Daniel Endicott emerged from a fenced-in area behind Forest & Main Brewing, shirtless and dripping in blue body paint. Without prompting, he offered the friends gathered around him fresh goblets of his latest beer: Pombe Time, an IPA brewed with loads of Centennial, Cascade, and Equinox. Endicott was celebrating the fifth anniversary of his brewpub, named after two intersecting streets in Ambler, PA, by taking people on transcendent tours.
“The best art, and the best beers, transcend words,” said Endicott, a graduate of Tyler School of Art in Philadelphia. “They are feelings, thoughts, memories and they are bigger than the physical space they occupy. Art has always been a central part of my life, and there was never a question about whether or not art would play a big part in Forest & Main’s branding.”
Upon descending the stairs down into their barrel-aging cellar, it’s hard not to be transported to an imaginary world. The entrance to the brewery is paved with Endicott’s hand-drawn labels, re-imagined as amazing beer-stained technicolor dreamcoats; and their soon-to-open tasting room, located in a still under-construction space next door, is littered with rough drafts of weird sketches being tested for new Crowler releases.
“The crowler labels are a lot of fun for me, much more nebulous and mood based than the bottle labels,” said Endicott, who is designing about one crowler label per week. “The creative process is very playful. I do a bunch of random watercolors – some completely abstract, some hinting at an image. It’s still a little strange for me that these images don’t exist in the real world, but that works with their whole vibe, I guess.”
At Forest & Main, Endicott and co-owner Gerard Olson have turned an old Victorian house from the 1880s into their living and breathing canvas. Inside the brewpub, trippy birds pose a Lebowski-esque question atop a chalkboard perch: “How is your consciousness doing?” as they beg beer geeks to drop in to see what condition their condition was in.
Endicott’s personal artwork adorns the walls, including oil-based tributes to palomino horses and deconstructed mannequins, while dimpled mugs stenciled with magical narwhales and hairless men wearing bikini underwear line the shelves of the bar. This is a judgment-free zone.
“When we set out to open a brewery we were intent on creating a unique environment for our beers to be consumed in,” said Endicott. “We have always felt that the environment plays an important part in how someone perceives food and drink. The pub is in an old house, so it’s a very unique experience to people who are used to visiting brewpubs in strip malls and new construction.”
During a recent trip, there was a bright tangy saison called Oveipov gently caressed with two new hop varietals, Styrian Wolf and General. A few days later, they had added Sramana, an IPA fermented in oak with their own foraged yeast culture. Yes, the owners go out and harvest their own wild yeast in the plush Pennsylvania suburbs, about 20 miles north of Philadelphia.
Nothing is off limits here. On this day, one loyal Forest & Main customer offered to bring them an unknown species of berry plucked from his backyard, in what he likened to the exotic lychee fruit.
“Cool. Bring it in and we may use it,” said Endicott.
Other breweries in the area have embraced their interesting dynamic, too. When Second District opened last March in South Philadelphia, they had a Biere de Garde on draft that had been fermented with a saison strain from Forest & Main.
“I think good art and good beer have the power of transporting someone to a different mindset, or imparting emotions and feelings upon the drinker,” said Endicott, who sells his artwork at www.danielendicott.com. “Much like our beers are designed to be as simple or as complex as you want to make them, the restaurant can be taken at quick glance or deep inspection.”
That thought-provoking creativity is trickling down to the beer, which is winning both local acclaim and national praise. In early June, GQ magazine named their Lunaire Saison as the Best Beer in Pennsylvania, and their Antebellum Saison earned first place for Best New Beer at the Philadelphia Inquirer’s annual Brewvitational Awards.
Perhaps it all stems from Endicott’s pedigree as an artist who prefers to think outside the walls of conformity. Or maybe it’s purely coincidental. Either way, almost ironically, he and Olson set one firm rule regarding décor when they opened the doors to Forest & Main on April 13, 2012.
“It couldn’t be overtly beer related,” he said. “As the mythology of Forest & Main grew, I started to hang some of our first labels up on the walls, and then some sketches. We try to keep a balance of antiques, odd objects, and new artwork on the walls. We set out to make the visual experience of Forest & Main just as important as the beers.”