The Boys of Iron Hill
The secret to the brewery’s success is simple yet complicated—kind of like good beer.
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Among them is playing up the partners’ strengths. Finn, whom I met in the late 1980s, when he worked for his father’s company, United Outdoor Advertising, takes the administrative lead. He and soccer buddy Edelson’s home-brewing efforts prompted the idea for the business. Initially, Finn thought he would be more involved with the brewing. “A week after opening,” Edelson jokes, “that desire quickly evaporated.”
“I enjoy the business part,” acknowledges Finn, a former ski bum who has undergraduate and graduate business degrees. He also enjoys scouting for locations, and that keeps Edelson, who supervises new construction, busy. A former production manager at Zeneca Pharmaceuticals’ Newark facility, Edelson also handles the brewing side of the business. Both duties keep him on a constant rotation between the locations, making him more visible among the staff.
Although brewers report to Edelson, they’re free to experiment. The creations often lead to seasonal additions. Between the specials and the five house beers, there are 12 offerings on any given day. I try Mahalo, Apollo!, a refreshing summer wheat beer livened by honey and lemongrass—and I like it.
Of the core beers, only the Pig Iron Porter—which consistently brings home medals from the Great American Beer Festival—has the same recipe. Others have been tweaked over the years. Not all beers have been well-received. Consider Wassail, an aromatic holiday beer, spiced with cinnamon and cloves. “No one understood it,” Edelson recalls. “No one liked it. They didn’t like the name of it—they didn’t like anything. I think we had it for Christmas in July.”
“I hated that beer,” Davies chimes in.
“If the staff doesn’t like it, it doesn’t sell,” Edelson says. Only Sam Calagione, Edelson laughs, could sell it. “He could have put it in a bottle and said it came from a Himalayan recipe. Everyone would have gone wild.”
The partners and Calagione, widely considered the poster child for esoteric brews, have a good relationship. “We’re friends, and our companies are very different,” Calagione says.
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