A shining example of prosperity
Saturday 02 July 2022
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I think we’re lost when the car pulls into a dusty business park in Audubon, Pennsylvania. The driver asks if this is definitely the right address, and then we see it; the icon of a bald, bearded head on the side of one yellow brick building. The closer we get, the clearer it becomes that the trailer parked in front of the building is a food truck belonging to Delco Steaks, and the decking in front of it, and which leads to the taproom, is overseen by strings of garden lights I can only imagine makes the brewery a glowing beacon within the business park after dark.
I’m expecting to meet Abby Ferrar, one half of the husband and wife duo that started Bald Birds, back in 2018, but a last minute fluctuation in circumstances means I meet Joe, her husband, instead. He has a bright, kind face, is animated, and speaks quickly in a way that one can’t help but feel enthused by, and immediately at home with. Inside the taproom is welcoming, with string lights running the length of the building casting a comfortable glow on the open plan bar, some corners house sofas, others have picnic tables or feature pool tables and old arcade games.
When Joe and Abby found the site of the taproom and adjoining brewery, there was none of the structure to it that I see during my visit, the roof was completely rusted, and so needed a lot of restoration; “it was totally disgusting”, says Joe, but he and Abby were determined to build an integrated, community space where people could gather, be together, and feel a part of something through beer, events, engagement and action.
“We’re very family friendly” says Joe. “The games are free so kids can play as much as they like, but we get a lot of adults on them too. Delco also does kids portions, which is really important for us. We do a lot of events both outside and inside. For instance, we ran a dog event this weekend, we’ve done duelling pianos before and run a regular quiz night. The ample parking space we have out here is really important for us also. Every year for halloween we do a trick or treat out here, so we get about 25 cars all lined up out here with decorated trunks, and about four, five hundred kids come through. We did a Ponies for Parkinson's fundraiser one year during the Kentucky Derby and raised like $11,000”.
Joe and Abby’s journey to Bald Birds is a fairly unique one. Joe worked in banking, finance and strategy for twenty years prior to opening the brewery, and Abby was an international consultant for large corporations, training executive teams in management and HR. As luck would have it, Joe was assigned by a lender to oversee a loan undertaken by Victory Brewing, in Downingtown PA, for a kitchen expansion. From doing that job, and spending time at the brewery, he completely fell in love with beer. For the next eleven years he and Abby would save, and his knowledge of beer deepen, until the pair were finally in a position to fund the opening of their own brewery.
Similar to Shy Bear, when Joe and Abby were looking at potential sites for the brewery, they ran into difficulty with some townships, who were less than enthused by the idea of a brewery setting up shop in the neighbourhood. “We went through, like, 10 properties and had started negotiating leases and figuring stuff out, and it just got to the point where we were like, “are we even gonna do this?”. Then just at that moment, a robin built a nest in the front door of our house in South Philly, it laid eggs, and just as the birds hatched and flew away, we actually got approved, we found this property, and everything took off for us. So, birds are a sign of prosperity”. From there Bald Birds was born, with the brewery’s name paying homage both to the birds that granted them prosperity, and the two bald heads that made the magic happen. “My wife has alopecia” says Joe, “I’m super proud of her, because, like, not having hair can be hard, but she battles through and just rocks it the whole time. Working together has just been awesome, and heaps of fun”.
Joe cannot sing the praises of his team highly enough. “Any beer you taste today is all Patrick’s creation, he’s an unbelievable brewer and the recipe for the beer we made for you guys is all his work” says Joe, of Bald Birds' Head Brewer Patrick Countryman. “His approach is simple in the sense he utilises natural ingredients and doesn’t use sugars and that kind of stuff when brewing. He’s technically very talented, and as time goes on and we add bits of equipment here and there, work on little efficiencies, the beer is just getting better and better”.
The site has a 10 barrel mechanical system, with five 20 barrel fermenters, and two foeders to give the Bald Birds sour programme an extra kick of the complexity I love to find in a sour or saison. Just a week or so before my visit, Patrick fills the foeders with a Key Lime Pie sour he’s been working on, and I have the privilege of tasting it direct from the tank; it’s warm from the sweltering heat of the brewery, but evokes an orgasmic jolt from every last one of my tastebuds, all reeling in appreciation of the humble lime’s trembling sweetness when supported by a subtle woodiness, and savoury malts. This is not the last time this happens over the course of the hours I spend at Bald Birds.
After a tour of the site, I sit down with Joe to a full flight of everything on the menu. We chat between sips and the moments of silence in which we pour over flavour profiles, picking out banana and pawpaw from the Papa Troll Saison, and marvelling at the character cold brew coffee establishes in the Kenya Dig It. With beer like this, it’s no surprise that in spite of its young age, Bald Birds purchased another site in Jersey Shore, in November 2019, just a year after starting out.
“We just started brewing up there about four weeks ago and do a lot of contract brewing for other folks. It’s a lot bigger than this place; this is like 11/12,000 square feet, the new one is 153,000 square feet. So it's a larger venue, and then we also have a wedding venue and distillery up there making vodka, bourbon and white rum, and it should have a gin programme there soon as well”. The success of Bald Birds is truly staggering, but then again, is it really any surprise? How could such prosperity not come to a brewery when Joe, Abby, and the community they’ve built, lie behind it?
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