Unbeknownst to me but this trip to Free Will Brewing was a year in the making. Last summer while drinking a few beers with my friend Chris he pulled out a growler of Free Will Citra Pale Ale. It was delicious and I knew I would need to try more of their selection. Fast forward about 10 months and I am at one of my favorite distributors (Frank Smith Beverage) and I spot a FW variety pack sitting on the shelf. I scooped it up without a second thought and brought it home. Each of the 4 selections were delicious with the Techno IPA being my favorite (I’m a hop head of course). Once I tasted this case I knew a visit to the place that these beers are created would be a must!
Through the power of Twitter I was able to get in contact with John Stemler, brewmaster and co-owner of Free Will. John was more than willing to have me down for a tour and tasting. We decided on St. Patrick’s Day (Could there be a better day?) and the plan was in place. I arrived around 10am and was greeted by John as soon as I walked in the door. After we talked for a few minutes I was able to meet the other owner Dominic Capece and these two guys made me feel right at home as soon as I walked through the doors. Easy going and willing to talk about all parts of the brewing business. Once basic pleasantries were out of the way we got to the fun part…. The tour!
John took me on the tour while Dom went to attend to some business. Free Will runs a very tight ship with only four full time workers which include John and Dom and a few part-timers to round out the crew. They definitely do a lot with a little! Walking through the doors from the tasting room to the brewery John started to tell me the story of Free Will and how it came to fruition.
It all started long ago in a far far away place. No not really. Both John and Dom are from Perkasie and live very close to the brewery. One day while sorting through his mother-in-law’s storage he found a home brew kit from Keystone Homebrew Supply. At the time John was not a huge craft beer fan but took an interest in brewing right away due to his science background from his time at Ursinus College where he minored in Chemistry. After John started brewing he also worked at Keystone Homebrew Supply for a few years where he continued to learn even more. Soon Dom and John were brewing together at home and people would tell them that they should start a brewery after tasting their creations but shrugged them off. They started to change their mind once the brewing community praised their recipes as well.
Fast forward a lil into the future, Dom and John decide to make the huge leap into production brewing. John left his own company of installing irrigation and Dom sold his share of the family business and together started Free Will at the end of 2011 and by early 2012 had their first production run of Citra Pale Ale brewed.
Soon they were making more incredible beer in the form of Techno IPA, Hop Geek IPA, Destiny’s Wit, Pale Stout, 10w Porter, and many more. In their first year FW brewed 400bbls. In 2013 they tripled to over 1300bbls. They figure to brew 3400 this year and in 2015 they plan on 10,000 bbls. Currently FW works out of a 8,600 sq ft space. The bad news is John and Dom need to move to a new space to brew more beer. The good news is they have obtained the space directly above their current spot which is 13,000 sq ft with higher ceilings and a blank slate to lay the production out just the way they want. They currently are set to be in the new space this summer.
Along with moving into a new space to brew. John and Dom plan on expanding their distribution as well. Currently they distribute to east/central PA, NJ, and DE. By the end of April they hope to be distributing to all of PA (That includes you Pittsburgh!) and by the end of the year MD and NY should be covered as well.
Currently FW brews over 20 different beers. Depending on the season anywhere from four to six are bottled while the rest are shipped out in kegs. I was fortunate to taste many of these after John and I left the new space and went back to the tasting room for a little pizza and beers. John led me through a collection of 13 different beverages explaining to me what went into the beer and how it was developed. John is a true artist when it comes to brewing. He sees a new beer like a painter see the finished painting before a brush is even on the canvas. With his extensive background in chemistry John can almost taste the beer before he opens the grains. Some of the best beers I tasted were 10w Porter, Saison De Rose (where a dollar from each pint sold is donated to the Rena Rowan Breast Center at UPenn), and Sputnik 26 (new name to follow when release to the public) which is a an IPA with habanero peppers which I think it’s “safe” to say is a true winner.
With John brewing and Dom managing the brewery these guys are already at 3x growth a year. I don’t have any doubt that this will continue with the amazing execution of the brewing and the outstanding leadership that Free Will has.
Make sure to get out to Free Will for the free tours and free tastings and tell them PACraftBeer.com sent ya! Bring your growler or buy one while visiting and load up on some great beers. 6 packs and cases are available as well!
Cheers and thanks again to John and Dominic for having us out! Can’t wait to visit the new location for a followup tour.