On the Ale Trail: The Kelsey City Brewing Company

January 22, 2021

We chatted with local brewmaster John Hampp of Kelsey City Brewing Company about the beers he makes, the local craft brewing scene and exploring The Palm Beaches.

You’ll find nano-brewery The Kelsey City Brewing Company in Lake Park’s popular Brewhouse Gallery, a combination art gallery, music venue and craft beer hall. Much like its home, the vibe at Kelsey City is eclectic, funky and vibrant with local art and décor that nods to the area’s history. Owner AJ Brockman has become a beloved business owner in the neighborhood, filling a cultural gap by providing artists a space to display their work, musicians a stage on which to be heard and creatives a hub for gathering.

Kelsey City Brewing Company interior
Photo courtesy Kelsey City Brewing Co.

Kelsey City features a variety of house-made brews, only available at the taproom. The popular Engine 94 Imperial IPA, named for the Drake Lumber Co. steam engine that once ran through the region, serves as a base for the rotating tropical Tiki 94 series featuring editions like Tahitian Breeze (8.4% ABV) with guava, passionfruit, lime, pineapple, honey and almonds. Locally inspired names tell the stories of Lake Park (formerly Kelsey City) with brews like Prosperity Farms Belgian Wit (5% ABV), named for a consortium of local farms, and Bt. Oakes Pilsner (4.5% ABV), referencing one of Kelsey City’s largest investors, Harry Oakes.
 
Meet John Hampp, head brewer of Kelsey City. He was drawn to brewing during a microbiology course in college. Hampp’s class used a homebrew liquid malt extract kit to make 5-gallon batches, which they later bottled and drank at the end of the semester. John has earned the nickname “Tweak” for rarely being satisfied with any recipe and constantly tweaking and evolving beers.

Tell us about your brewing experience.

Outside of a White Labs yeast course, my brewing education is my college degree in biology and chemistry. Most of my brewing knowledge comes from 36 years of home brewing and every book on brewing that I could get my hands on. With a friend I met at our local brewpub 10 years ago, we decided to home brew on a monthly basis and built our dream home brew structure with a commercial refrigerator for fermentation control. After a year of dialing in that system, we decided to start entering home brew competitions. Feedback from competitions provides great unbiased feedback on your beers that helps you to make them better, even if that beer received a medal. Home brewing is biology, chemistry and art. Professional brewing adds the manufacturing skills to all of that.

What type of brewing style do you specialize in?

That is a very difficult question. As a home brewer, I worked on trying to brew every style including mixed culture sour beers and I really like them all. Having said that, my favorite styles to brew are lagers. They are just very simple beers that are difficult to make cleanly. There’s just nowhere to hide flaws.

How long have you been with your brewery?

We started build out May 2019 and brewed our first beer in March 2020, right as COVID was closing everything down in the U.S.

Describe your brewery in five words.

1. Shiny
2. Compact
3. Nimble
4. Growing
5. Fun

Brewing tanks, Kelsey City Brewing
Photo by Cristyle Egitto

What sets your brewery apart from others on the Ale Trail of the Palm Beaches?

While other breweries are focused on distribution and large-scale manufacturing, we see craft beer differently by focusing on attention to detail, consistency and brewing right in front of patrons. Our beer honors the history of Kelsey City (our town's original name) and 1920s South Florida. Each of our beers has a story behind it that is just as interesting as the taste. We are also a much smaller facility than most breweries, so you really get a more intimate experience and a closer look at the brewing process. Because we are located inside of The Brewhouse Gallery, there is plenty of artwork and entertainment every night of the week, including a much larger bar selection than other craft breweries, wines and food options.

Tell us about your signature beers.

The two beers that we like to make and have a strong following are our B.T. Oakes Czech pilsner and our Tiki 94 Tropical Imperial IPA. Still in our first year of everything, I am constantly making changes to all our recipes and brew setup to get that all dialed in. We are closing in on making the Czech Pils that I wanted to always have on tap and a perfect beer. The other beer that I enjoy making is our Tiki 94 Imperial IPA. Our Engine 94 Imperial IPA had such a tropical aroma and flavor. It seemed only natural to run with that and do some tiki versions based on some of my favorite tiki cocktails using fruit purees and juices.

