When members of Wesley Enhanced Living Main Line’s beer club went to choose a name, residents of the senior living center batted around a few ideas, including WelBrew, Old Betty Brew, and the decidedly macabre One Foot In the Ground Brew Club. In the end, they settled on something a little more tongue-in-cheek, and the monthly Last Sip Brew Club was born.
“This is the best club here,” resident Jackie DeFilippo, 82, said earlier this month at the club’s September meeting. “We don’t have to do anything. We come, we laugh, we have a drink.”
Or, rather, several. The meeting at the center’s Media campus included tastings of seven beers ranging from trendy brews like a watermelon-blackberry double IPA with lactose from Maine’s Definitive Brewing Co., to weirder styles, like a smoked beer infused with Jersey long hots from Eight & Sand in Woodbury, N.J. The meeting also included such food pairings as bratwurst and shrimp, and other bar snacks.
Beer, however, is the focal point, especially the brews made as part of previous club meetings by Shawn Fontaine, Wesley Main Line’s director of culinary services. Two brews sampled at September’s meeting — a dragonfruit double IPA (DeFilippo’s favorite of the day) and a Russian Imperial Stout — were brewed at Wesley and bottled by residents in flip-top glass containers.
While those styles might literally be your grandparents’ beer, they’re figuratively pretty far off from standbys like the lagers and pilsners these drinkers grew up with. But, Fontaine says, trendier styles like double IPAs are typically popular among residents, who often take bottles of Last Sip-brewed beers back to their homes on the campus following get-togethers.
“One of the last things they have to hold on to is the culinary world,” Fontaine, 39, said of his Last Sip cohort. “What [beers] young people like, it’s because they’re danky or hoppy, but these guys like them as much as we do. They like the dank. They like the unfiltered."
That may be surprising to your average craft beer fans, who, according to recent data from Nielsen, are typically males aged 21 to 44. Members of Last Sip, however, range from about 70 to 90, and a majority of regular attendees are women. You can tell the frequent attendees by their blue baseball caps, emblazoned with the club’s name across the front, which they had made for meeting days.
“We come just to be together,” said Maria Duca, 77. “For fun.”
About two years ago, Fontaine was looking for ways to expand Wesley’s culinary program. Some residents, he said, would bring beer or wine with them down to dinner, and reminisce about their early drinking days. So he pitched a brew club. The idea was a hit, and Last Sip Brew Club kicked off with a citrus IPA, its first official home-brewed beer.
“The residents we have now, the baby boomers, they want to drink,” Fontaine said. “If they’re not going to drink at the club, they’re going to come down with their own wine and beer, and do what they want.”
Since its start, Fontaine has brewed a number of beers in 5-gallon batches with Last Sip, including Irish oatmeal stouts, Russian Imperial Stouts, a few different IPAs, and, at this month’s meeting, an Oktoberfest-style lager — a first for the group. Sometimes the focus switches to wine, with a tasting and food-pairing.
Often, Fontaine said, the beers brewed or served at Last Sip take members back to their younger days. Some folks even worked at breweries or brewed their own beer in the past, or are just able to connect the flavors in the beers back to early memories. Some malt extracts used in the brew process, for example, have reminded residents of their days in malt shops, while more exotic, dessert-like beers have evoked memories of the neighborhood ice cream truck.
“They can reconnect with their childhood,” Fontaine said. “It’s like comfort food.”
Aside from a mild buzz with a hit of nostalgia, the club has provided plenty of social activity for members. Its members seemed particularly energized by the meeting, joking and carrying on in between weighing in on the day’s different beer samples. Some, like Duca, who has been at the facility for about three years, even credit Wesley clubs like Last Sip — or her other favorite, the Lunch Bunch — with their longevity.
“If I was in an apartment by myself, I would probably be dead because there’s nothing to do,” Duca said.
“There’s nothing to do, and there’s nobody to talk to,” DeFilippo added. “You can’t just sit in your apartment. You’d go nuts.”
Now, thanks to an ongoing, $15 million-dollar construction project at Wesley Main Line, there will be even fewer reasons to stay home. New additions, Fontaine said, include a full bar where Last Sip will be able to dole out samples of its home-brewed beer to residents and visitors, as well as hold future club meetings. Aside from Wesley’s own beer, the bar will likely also have wine other craft beers available, plus more standard names like Yuengling and Coors.
For residents like DeFilippo, that last part ought to be especially attractive. Despite her frequent tastings of more current styles of beer at Last Sip meetings, her tastes away from the club are a little more classic than dragonfruit-infused beers paired with artichoke-crab dip, she said.
“I drink Coors Light — the little ponies, the 7-ounces,” she said. “You get one with a hamburger or a hot dog. There’s nothing like beer and a hamburger.”