By R. JONATHAN TULEYA
MEDIA — Craft beer drinkers get crazy about hops.
It’s the ingredient from the flowering bud of a vine that in the United States is farmed in the Pacific Northwest. Added at different times during the brewing process, hops release resins and oils that impart an array of flavors and aromas in beer.
They can be bitter, spicy, piney, citrusy or even fruity. In most cases, these flavors distinguish craft beer from beer made at big breweries like Miller, Anheuser-Busch and Coors.
The most passionate hops devotees are known as “hop heads.”
“I remember somebody called me a hop head one time. I was pissed off,” said Tim Volikas, the 34-year-old manager and owner of Pinocchio’s Restaurant in Media. “I didn’t know what that was. Now, I’m not even a hop head. I’m above a hop head. The hoppier the better.”
Volikas, the third generation owner of Pinocchio’s, convinced his father, Ted, it made business sense to convert a backup dining room into Pinocchio’s Beer Garden To Go in 2009, and today he is among the top enthusiasts and advocates for drinking craft beer Delaware County.
His store stocks more than 850 bottles and has 25 draft-beer taps, and Volikas agrees craft beer’s popularity among Delaware County drinkers is on the rise. He is out to educate local beer drinkers and encourage his shop’s customers to experiment with new styles and new breweries.
Volikas wears his passion for beer on his sleeve of tattoos on his right forearm. The design is a greatest-hits collection of logos and label artwork from one of Volikas’ favorite India Pale Ales — or IPAs — the most aggressively hopped style of craft beer.
There is the stormy seascape from BrewDog’s Atlantic IPA label to which he added the silhouette of Pinocchio used in the restaurant’s logo; the man from the Heady Topper can with hops exploding from his head; the face from Founders Brewing Co.’s Double Trouble; a lion and a bear squaring off for a fight representing Firestone Walker; and the image from La Cumbre Brewing Co.’s Elevated IPA.
“This is all about IPAs,” Volikas said about his tattoos. “That’s why I did it.”
Bob Barrar, head brewer at Iron Hill Brewery and Restaurant in Media for past 14 years, said: “If there is one thing that is happening in the craft industry, it’s hops. People love their IPAs.” When one IPA runs out, “We get feedback from the customers, ‘Where are all the hoppy beers?’ So I have to make sure we keep the hoppy beers on tap.”
Delaware County’s reputation for its taste in beer partly can be blamed on geography — it’s sandwiched between the rich history of Philadelphia’s beer scene and Chester County, which has earned its own craft beer reputation thanks to acclaimed breweries like Victory Brewing Co. in Downingtown and Sly Fox Brewing Co. in Phoenixville.
And while beer drinkers from Media and the surrounding towns support places like Iron Hill and Pinocchio’s, the inner-ring suburbs closer to the Philadelphia line, like Barrar’s hometown of Glenolden, have “a little more room for education,” he said.
Barrar, 41 and an Interboro High School grad, is the person to teach that lesson.
He got his start in brewing at 24 years old in 1995 while working on a construction crew demolishing the interior of a building at 31st and Jefferson streets in North Philadelphia, making way for the defunct Red Bell Brewery. One of the brewery’s owners gave Barrar a job washing and filling kegs and making deliveries and offered to teach him how to make beer.
“At Red Bell is when I first started drinking (craft beer). I was like, oh man what is this?” he said. “It gradually grows on you. I would say within a couple months I was drinking just about anything somebody put in front of me. I still do that actually.”
He took the job at Iron Hill when it first opened its Media location, and within five months, he went from assistant brewer to head brewer after the original brewer left.
Today, Iron Hill promotes him as the brew pub chain’s “most decorated” brewer, having won more than two-dozen medals at the Great American Beer Festival and World Beer Cup combined, including gold medals for his Russian Imperial Stout and aged version of the beer awarded at the 2014 WBC last month.
“We’ve done alright,” Barrar said. “It’s great to win. Its awesome. It’s not the end all be all. You win, you enjoy it … and I’m back doing my job again. Just doing it the best I can and fortunately it works out for me sometimes.”
Another Glenolden native predicts Delco’s craft-beer drinkers will make up the ground between them and Philadelphia. Rich Allen is the sales manager for Pennsylvania and Delaware at Long Trail Brewing Co. and Otter Creek Brewing Co. in Vermont.
