Monday, December 10, 2007

John Harvard's Wayne closes

Once again, Uncle Jack scoops the area at the Beer Yard site: John Harvard's in Wayne has closed.

This hardly comes as a surprise to anyone who's been watching the slow contraction of the once far-flung JHBH empire. I find it hard to cry, to be honest. JHBH, with a few tiny exceptions, is about the lowest a chain brewpub could go and still be "good." This set of brewpubs was once a force to be reckoned with, a brewing gut-muscle. Now they're just waiting around.

16 comments:

Loren said...

This sucks no matter how you put it. Period. And if the last CT location closes I will scream so GD loud you'll hear me all the way down there in PA!

How are sales at the Pittsburgh location?

Lew Bryson said...

I dunno, Loren. I kinda feel about this the way you'd feel about someone on life support. If the place isn't getting the support it needs, it's better off closed.

Don't know how the Pittsburgh location's doing, but I hear that Andrew Maxwell's tearing things up at the new Rivertowne Pourhouse, about a mile away.

Sam K said...

I've only been to the Monroeville location once, but it was a great experience. It was the last of seven local breweries we toured that day, a personal record that will probably never be broken! And I don't care how much they try to avoid mentioning their hometown, this is not Pittsburgh, nor necessarily the more vague Wilkins Township, it's Monroeville!

One would hope that like-minded businesses would attract more customers to both, but it might be that the decline of JHBH can't be stopped? Looking forward to visiting both (hopefully) soon!

bill mc said...

Not having ever been to one, is it any good? I was at a couple of Hops Brewery/Restaurants and they were pretty marginal.

I've been meaning to get to the one at Jiminy Peak in MA.

bill said...

The Pittsburgh location had a bit of a slow time when Rivertowne was new, but business has picked up dramatically since then (every time I've been in recently, the bar has been full, and this is in the afternoon). As you'd imagine, there's a lot of crossover business between the two (I'm a mug club member at both of them).

The beer at the "Wilkins Township" JHBH is fantastic as well. Steve Sloan is an excellent brewer, and you can tell that he's finally enjoying the brewpub creativity after all his years as a production brewer.

Of course, the main killer at the Pittsburgh location is the extravagant rent that's being paid for that location. Great visibility like that unfortunately costs money.

Jack Curtin's sources said today that this location was probably soon facing the same fate, which I would find completely perplexing.

Anonymous said...

If you liked the beer at John Harvards over the years you can stil get beer from one of their former brewers--John Rehm.

Rehm won some awards at the GABF.

According to Joe Sixpack, he was working for Yards but he is not going to go with the company when it leaves the Philadelphia Brewing facility in January.

In fact, all of the longtime Yards brewers have refused to go the new facility and will stay with PBC.

Lew Bryson said...

Okay, but we are not going to turn this into another thread about Yards vs. PBC. That's all that's getting up about this.

Anonymous said...

I can't shed a tear for JH. Very mediocre beer and food. I say make way for something better.

Dave said...

I agree with Loren about the CT location...it's class and it'll be a sad day if it ever does close. Honestly though, it wouldn't surprise me because it's not nearly as busy the past few years as it used to be with all the new restaurants in the Manchester area. Hell, there's a Hooters right next door now.

To answer Bill MC's question, it blows Hops out of the water.

Loren said...

FYI...the Jiminy Peak JH's is not a brewpub. Kegs are sent over from the Framingham location I think? And it has weird (opens at 4PM on certain days only?) hours.

Question about the Wayne location...were the beers still homeruns after Rehm left? I only visited once but was blown away. Same with Pittsburgh prior to their brewer leaving.

bill mc said...

ah, thanks for the clarification loren.

looks like i'm on a quest then.

Lew Bryson said...

I stopped in Wayne once after John left, back in...May, June? Beers were good, a Belgian pale was very good. Bill, I'd also recommend the JHBH on Long Island if DJ's still brewing there: he's a certified genius, and way under-appreciated.

There's a thread on BeerAdvocate where John Harvard's is getting dissed. I think it's more of the same "this beer doesn't explode in my mouth, so this place sucks" crap that makes geeks geeks. This is the same kind of geek that would cheerfully close every brewpub in Köln, flush every bottle of Sam Adams ever made down the crapper, and curses English beer as wimpy and weak.

John Harvard's is an example of why I choose not to review every single beer at a place in my brewery guide books, something I've been taken to task for on numerous occasions. "You only review one beer you like, you're sucking up, you don't write about bad beers." Here's the real reason: a brewery, and particularly a smaller brewpub, is only as good as their brewer. Given the will and a reasonable capitalization, a good brewer will make good beer, a bad brewer will make crappy beer, and an inspired brewer -- Andrew Maxwell, Brian McConnell, John Rehm, Todd Marcus, and Brian O'Reilly come to mind as John Harvard's alumni -- will make excellent beer. But if that brewer leaves, and a new brewer with different abilities arrives...what's the point of two year old beer reviews? It's a book, and I have to try to make it relevant for as long as possible.

Just wanted to get that off my chest.

Loren said...

Excellent rant Lew! Only thing to add is Chris Jacques name to your list. He's the phenom at Manchester, CT. His "house light" Munich Helles would make you see angels (I do every time). But I digress. Good luck to the remaining JH's and their under appreciated brewers. Hope the owners don't kill this "chain" off.

bill g said...

Well, Lew, I'm not really surprised about the BeerAdvocate comments. Someone actually said "Andrew Maxwell is making good beers now that he's left John Harvard's", as if the beers he does at Rivertowne weren't developed there (including his trademark Highland Heather). (psst....Barrett Goddard and Sean Hallisey are also talented JH alum)

As far as Steve Sloan, he has made some absolutely amazing beers, and while there has been some overlap between the two (which would be expected when the long-term brewer opens up 2 or 3 miles down the road), it hasn't been close to what it could have been. Steve has also done some extremely interesting things, including an oatmeal Scottish beer (with a nice creaminess), as good a Duvel-ish beer as I've had, a Belgian barleywine (10th anniversary), and a really tart "cider", with just enough barley and hops to legally make it beer. The 1000th batch is soon approaching, and hopefully something interesting will come from that too!

I could understand them leaving the current location (to seek out a place that might have lower rent), but it would be inexplicable if they ended up closing a place that I heard was once doing "the best beer volume in the chain" and is just so well supported.

Bill said...

I've often thought that the most vocal folks on BA and similar sites came to craft beer by being amazed at how much flavor there was in certain ales after drinking major adjunct lagers to that point. Which is great, but you run the risk of, as Lew has pointed out repeatedly, not getting many lager styles if you were initially attracted to fruity esters and hop flavors and the glories of roasted/chocolate/caramel/etc. malts. I wonder if a further generalization might hold water -- that this focus on strong, identifiable flavors means that said folks aren't understanding basic ales either -- that a decent pale ale or red ale just leaves them flat because they associate "wow" with zinging taste buds. So they _won't_ get kolsches, or bitters and milds (and brown ales, right Lew?, and view Sam Adams and Anchor and Sierra Nevada as producing pedestrian products. The path they took might make appreciating said examples difficult.

Yep, a fairly sweeping generalization. But I do wonder about it.

Emily B. said...

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