John Giannopoulos (Col ’82) and his family occasionally brew bad beer.
Not on purpose, and not very often. If that were the case, Beer Advocate magazine wouldn’t have rated their Sly Fox Brewhouse and Eatery the nation’s third-best brewpub a few years back. Nor would business be up 92 percent last year, with similar growth anticipated this year.
But occasionally, a new brew doesn’t meet standards, as recently happened with a batch that customers had been awaiting. Though the beer was drinkable, Giannopoulos opted to dump it and start over. “You don’t want to have product that doesn’t meet your standards get out on the marketplace,” he says.
Sly Fox has been brewing high-quality beers since 1995, and sales of its O’Reilly’s Irish Stout are challenging international heavyweight Guinness in the Philly area. Such success seemed distant 12 years ago when John’s brother, Pete, lost his corporate sales job. The brothers “were kicking around some ideas,” John said. “The whole brew pub thing was coming into its own, and we liked the taste of craft brews.” They gave it a shot, with a third brother, Harry, and their father, Dr. Peter Giannopoulos (Col ’55), as partners.
The first brewpub, in Phoenixville, Pa., quickly attracted a loyal customer base. In 2004, Sly Fox opened a second location in nearby Royersford that included a production brewery, allowing it to expand its wholesale distribution of beer to other pubs. Last year, Sly Fox began packaging many of its beers in cans and bottles and distributing into New Jersey and New York; they plan to move into Virginia by the end of the year.
With its track record, Sly Fox figures to have a bright future. As John Giannopoulos says, “You know, us UVA guys figure something out occasionally.”