewing industry started during his 15 years at Iron Hill Brewery in Media, where Bob and his team stacked up 30 awards between the Great American Beer Festival and the World Beer Cup. The clear winner among these was Barrar’s Russian Imperial Stout, which garnered 15 awards on its own.

Shortly after Barrar helped launch 2SP Brewing in 2015, he returned to the Great American Beer Festival representing his new brewery, snagging three more gold medals (in 2016, 2017 and 2019) in the category he knew best with a stout now known simply as “The Russian.”

“When we went to the Great American Brew Festival for [2SP’s] first time, I’d already worked for two internationally distributed breweries,” Contreras says. “I thought I’d be the one introducing Bob to all my friends in the industry. But we get there and Bob’s the one bringing everyone up to the table like, “Hey, buddy, what’s up?’

“I mean Garrett Oliver came to our table that first year—and Garrett Oliver wrote The Oxford Companion to Beer—and he says, ‘My last beer of the night has to be The Russian.’ So yeah, that’s what I mean.”

TEAMING UP WITH WAWA

So two years ago, when Contreras reached out to the people at Wawa with a wild idea to collaborate on a coffee stout, it fit neatly into Barrar’s wheelhouse. And Wawa loved it. 

“Their eyes kind of lit up and they said, ‘Yeah, that sounds great,’” Contreras recounts. “People think [Wawa] is a big company. But it’s still family owned. And they’ve been awesome to work with.

Photo by Tim Hawk

“We include their coffee guy, Michael McLaughlin, and he helps us sort out the recipe to make sure that all the notes that he wants to see in the coffee reflect in the beer.”

After two years of brewing with Wawa’s Winter Reserve Coffee, 2SP will also feature a new Holiday Reserve Coffee Stout.

“It’s got flavors of cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, and ginger and is a really aromatic fragrant, flavorful coffee,” Contreras says.

We go back into the brewery to meet Barrar, a burly, bearded man who looks as if he may have constructed the 690-barrel system. Working on all engines, this system, Contreras says, could produce 12,000 barrels a year.

How does Barrar feel now—five years after getting this system working smoothly and helping get 2SP off the ground?

“There’s been a lot of twists and turns over the years,” Barrar says smiling. “But I feel great. It can be very exciting to create something like this. But it can also be terrifying. It’s pretty massive.”

“Thankfully, we have great guys in sales and in the front of the house. And we’re in a groove now.”

As if on cue, Contreras arrives with a sample of the Holiday Reserve Coffee Stout, which at the time of this interview had not been released. I’m getting the privilege of being among the first to sample the stuff.

The verdict: It’s surprisingly good. Which, considering the track record of 2SP, is no surprise at all.

So, what do you think? Please comment below.