Iron Hill story continues with retail sales, new production facility and fresh dining concept
– By Matt Morrissette
The Iron Hill Brewery and Restaurant story begins longer ago than one might think, September 3, 1777 to be exact, when the Continental Army clashes with British forces during a Revolutionary War battle that takes place on Iron Hill, just outside of Newark, Del.
The story picks up in 1990 when Kevin Finn (founding partner) receives a home brewing kit as a birthday present from his wife and shares his new-found passion with his friend Mark Edelson (founding partner #2). Together, they experience unexpected success in beer competitions, winning numerous awards. They begin to wonder if their hobby can be a business.
In 1994, the two friends are introduced to Kevin Davies (founding partner #3), an experienced and proven restaurant professional. The three men hit it off and with the team complete, they decide to move the operation out of Finn’s basement.
Inspired by the spirit of that Revolutionary War battle, the trio decide to call their endeavor Iron Hill and open the first location on Main Street in Newark in November of 1996. Less than a year later, their Lodestone Lager wins a gold medal at the American Brewer’s Association’s Great American Brew Festival, the brewing industry’s most prestigious competition.
The story picks up steam in 1998 as Iron Hill expands into West Chester, Pa., putting its business model of an on-site brewery in each location into effect. Both locations thrive.
Over the next two decades, the Iron Hill reputation and universe continues to grow with numerous new locations in the tri-state area and a steady stream of medals, including the title of “Best Brewpub” at the global World Beer Cup in 2010. The largest spurt of growth begins in 2018 with the company taking on equity partners, adding seven new locations, and expanding beyond the mid-Atlantic region before their 25th birthday.
2020 finds Iron Hill, miraculously, with all three founders still actively involved in the business, and embarking on a surprising new journey, making its beer available for retail sale for the first time and opening a huge production facility in Pennsylvania.
Edelson, now Director of Brewery Operations, elaborates on the timing and details of the expansion.
“In 1998, when we opened our second location, we determined that it and every future location would have an on-site brewery to guarantee the same quality, freshness, and innovation that made the first location successful. These smaller breweries were perfect to provide the beer needed for the individual restaurants, but they did not give us the capacity to produce and sustain the quantities needed for distribution. Now, 25 years later, we are weeks away from the opening of a 20,000-barrel packaging brewery—which we affectionately call ‘the big brewery’—in Exton (Pa.). That will allow us to produce enough of our tried-and-true beers for retail sales, while the individual locations continue to focus on brewing new, fun, and experimental recipes for our in-house guests to enjoy.”
When a local business grows and changes, particularly in the small town that is the state of Delaware, there’s inevitably some apprehension among diehard fans. In the case of Iron Hill, the reasoning for this broadening of their operation is simple.
“The goal is to make our beers more convenient for our current customer base to purchase, as well as reach some new beer drinkers,” says Edelson. “We love what we do, which is brewing great beer that people can enjoy with food and friends—and we want to share that with as many people as possible.”
The most important issue, as always, is beer. In other words, what favorite Iron Hill craft beers will be available to drink in the comfort of one’s own living room or backyard…and when?
“Our year-round line-up includes Philly Phavorite IPA (formerly known as Philly Special but changed due to a trademark held by the Philadelphia Eagles), Hipster IPA, and Sweet Leaf IPA,” says Edelson. “In addition to those, we will have rotating IPAs and seasonals available.
“Our next seasonal to hit the market will be our most decorated beer—Russian Imperial Stout. So far, we’re available in hundreds of retail outlets in Delaware and South Eastern Pa. We have our sights set on Central Pa. and Southern Jersey next!”
The brewery’s beer finder is available to help consumers locate their most convenient outlets at www.ironhillbrewery.com/beerfinder.
In addition to retail sales becoming part of the Iron Hill repertoire, the opening of their new beer production facility has led to another new element, the Taphouse.
Edelson explains that The Taphouse will be an upbeat, polished, fast-casual dining experience with an innovative kitchen, and more than 20 beers on tap. The Taphouse is scheduled to open in January 2021 at 260 Eagleview Boulevard in Exton, Pa.
And despite the considerable challenges of 2020, Iron Hill Brewery and Restaurant continues to expand and innovate while never forgetting the spirit of its namesake battle or the joyful vision that started with three friends in a basement a quarter of a century ago.