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Joe Sixpack | Breaking up is Yards to do

Partners call it quits, but microbrew will go on

YARDS, THE CITY'S only full-scale brewery, is breaking up.

Founder and co-owner Tom Kehoe is splitting with his partners, Bill and Nancy Barton, and will move the 13-year-old brewery to a new, to-be-chosen location. Production of the beer is expected to continue without interruption.

The Bartons will keep Yards' hulking brewing facility in Kensington and begin producing a new brand.

The breakup ends an occasionally bumpy, eight-year partnership that saw the beloved brewery grow into the city's most popular microbrewed brand.

About 200 taverns throughout Philadelphia and the region serve Yards, and its flagship Philly Pale Ale is poured at Phillies and Eagles games.

"We basically had two different philosophies about how to run the company," Kehoe said yesterday. "It was time for me to move on."

Bill Barton declined to comment until after the separation agreement is finalized on Aug. 2.

The breakup had been rumored in local beer circles for some time, as word spread of disagreements over the pace of the brewery's growth.

The immediate impact of the split is uncertain.

Kehoe said that under the terms of a proposed agreement, he'll retain the Yards trademark and will continue producing its line of ales at the Kensington plant till the end of the year.

By then, he said, he plans to begin brewing Yards at a new facility with no change in the recipes or flavor.

Meanwhile, the Bartons are forming a new company that will operate out of the current Yards plant.

Yards was established in 1994 by Kehoe and a college friend, Jon Bovit, out of a 900-square-foot former bakery in Manayunk.

It was the first brewery to bottle in the city since the mammoth Schmidt's brewery in Northern Liberties closed in 1987.

Though tiny by comparison, Yards is credited with revitalizing the city's beer-making tradition with an array of award-winning, English-style ales. In addition to Extra Special Ale, Saison and Love Stout, Yards produces the Ales of the Revolution, a variety of unique ales based on recipes from George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin.

It was also responsible for popularizing so-called cask-conditioned ales served at cellar temperature on distinctive hand pumps at many area taverns.

After Yards moved to larger quarters in Roxborough, Bovit left the company and Kehoe - seeking financial backing for expansion - brought on the Bartons in 2002. For the past several years, Bill Barton has served as vice president while his wife has been secretary-treasurer.

In 2002, Yards moved to its current facility, the 35,000- square-foot, 19th-century Weisbrod & Hess Brewery at Amber and Hagert streets in Kensington.

The massive brewery, a popular destination for area beer fans, hosts frequent events and tours.

Yards produces about 10,000 barrels annually, or about 135,000 cases. *

"Joe Sixpack" by Don Russell normally appears weekly in Big Fat Friday. For more on the beer scene in Philly and beyond, visit Send e-mail to joesixpack@