|Oakbrook Brewing Company
628 Park Avenue
Reading, PA 19611
@OakbrookBrew on Twitter
After three and a half years, Oakbrook Brewing Company located at 628 Park Avenue in Reading is three weeks away from being finished.
Owner and founder Kyle Neuheimer lived in Portland, Oregon from 1995 to 2005. During this time there was a lull in the craft beer industry in much of the U.S. “People were saying craft beer is dead. It’s a fad,” Neuheimer said.
Neuheimer missed the craft beer scene when he returned home to Pennsylvania. He saw opportunity in the many empty buildings with exquisite architecture, like the former Oakbrook Fire Company station building that went up for sale in 2010.
Built in 1905, the Oakbrook Fire Company station was not originally part of the city of Reading. Members of the village of Oakbrook built the volunteer fire station for their community. Locals donated everything from bricks to the horses that drew the horse drawn fire engine,
The first two horses used at the fire company were Joe and Dan. Neuheimer plans to name two beers in their honor.
The city consolidated the Liberty and Oakbrook stations in 2010 into a single facility at 101 Lancaster Avenue. The building was structurally in good shape, and the volunteer firefighters wanted the building to be part of the community again. In fact, many former volunteer firefighters still live in the neighborhood.
Seeing the possibilities, Neuheimer purchased the building. His words when he first walked into the Oakbrook Fire Company station were, “This is a brewpub.”
“It’s the right size. It had the right kind of look to it. The look from the outside is iconic. It’s recognized when you see that silhouette. Everybody in the neighborhood knows what that is,” Neuheimer said.
Neuheimer emphasized that it’s not just about the beer, it’s about the experience. He modeled his plan after McMenamins pubs across Oregon and Washington. Many of their locations are renovated and restored historical properties.
There are McMenamins pubs in a former elementary school, an old courthouse, a former movie theater, a converted general store, a saloon and former brothel, a pioneer homestead with an octagonal barn, and even a building that was part of the Lewis & Clark Centennial Exposition.
Neuheimer has been working to restore the fire station back to what it looked like in the 1930s. The walls feature the original paint scheme and the schoolhouse style light fixtures from 1938. The current garage door will be replaced with wooden carriage doors in the future.
The design will feature a firehouse motif. “You’re going to feel like you’re having a beer in an old fire station,” he explains.
The Berks History Center had many photos of the building over the years, including a photo from 1938, which Neuheimer has a blow up of the photo hanging in the brewery to let the workers understand the look he is going for. The photo shows the social aspect of the fire station with gentlemen sitting around tables, a pool table in the back, and the infamous Polly the Parrot by her cage.
Polly, who was known by everyone in the community, lived at the fire station from 1927 until about 1941. An Oakbrook Brewing Company logo including Polly is expected to be used for a flagship beer called Polly Pale Ale.
The Oakbrook Brewing Company icon is the firefighter symbol with a hop cone in the center circle. This easily recognizable icon, which was designed by cartoonist George Coghill, will be found on branded merchandise included growlers, T-shirts, and bumper stickers.
Neuheimer is a homebrewer and also took brewing classes through the Siebel Institute. He completed an internship at Colorado Boy Brewing Company in Ridgway, Colorado with award winning brewer and beer writer Tom Hennessy. Neuheimer not only benefited from the hands-on experience, but also learned about the business side of brewing from Hennessy.
Neuheimer will fill the head brewer role until he finds a brewer. He hopes to hire a brewer before opening the doors to the public.
Oakbrook Brewing Company currently has a 5 barrel kettle located in the former garage area, which Neuheimer purchased from South County Brewing Company, and two 7 barrel European white wine fermenters. The plan is to purchase a 7 barrel brew kettle once up and running. There will also be a 1 barrel pilot batch system.
Beer drinkers can expect primarily British-style ales with a twist on tap along with some lagers (it is Berks County, after all!). Along with Polly Pale Ale, expect a Smoked Porter, a Red Ale based on a German Alt, Brown Ale, and a variety of IPAs.
There will be 6 to 8 flagship beers on tap all the time and another 6 or so experimental or seasonal beers on tap. The flagship beers will be more approachable for everyone, while the other taps will offer something a bit more creative for the hardcore craft beer drinker.
Beers will be served in full pints to enjoy in house, and growlers will be filled to go.
While still working on the menu, Neuheimer expects the kitchen to serve up German and Italian gourmet sausages, grilled sandwiches, and soup. “If you went to a picnic at a fire station… the kind of food you would expect,” he explained.
The pub will seat 45. Patrons will enter from the side door and immediately head to the counter where beer will be served and food can be ordered. The cooler behind the bar will feature a large window offering a view of the serving tanks.
Neuheimer expects to start brewing at Oakbrook Brewing Company late October, and hopes to open before the holidays.
“The beer is only half of it… The other half is getting this building back… and putting it back to something that people can enjoy.”