Given the chance to finally go out on his own, Bob Barrar promptly returned to his humble roots and staked his claim as a brewer for the hard-working people of Delaware County.
I’m in Aston, sitting in the tasting room at 2SP Brewing Company, the latest craft brewer to join what has become a prolific scene across the Philadelphia region. From the outside, the building looks like a warehouse, like a lot of the other buildings around this blue-collar part of Delaware County. The tasting room, though, is smartly decorated and plenty comfortable.
It’s immediately clear that they’re catering foremost to local tastes. A rack stands by the door loaded with T-shirts stamped with MADE IN DELCO across the chest. Perhaps a bit heavy-handed, but civic pride runs deep here. And their flagship beer is the amber-colored, smooth-drinking Delco Lager, which evokes another lager that’s popular around these parts.
“Bob is total DelCo through and through,” says Michael Contreras, 2SP’s sales and marketing director. “We looked into other locations, but Bob insisted that we land in DelCo. And Bob’s the key. I wouldn’t be here if he wasn’t onboard.”
Bob is Bob Barrar, 2SP’s co-founder and head brewer. He spent the last 12 years manning the tanks at Iron Hill Brewery’s Media location, racking up serious acclaim the way the rest of us accrue empties—20 Great American Beer Festival awards, 10 World Beer Cups. A Delaware County native, Barrar looks the part: bald head punctuated by a wizard-length, salt-and-pepper beard (brewer) and stain-mottled Eagles hoodie (DelCo local).
“Bob has all these accolades, but he’s been contained in Media for so long,” Contreras says. “So when I go into places like Memphis Taproom, Standard Tap, bars that cater to the beer nerds, and tell them who our brewer is, they immediately say they’ll take whatever we can give them.”
The Delco Lager, it turns out, is Barrar flexing his muscle, the way a chef impresses the sages by turning out a dish with three or four ingredients that produces impossible depth and nuance.
“You can’t hide anything. It’s all right there in front of you,” Barrar says. “And not many breweries are willing to do that style, especially for their flagship.”
Flagship makes it sound way too formal in the context of the chummy atmosphere of 2SP. Really, it’s more of a gateway beer. Every beer drinker’s familiar with lagers, the same way every coffee drinker knows what a medium roast tastes like. And then you drink a cup of Rival Bros. Revolver and wonder what the hell you’ve been drinking all this time. Barrar expects the same epiphany with his lager. And then, “once we bring you in,” he says, “we can educate you, show you all sorts of other styles and flavors.”
Among the beer nerds, Barrar is best known for his Russian imperial stout. But now that he’s got his own brand to consider, he’d rather be thought of as more approachable than that. The stout, after all, is not for the lighthearted. “I’m a traditionalist,” he says. “I like brewing to a specific style and trying to stick close to that.” His proficiency at doing so is obvious in an English IPA called Cold Cock. The hops are laidback, the texture, creamy. It’s almost as crushable as the lager.
Andrew Rubenstein, who goes by Ruby, tends to be more unconventional, which Barrar appreciates. Ruby is the head cellarman. Basically, he’s responsible for the fermentation and the aging. “We’ve done a bunch of different saisons, and we’re building up our barrel-aging program,” Barrar says.
I try their most recent iteration, Stigz Imperial Porter, named after 2SP co-founder Michael Stiglitz (of Two Stones Pub fame). It’s both traditionally brewed and bourbon-barrel-aged, the latter served on nitro. It’s warm and boozy and silky smooth from the nitro pour.
Baby Bob Stout is the one I like the most of any I’ll taste today. Barrar pared down his Russian imperial stout to create the easier-drinking—but still delicious—American-style stout. I brought a growler filled with it home with me, and even after the fizz mostly subsided, the hits of coffee, raisin and caramel were still as vivid as they were back at the tasting room.
Kegs are only available wholesale, but plans to go retail with 750ml bottles and cans are in motion. For now, head to the Aston tasting room to work your way through the entire 2SP portfolio. You’ll sit shoulder to shoulder with beer nerds and lager-drinking blue-collars, both sets perfectly at home.
2SP Tasting Room, 120 Concord Road, Units 101-103, Aston.
Photos by Matthew J. Rhein