Pick Six with Tom Kehoe of Yards Brewing

For his 6- (ahem 7-) pack, Tom Kehoe of Yards Brewing Company still finds inspiration from the beers that formed his early opinion of craft beer, but he also takes the time to explore new flavors and search for something that could become a new favorite.

John Holl Jun 13, 2018 - 9 min read

Pick Six with Tom Kehoe of Yards Brewing Primary Image

Tom Kehoe knows British beer. As the founder of Yards Brewing Company, which recently moved into its fifth (and largest yet) space in the City of Brotherly Love, he made his name and built the brewery on the backs of styles that had long been popular across the Atlantic and indeed in the early days of this country. A sucker for malt-forward recipes and quite a few that pack a punch either in ABV or flavor, Kehoe still smiles at his earliest memories of beer and even a few that only recently came into his orbit. A student of history with a healthy respect for process, he chose these beers for a variety of reasons, but each has its own story.

Theakston Old Peculier 

(Masham, England)
“Old Peculier is one of the England’s best-known beers but one that doesn’t get a lot of love over here today. It’s an old ale, with a rich caramel color and a beautiful aroma from the Fuggles hops. It has this dark-fruit, cherry—and more—ester, and it’s very much what you think of when it comes to a classic English ale. My wholesaler introduced me to it. I think he was bringing it over in the early nineties. After I had it for the first time, I’d call him and find out where he sent it, and then I’d go there and drink all they had. Sometimes it was on tap, other times in bottles, and I’d just drink whatever the bar had. I’ve had a fondness for English beer for a long time, and this beer just represented all that I thought of when I thought of the country. There’s nothing sexy about old ales (or older English beers in general) right now, but back then it was a revelation. This is a comfort beer. It’s the beer you want when you want to relax. It’s malt-forward, a little sweeter, and not very strong (5.6 percent ABV) so it’s not like some 90 Shilling where it beats you up. It’s easy.”

Young’s Special London Ale

(London, England)
“I’d say that we have a beer that’s a lot like Young’s Special London Ale, but this one is perfect. This is my style, what I like to drink regularly. This ale is more of an aggressive ESB than some others of its time and even for the overall style. I remember back in the late nineties, I was getting this in Fells Point in Baltimore. Back before the brewery was Wells & Young’s, places like Max’s Taphouse and Bertha’s both had this Special London Ale in bottles and on tap now and again. I’m not sure it still comes over today, but back then, it was a sturdy beer. It had enough body and heft where it wasn’t destroyed by the journey across the ocean. I had a chance to meet Sir John Young when he came to the States years ago and was able to compliment him on this beer, even just the look of it in the glass, with its orangey-amber color, with the sharp bitterness that wasn’t citrusy—it was almost Parmesan with some malty toffee flavors. By today’s standards, it might not be that aggressive, but back then, it was a bigger and stronger flavor than most everything else on offer, and it got my mind thinking about beer and helped push me toward eventually opening my own brewery.”

Stoudts Honey Double MaiBock

(Adamstown, Pennsylvania)
“I’m not even sure Honey Double MaiBock is made anymore [Editor’s Note: It’s not, but the brewery does release a 7 percent double maibock each spring]. Years ago, you’d rarely see it on tap, but it was available in 25-ounce bottles, and I’d always buy it. What appealed to me with this beer was its German character that seemed to have a Scotch influence—a maibock that had the bones of a Scotch ale. With strong dark-fruit character and rich malts that verged on, but were never too, molasses-heavy, it was a beer that was made for the cold months when you sit in front of a fire. At our brewery, the closest we ever came to this was an old ale because we were an English brewery so we didn’t try to push to make a maibock, and that was okay because this one was available in our market. It’s always what I turned to when I was looking for something stronger.”

Dogfish Head Indian Brown Ale

(Milton, Delaware)
“Indian Brown Ale is still a favorite after all these years. It’s a beer that has it all: a good strong malt character that is complemented by a punch in the face of hops. Others have tried to mimic this beer, but often they land too sticky and sweet, or they just get the hops wrong. Indian Brown Ale walks the line of both malt and hops in a way that shows real skill. They just hit this beer perfectly. When we do our real-ale festival each year, I call up the brewery and see if we can get it on cask. If it shows up, it’s the beer I’m drinking all day. It’s just done absolutely right from the toasted and roast malts to the vibrant pine and citrus hops. It tastes exactly perfect each time.”

Crux Fermentation Half Hitch

(Bend, Oregon)
“I try so many new beers, but very few actually wow me. So when I find one that just knocks my socks off, it’s really special. I tried Half Hitch for the first time during SAVOR in Washington, D.C., a few years ago and was just blown away. I’ll admit that when I came to the table and saw it was from Oregon, I thought it was going to be some goofy sour. Then I got hit with a proper, straight-on double IPA. It’s a fun thing to be wowed, and this one is just a rocking good time. It has so much going on hops-wise; when you pop a bottle, the room fills with that forest-like soft pillow of hops. The Mosaic comes through with all those vibrant tropical flavors and an assertive grapefruit, too. At 9.5 percent ABV, it’s a strong beer, which I like, but it’s not astringent. Anytime someone I know is going to Oregon, I ask him/her to get me a few bottles.”

Anchor Steam

(San Francisco, California)
“Anchor Steam is the very first American craft beer I had. I was out of prep school and a freshman in college. I wasn’t of age, but a local bar served a group of us who had a ‘varsity beer team’ where we’d try new things all the time. Most were imports, but then I had this. It had fantastic hops character and so much more going on than anything else being made in the States. And maybe it was the distance, but it was even better than so many of the imports. It got me thinking about beer and making beer like this in the United States. I hadn’t had that thought before—this was 1983—and I didn’t think that there’d be small breweries popping up, but sure enough, we soon had our own micro-brewery in Pennsylvania, and I’d eventually join those ranks. I still go back to this from time to time, and it’s still fantastic every time. I always seem to forget the color because you’d think it’d be amber, but it’s actually pretty light.”

Bell’s Two Hearted Ale

(Kalamazoo, Michigan)
“Bell’s Two Hearted Ale ties with Anchor Steam for the sixth slot in my 6-pack. Two Hearted is just one of the best-made IPAs on the planet, period. It’s that big, full juicy chewy hops flavor that isn’t over the top with astringency. It’s an engaging beer where the hops are all over but don’t break your taste buds, and you can still experience the other ingredients. This might actually be my desert-island beer.”

John Holl is the author of Drink Beer, Think Beer: Getting to the Bottom of Every Pint, and has worked for both Craft Beer & Brewing Magazine® and All About Beer Magazine.