With an opening date finally set, we surveyed the scene at La Cabra Brewing, in Berwyn. If it sounds familiar, it’s because its brewer’s been testing the waters for a while now.
By Mike Madaio Photography by Matthew J. Rhein
In recent weeks, Dan Popernack’s found himself reflecting often on the circuitous route that’s led him, a home brewer once upon a time, to the cusp of opening his own craft brewery and gastropub.
“I’ve been developing this concept for 10 years,” he told me last month, as we surveyed the construction-in-progress at the future home of La Cabra Brewing in Berwyn. Though, later, I’ll find an interview he did back in 2013 in which he quoted the same duration. “Ten years of thinking, planning, researching, talking to every bartender, brewpub owner, distributor that I could before I felt confident enough.”
What he’s created is a compelling lineup of beers that deftly walks the line between and adventurous, paired with a Latin-inspired menu that runs much the same, served in a dramatic setting in which every intriguing, historic feature’s been restored and accentuated.
“We probably could’ve been open by now, but we don’t believe in rushing,” Popernack says. “We’ll open exactly on time.”
That time came Tuesday.
Popernack taught himself home-brewing in college. “My parents wouldn’t let me drink in the house, but they gave in when I said I’d make it myself,” he says. Later, he worked at The Beeryard, in Wayne, while he pursued his master’s at Villanova. La Cabra started to come into focus in 2013, while he was teaching at The Phelps School and home-brewing in his spare time. It was then when he launched a mailing list that quickly found a cult-like following. In it, Popernack described his latest experimentations and made available “samples” to the recipients. The arrangement is officially described as a “brewery-in-planning.” Aspiring craft brewers can make and share their beer with the public, but they can’t sell it. Think of it as a means of fostering a grassroots following with the expectation that it’ll lend some momentum to an eventual brick-and-mortar opening.
Popernack’s since built his reputation, and, in turn, La Cabra’s, on sour, funky beers crafted from wild yeast and barrel-aging, the kind that the nerds seem to make the most noise about. But they tend to not play as well with the casual-drinking crowd. “Of course I’m going to keep doing that,” Popernack says, as he shows me around an aging room in the basement. “But if that’s all I wanted to do, I would have stayed home.”
One of his aims is to riff off the food menu. “Playing with food pairings is actually one of my favorite things,” he says. And he’s quite talented at it. La Cabra’s Juno Pale Ale, infused with lime zest and rosemary, may be the best taco beer I’ve ever had.
Popernack’s, of course, devoted as much intention in partnering up and assembling his staff, from the chef to the servers, as he has to every tangible component. But while their missions may be aligned, they’re not singular.
“The bottom line is that we want people to feel welcome here, like they’re walking into our home, whether they’re really into beer or not,” Popernack says. “I’m obviously passionate about it. I’ve devoted my life to it. But beer isn’t everything. If we can be good neighbors, great members of the community, then we’ll really have achieved something.”
La Cabra Brewing, 642 Lancaster Avenue, Berwyn.
5 Fall-inspired Beers You Need to Try—And Not a Hint of Pumpkin to be Found
The inherent berry flavor of the Belma hop, the banana esters of a wheat beer, united by the comforting spice of a traditional witbier.
It’s not seasonal and it’s not especially trendy—the extra special bitter was big at the inception of the craft movement, back in the nineties—but this ale’s a near-perfect match for this schizophrenic weather. Toasty, mild sweetness up front, crisp and dry on the back end.
The true meat here is a robust, dark-roasted malt which forges a beer that tastes closer to a Tootsie Roll than a pork roll.
Crafted by cold-steeping an already-rich, brown ale with freshly roasted coffee beans, the resulting flavor is fueled by waves of sweet raisin and molasses with a pleasantly bitter undercurrent.
Rich caramel complemented by the warmth of clove, the sweetness of banana and the brightness of apple. —MM