Philadelphia “is the best drinking city in the United States,” Allen said. “It’s the most competitive. I can tell you that much.”
Right now in Delaware County, Allen estimated one third of the beer taps at bars are pouring craft beer. Within three years here, he said, “I think your are going to see 50 percent of the taps become craft.
Craft-beer specialists like the pub at the Whole Foods Market in Glen Mills, the bottle shop at the Giant Food Store on Township Line Road in Havertown and Pinocchio’s Beer Garden, which Allen called “one of the top 10 places to get a beer,” are steering Delaware County in the right direction.
The pool of craft breweries is already deep enough that when a keg feeding one of the beer garden’s 25 draft lines runs out, another new and exciting variety is waiting to be tapped. The problem, Volikas said, is that sometimes good beer gets lost in the shuffle, buried in his ever-growing rotation of kegs.
“A lot of (the breweries) want permanent tap markers, and you can’t do that,” Volikas said, “especially in this day and age. You’ve got to keep it fresh. Try out the newer guy coming in.”
A brewery with its beers frequently on tap at Pinocchio’s is tiny Ship Bottom Brewery, which ferments its ales, like Stupid Paddle Boat IPA and Barnacle Bottom Stout, one 31-gallon barrel at a time in Nether Providence, just 2½ miles from the beer garden.
Rob Zarko is the owner, head brewer, delivery guy, bookkeeper, social media specialist and everything else at Ship Bottom, which has taken over one-half of what previously had been the two-car garage of Zarko’s family’s home.
The brewery is walled off from the rest of his garage and his house, meaning Zarko has to exit his home to enter his facility — a requirement set by the township before Nether Providence’s zoning board would approve a variance in 2012 allowing him start commercially making beer on the property.
The space is climate-controlled. Its main portion does not fluctuate more than 1 or 2 degrees, Zarko said, and the walk-in cooler he built that occupies a quarter of Ship Bottom’s square-footage could get as cold as 30 degrees if Zarko wanted it to. It is used to store beer that has been kegged and is awaiting delivery.
Atop a bench along the exterior wall sits kettles with internal electric heating elements and a mash tun. Zarko said he welded the kettles from stainless steel drums and attached the necessary valves and spigots. On the opposite wall stands a conical fermenter — inside which yeast consume the sugary broth called wort creating alcohol — and equipment he uses to keg and carbonate his beer.
Mounted on the wall behind the brew kettles is Ship Bottom’s electronic brain, a control panel that can monitor temperatures inside each tank and pump liquid from one vessel to another.
“It’s kind of like a Franken-brewery,” said Zarko, who declined to say how much he has spent setting up his brewery, “thrown together just to make everything work.”
Tell that to the average homebrewer still transferring beer from one plastic bucket fermenter to another, which is exactly how Zarko began in 1995. He incorporated Ship Bottom Brewery in 2011, and it took those years to grow the brewery into a side business that Zarko said he continues to only work on during his off hours from his full-time job as an IT consultant.
Ship Bottom Brewery is named for the shore town on Long Beach Island, N.J., where he’d spend summers with his wife Gina and her family and homebrewed his first beers.
“My wife has been a saint. We’ve a had our ups and downs about (the business),” Zarko said. The couple has four children together. “But there’s no other guy I know who has a brewery in his garage. She’s supportive, and I think she sees the end game that it’s going somewhere.
Zarko has a plan for measured growth for Ship Bottom, which at it’s current size would be labeled a “nanobrewery” beer industry, a relatively new, unofficial and trendy designation that means it ranks it among the smallest craft breweries in terms of volume of beer produced.
He said he is working on a partnership with Free Will Brewing in Perkasie, Bucks County, that would increase Ship Bottom’s production volume, and he has lined up a distributor that would get his beer into bars and restaurants in Ship Bottom, N.J., this summer.
Ship Bottom also launched a crowdfunding campaign on the website Kickstarter.com to pay for the purchase or rental of kegs needed to expand.
“I’m trying to be very cautious about how we are rolling this product out,” Zarko said, “so we don’t expand too soon or expand and fall on our faces.”