A beloved local Philadelphia craft beer fixture finds itself with an unfortunate grievance against its namesake city this week, after city employees mistakenly destroyed Philadelphia Brewing Company’s entire, urban-grown hop crop. Despite clear communication of the intent of the miniature hop farm, and signage explaining their purpose, the city somehow mistook the hop plants for overgrown weeds and destroyed them, in the process scuttling plans for one of the brewery’s most popular annual beer releases, a fresh-hop ale called Harvest From the Hood.
“We’ve been using this garden in partnership with the New Kensington [Community Development Corporation] for 10 years,” said Nancy Barton, who co-owns the brewery with husband Bill Barton. “They let us use the lot. We grow our hops that we use for Harvest From the Hood.”
The 18×70 foot lot on Frankford Avenue was a symbol of the brewery, used to bring the novel concept of a locally produced fresh-hop ale—which is a beer style featuring just-picked hops, also referred to as “wet hops”—to an urban brewery that typically wouldn’t have access to their own growing space. The hops were only a few weeks away from harvest when a Community Life Improvement Programs (CLIP) crew tasked with maintaining vacant lots in the city were for some reason directed to cut everything in the lot down, destroying the hop crop in the process. Making matters more confusing is the fact that the garden is clearly labeled, with a sign explaining the hop growing process. At least 30 hop bines were growing on the location, with Philadelphia Brewing Co. hoping to harvest around 60 pounds of hops or more for this year’s batch of Harvest From the Hood.
The Bartons had even spoken with the city a month ago about the garden, after CLIP had first issued them an overgrown vegetation violation. Speaking with an official, Nancy Barton said he explained the situation and was assured that the warning had been issued mistakenly, and that no further action would be taken.
“I called. I talked to the inspector,” she said to local media. “I explained what was going on. He said, ‘Oh, I see. I was out there. [Your case is] closed. You’re good. No fine.”
And yet, crews still showed up to destroy the company’s hop crop, with the Bartons estimating a loss of tens of thousands of dollars in revenue as a result of not being able to release one of their most popular beers this fall.
The city, meanwhile, put out the following statement acknowledging the error:
Regrettably, due to miscommunication and staff error, the hops were removed as they were initially marked as a violation as it appeared the lot was overgrown. We are reaching out to Philadelphia Brewing and NKCDC to explain the situation, apologize and explore what we can do to rectify this situation. We’re also engaging with staff on the ground to ensure that proper procedures are followed in the future.
“Rectifying the situation” sounds nice, but somehow we doubt that the offer for “rectification” will include anything in the neighborhood of reimbursing tens of thousands of dollars in lost revenue. We hope Philadelphia Brewing Co. will be able to, at the very least, get the city to compensate them for the value of the hop crop that was destroyed, but even that may take a minor miracle.