Crowlers from Kelsey City Brewing
Photo courtesy Kelsey City Brewing Co.

What types of styles or flavors do you like to experiment with? Any unusual ingredients you’ve used?

We’ve just started adding some used spirits barrels for our beers including two freshly dumped aged rum barrels. I’m excited about where we can go with those beers and getting more experience in the aging process of our big beers, which we are now just getting some time to work into the brew schedule. I really like the way chocolate works with beers. I have an assistant brewer who grows cacao in his yard, harvests the pods, ferments the fruits and then roasts the beans.

What should people know about the craft beer scene in The Palm Beaches?

It is growing and there’s a lot of talented brewers out there making some great beers. It has been a very tough year on all the breweries who’ve had to adapt on the fly and change their plans to survive. Everyone misses the social gatherings that have always been part of the craft beer scene, where you can get beers you won’t find on store shelves, great music from local bands, and oh yeah, food trucks.

What is the perfect beer to drink on a sunny day?

A kolsch if it is hot and a pilsner any other time it’s sunny.

Where was the last great local meal you had and what was it?

That is a hard one to narrow down. There are so many great options in our area! Narrowing the options to our immediate area (within a few minutes from the brewery), we have to mention the Lake Park staple, Camilli's Pizza, that has been operating since the 1950s. Also, we may be a little biased to the restaurant in our plaza, Locale Gastropub, that provides all our food at the brewery with a unique take on American cuisine with signature cocktails. If you’re in the mood for something a bit more upscale, you can’t go wrong with the Pelican Café, located inside one of our historical buildings a few blocks away. Speaking of history, another interesting fact and great meal can be found at Park Avenue BBQ Grille. Now one of the most successful barbecue chains in our area, the original location and namesake was located on Park Avenue, just steps from the brewery!

Exterior of The Flagler Museum
The Flagler Museum in Palm Beach

Describe your perfect day in The Palm Beaches.

We practice what we preach, so anything involving beer, the arts and a history lesson. Start by catching one of our infamous sunrises on the beach, an afternoon of brewery hopping, a visit to the Flagler Museum, and a night at the Lake Park Arts District featuring a 900-foot mural from local artists and some sort of live entertainment at Lake Park Black Box at The Kelsey Theater located next door to the brewery.

What are the three things you’d tell a first-time visitor to do while they’re here?

With so much to do, this is a hard one, but there are some things that can only be experienced right here as opposed to anywhere else.
1. Paddleboarding in the Jupiter Inlet (if you’re lucky, that includes a manatee sighting)
2. A visit to Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens or any one of our countless nature preserves/conservatories.
3. The biking/walking trail on Palm Beach Island with some of the best views and most luxurious properties you could ever hope to see.

Ready to Visit?

The brewery is open Monday 3 p.m. to 8 p.m., Tuesday 3 p.m. to 10 p.m., Wednesday and Thursday 3 p.m. to 9 p.m., Friday 3 p.m. to 11 p.m., Saturday noon to 11 p.m. and Sunday noon to 8 p.m. Happy hour runs daily from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. The stage offers a lineup of live music throughout the week, including a musicians’ open mic night on Taco Tuesdays.

Exterior of Kelsey City Brewing
Photo by Cristyle Egitto

The taproom and gallery are filled with eclectic seating arrangements. Table shuffleboard, giant Jenga and board games provide additional amusement. Tented outdoor seating currently allows for beers in the fresh air. Crowlers are available to enjoy at home. Brewhouse Gallery also serves a selection of other craft beers and wine. Pro tip: Don’t miss the dynamic mural located in the taproom cave with projected digital art that seems to interact with its painted counterpart.   
 
Before you go, make sure to get your Ale Trail of The Palm Beaches savings pass for exclusive savings at breweries throughout The Palm Beaches.

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Image of woman Cristlye Egitto
Cristyle Egitto
Cristyle Egitto is a South Florida native, born in Miami, raised in Palm Beach and educated at the University of Florida. She founded the food blog EatPalmBeach in 2013 as a way to discover restaurants and culinary talents in the area while supporting local businesses. Her writing has appeared in various publications, and she has been featured on local TV and in multiple magazines.