Brains and brawn of brewing: Meet the players growing Philly’s beer culture, behind the scenes

Luke Bowen, co-founder of Evil Genius Beer Company in Fishtown, said he and his partner, Trevor Hayward, struggled mightily when they were building and first running their brewery.

“We sucked at it,” Bowen, 36, admitted. “Every decision we made was incorrect. There’s really no make-up for actual experience.”

Experience is what Bowen and Hayward, 35, now have plenty of, more than eight years after opening Evil Genius on Front Street in Fishtown.

Friends who met in a graduate program at Villanova’s School of Business, Bowen and Hayward were both into beer and decided to make the jump to opening their own brewery. It was the perfect marriage, with Hayward a whiz at accounting and operations and Bowen adept at sales and business development. They met in the middle when it came to marketing, developing the name for the business and the titles of their beers in a co-creation of the brand.

But landing on their tongue-in-cheek style took a little while.

“The first couple of years were very tough,” Bowen said, adding that they were working 100-hour weeks. “We had a different branding strategy. We were a little more regal…that was something we learned very quickly was not going to fly.”

They also realized high-brow wasn’t really who they were, a couple of dudes who were always dropping movie and TV quotes, such as, “That’s what she said,” from Steve Carrell’s character in “The Office.”

“So we decided, ‘What if we started naming our beers after that?’” Bowen said about the company’s pivot into more humorous territory. “That was the turning point when we became who we are, and people really responded to that.

“We obviously don’t take ourselves very seriously, but it’s really very genuine to our sense of humor. At the end of the day, it’s us and who we are. It happens to be our sense of humor, but people kind of relate to it.”

One of the slogans on the Evil Genius website is “Very silly names for very serious beer.”

Bowen, who is from South Chester County, describes the brainstorming sessions he and Hayward, who hails from Dublin, have about naming their brews as “super fun.’

“We really do get a chance to sit down and be creative,” Bowen added.

On the menu currently is “Stacy’s Mom,” a Citra IPA. “If you think you don’t like IPAs, give Stacy’s Mom a try,” Bowen touted. Then, of course, there’s “I’ll Have What She’s Having,” a chocolate hazelnut imperial stout. “#ICANTEVEN” is a watermelon blonde ale. “You’re Killing Me Smalls” is Evil Genius’ raspberry-infused lemon shandy.

They work with brewer Jon Defibaugh, who defected to Evil Genius from Tired Hands Brewing Company in Ardmore. The brewing community in the Greater Philadelphia Region is intimate, Bowen said.

“It’s pretty cool,” he said. “Everybody gets on really well.”

Within that community, Bowen said Evil Genius is glad to have found its niche.

“We really pride ourselves on being innovative and quirky,” he said. “Our goal is to really change people’s perception about what craft beer is, that it’s accessible to everybody… rather than creating something that people feel intimidated by.

“It’s just fun, and it’s supposed to be fun,” Bowen added. “That’s why the brand has legs, because we’re not afraid to make fun of ourselves… It’s beer. It’s OK. We’re not curing cancer. We’re doing something that’s supposed to make people laugh and have a good time.”


John Ricketts Jr. is passionate about helping build breweries in any way that he can.

“It’s become part of who I am building these breweries and doing this for people,” Ricketts said. “When I get there, it’s a pile of tanks and parts and none of them are connected together, and when I leave… they’re brewing. We get invited to the grand openings, get to see the families that built these places. It’s pretty cool.”

Ricketts, 36, has been the owner of John C. Ricketts Jr. Plumbing, Heating and Air Conditioning since about 2003. He has done plumbing, steam fitting and other work for approximately 24 breweries in the Greater Philadelphia Region, ranging from Evil Genius Beer Company in Fishtown to Ship Bottom Brewery in Beach Haven, NJ. He is currently working on Triple Bottom Brewing on Spring Garden Street and the expansion of West Philly’s Dock Street Brewery, which is opening a new location on Washington Avenue.

Ricketts, who gets his work mostly by word-of-mouth, has become the go-to guy when it comes to plumbing breweries, their kettles and tanks. It’s hard work, sometimes going overnight because the breweries that employ him are under pressure to unveil with their leases set to open. And it’s physically taxing, heaving 21-foot-long pieces of pipe, weighing between 300 and 400 pounds, and securing them to the ceiling, or shifting around kettles that weigh as much as a small car.

Ricketts and his crew are the brawn behind a lot of the local brewpubs. It’s not exactly chilling out, sipping a cold brew in a beer garden.

“Building a brewery is really stressful,” Ricketts said. But he added that he finds the work to be extremely gratifying.

“It’s fun. It’s creative,” he said. “I think what gives me so much joy out of this work is a lot of times these people have dreamed of opening a brewery. They’re so passionate about their beer. Beer is like a sense of camaraderie and hanging out with groups of people.”

Ricketts is covered in tattoos, many of which are the logos from different breweries he has worked on, with certain company logos and art design catching his eye.

Ricketts, who also does residential plumbing, heating and air conditioning, got into working with breweries because he apprenticed under a man who knew a lot about steam heat. Breweries need steam, and there is a dearth of plumbers who know how to work with it any more, Ricketts said.

“Steam is an older type of heat and plumbing,” Ricketts said. “It’s kind of like a dying art. A lot of guys don’t know how steam works.”

Not only does his company often do the plumbing for the bathrooms and the bars in these venues, as well as often the heating and air conditioning, but they also install  pipes in the tanks and implements the steam piping for the kettles and hot liquor tanks.

In addition, Ricketts puts in big chillers and pumps that regulate glycol, a cooling agent that runs through pipes, in the fermenters, all of which needs to maintain a certain temperature. Different types of beer require different fermenting temperatures.

Ricketts prefers IPAs, which tend to cool in the 60s before they are chilled for drinking. Some beers require a direct fire kettle, where a gas burner shoots flames directly under the kettle. Ricketts installs those, usually in smaller breweries for 5-to-10-barrel systems. In larger breweries of 10-to-15 barrels, the kettle is usually steam heated, Ricketts said.

“It’s different than plumbing in a house or a bar,” Ricketts said. “It’s a little bit more artistic.

“It’s not the day-in-day-out work we normally do,” he added. “It’s very satisfying to hand over the reins once we are complete. The brewers are excited to get that first brew done on their new system, and it is very satisfying to have a hand in making it happen for them.”


  • Courtenay Harris Bond Headshot

    Courtenay Harris Bond is a Philadelphia-area freelance journalist, who covers behavioral health, social justice, the opioid epidemic, among other topics.

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