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Rosemarie Certo: Meet Philly's brew queen

Italian-born immigrant grew up in land of grapes, but has transformed Philly’s beer scene.

You might call Rosemarie Certo the Ben Franklin of beer making. Or at the least, the Betsy Ross of craft brewing.

Certo opened her first brewpub, on the corner of 18th and Cherry streets, with a simple idea: Let's make some good American beer and sell it. That was in 1985. Today, her company, Dock Street Brewing, is a Philadelphia institution and bastion for beer lovers. The small brewpub in Center City has moved to 50th and Baltimore in West Philadelphia, but the philosophy remains the same.

"When we opened in 1985, our corporate mission was to elevate the status of beer because up until then beer was relegated to saw dust on the floor and chicken wings," Certo said. "And now we've raised the level of beer and brought it to a noble beverage."

Certo is a self-made American success story in its truest definition. She was born in Sicily, then moved to Philadelphia when she was 10. She is a philosophy and humanities major who had no prior experience running a business. Certo simply started home brewing with hope that someone would like it and buy it.

"It came from an innocent idea, you can't buy good American beer so let's make it and then we sell it," Certo said. "If we knew what we were getting into, we probably would have been too scared or something."

At first glance, Certo doesn't look like your stereotypical brew master. Ask her how old she is and she just smiles.

"No lady will tell you that," Certo said. "Our consulting brewer once told me that a woman who will tell her age will tell anything."

And Certo's delicate accent does little to solve that mystery. Still, it's hard to imagine how an Italian immigrant acquired a taste for suds growing up in Sicily. Yet that's exactly where it took root, in the grape and olive fields.

"As a child, I learned how to do things with my hands," she said. "You grow grapes when you make wine, and that was all part of my makeup when I came to America."

There's a beer for that season




Certo's most recent project is a collaboration with the Four Seasons. Certo said the world-class hotel actually approached her with the idea. After she said yes, the Four Seasons sent their top chefs to Dock Street to meet with her brewers and figure out how they could make a "really special beer." The result has been "A Beer Four All Seasons."

The line has produced three seasonal brews already: Truffled Old Ale, Caliente Golden Ale and Bubbly Wit. The beers are poured exclusively at the Four Seasons' Swann Lounge. They will debut their fourth one at next month's Philly Beer Week.

"None of these beers have ever been done before," Certo said. "We're going to be releasing the fourth seasonal in June for Philly Beer Week, and that's going to be with a Verbena herb and sour cherry."