Innovation Has Kept Dock Street Brewery at the Forefront of the Craft Scene

Founded in 1985, the Philadelphia brewery has come a long way from its early days in Havertown.

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The new Dock Street Brewery in Philadelphia’s Point Breeze neighborhood boasts an Anthropologie-esque interior complete with velvet chairs, reclaimed wood tables, lots of plants, exposed brick walls and an abundance of natural light. It’s a far cry from Dock Street’s beginnings nearly 35 years earlier. It all started in the owners’ home—first in Philadelphia, then in Havertown.

In 1985, microbrewing was in its infancy. That’s the year Rosemarie Certo and Jeff Ware launched Dock Street Brewery. Married at the time, both were artists, chefs and products of the ’70s. “We were going to revolutionize the way people ate, the way people thought, the way people lived,” says Rosemarie.

To combat the watered-down “common denominator” drink that was American beer, they began brewing at home. It became popular among friends, and Rosemarie got the idea to sell it. “I’m sure we’ll either sink or swim,” Rosemarie recalls thinking.

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Born in Sicily, Rosemarie relocated to the U.S. with her family when she was 10. With an uncle who owned a company that produced olive oil and wine, she grew up around the food industry. “My favorite memory as a child was being in this grape vat with all these women, just stomping grapes,” says the Gladwyne resident.

Rosemarie knew they were onto something when renowned beer and whiskey writer Michael Jackson gave a nod of approval. “We were really buoyed by his confidence in us,” she says.

With just $85,000—not enough for a beer tank today—they launched the region’s first microbrewery. The timing was perfect. Samuel Adams had debuted In Boston the year before, and craft breweries were starting to pop up elsewhere. “It was uncharted territory,” says Renata Certo-Ware, Rosemarie’s daughter, who lives in Wayne. “Everyone knew wine—that was the classic higher-end dinner drink. There was such a void in the market for American-made beer. There was a lot of room for experimentation.”

Related Article: A Guide to the Philadelphia Suburbs’ Breweries

And experiment they did. These days, Dock Street can be found throughout the Philadelphia region. On the Main Line, it’s available at Enoteca Tredici in Bryn Mawr, Terrain Devon Yard, Goat’s Beard in Wayne, and select Whole Foods Markets. “We wanted to elevate the status of beer,” says Rosemarie.

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They also did so by overhauling the concept of the brewpub or beer hall—once a casual joint that served traditional pub grub. Dock Street’s newest iteration in Point Breeze offers elevated eats like fried calamari, Brussels sprouts, a vegan burger and seasonal salads. In the morning, it offers artisan coffees and pastries, easing into a family-friendly spot late in the day.

The new 11,000-square-foot facility means Dock Street can quadruple its beer production and host more events. It joins Dock Street West and Dock Street Cannery + Tasting Room, both in West Philly. “We can really be an anchor in the neighborhood,” says Renata of the new location. “We love just being able to be part of everyone’s stories—their daily routine.”

It hasn’t all been smooth sailing for Dock Street, which fell under new ownership for a few years before Rosemarie bought it back in 2002. Today, her children—Renata and Sasha Certo-Ware—are heavily involved in the business. “Some kids had to mow the lawn, but we would be asked to cut out labels for growlers,” recalls Renata, who once drew a kids’ menu for the brewery, a memento Rosemarie has kept all these years.

Both Episcopal Academy graduates, the siblings have spearheaded some truly out-there beer creations—like Dock Street Walker, a tribute to one of Sasha’s favorite shows, The Walking Dead. Brewed with goat’s brains, it went viral. They also launched Dock Street Beer Ain’t Nothing to Funk With, a nod to their love for New York City hip-hop act Wu-Tang Clan. The pineapple-and-orange Golden Saison was fermented in a barrel rigged with speakers cranking a playlist from the group. Wu-Tang’s Inspectah Deck even attended the release party.

Curious to see if the vibrations from the music would change how the yeast reacted, they set up a second barrel without speakers. “The beer that had the music on it was much more tart, much more developed,” says Sasha.

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They’re currently working on a drone-brewed beer, and the popularity of Dock Street has spilled over into other areas. Characters from the hit TV show It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia have been seen wearing their T-shirts.

Renata and Sasha have their sights set on a footprint beyond the Philadelphia area. “I’d like to buy a farm somewhere and have a small brewery on it—a place for events, to grow organic food, kind of a tie to the community,” says Sasha.

Rosemarie, meanwhile, hopes to delve further into Dock Street Spirits, an offshoot that produces Vicio, an artisan mezcal made in the mountains of Mexico. “It’s a beautiful drink, and it can’t be replicated,” says Marilyn Candeloro, Dock Street’s vice president. “People are blown away by how easy it is to drink and all the different layers as they’re sipping.”

Perhaps a little viral magic will one day elevate the brand— just not too quickly. “It’s more like a truffle than a mushroom,” Candeloro says. “We don’t want to all of a sudden be flying through it.”

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