Tired Hands Brewing Co.
With lovingly crafted brews and excellent food pairings from a small but well-tended kitchen, Ardmore’s resident microbrewery-cafe delivers at every turn
by Brian Freedman

The first rule of writing a restaurant review is to draw the reader in with a telling anecdote about the meal under consideration, or an evocative description of a particularly exciting dish from the restaurant, or some other such appealing act of journalistic acumen. So it is with trepidation and not a little bit of iconoclasm that I start off this assessment of Tired Hands Brewing Co. in Ardmore with the following two words: Gelatinous Womb.

Wait, give me the benefit of a few sentences and keep reading, because that particularly off-putting binomial, that most unfortunate confluence of words—“gelatinous” and “womb”—is actually the name of one of the more appealing beers I’ve sipped in quite some time. It’s a double IPA generously spiced with three different types of hops, a spelt-based beauty with 7.4 percent alcohol yet enough balance to attenuate the more aggressive aspects of its sheer alcoholic weight. And while I was told by owner and brewer Jean Broillet during a follow-up call that the names of his beers don’t necessarily have any relation to the liquid itself, this is certainly the sort of brew that you could curl up into, like some sort of comforting blanket … so in that regard, the name makes sense, if rather obliquely.

Tired Hands is that sort of place: warm and inviting, yet willing to buck convention but always in the service of simple pleasure. It’s also home to some seriously exciting brews, a collection of eight—plus a Friday ninth, a cask-conditioned one—that are crafted on site and change with greater regularity than permits a monthly magazine to discuss all the most recent offerings. Still, the stylistic tendencies are clear here. Broillet’s willingness to push the envelope, while still remaining faithful to the types he is working with—he told me that he tends to prefer “dry, expressive beers,” though his Imperial Stout is a delicious exception—have led to a true beer destination in a place you might not expect.

The food here is perfectly suited to the sort of drinking you’ll likely engage in. Wide ranging and casual, it is executed at a high enough level to ride right alongside the complexity of the beers without clashing. Pickles, a key component of any self-respecting brewpub yet too often overlooked, are made in house and every bit as ambitious as the beers they pair so well with. Half-sour dills pack a peppery punch that supports their herbal brightness, and with a well-hopped beer, they sing. They also come in a version souped-up with whiskey, which lends them a greater sense of underlying heft—excellent with higher-alcohol brews. Curryflower pickles were another recent highlight, and Broillet and his team have recently begun fermenting their own kimchi.

Meats, which are not made here, are nonetheless sourced with care and thoughtfully plated. River & Glen’s duck prosciutto is always a treat. Licini Bros. and Di Bruno Bros. are also on this menu, so whether you order heat-bearing Abruzze sausage, sweet, tingling soppressata or something else, you’re sure to want to drink more beer, and then eat more food, and then drink more beer. It’s a vicious, yet fortuitous, circle. Even the bologna and cheese sandwich will likely make you rethink your childhood go-to. Here, those depressing slabs of Oscar Mayer are replaced with rich, moist slices from Green Meadow. Partnered with smoked cheddar cheese and sandwiched between slices of homemade, no-knead bread, it’s a winner.

Of course, it’s not all meat here. Cheese plates are thoughtfully composed, too, and demonstrate the depth and range of our local dairy culture: Equinox and bleu cheese from Chester County superstar Birchrun Hills; Trioche and Pepato from New Jersey’s Valley Shepherd Creamery; and thoughtful accompaniments. This is not your average cheese selection—not by a long shot.

It’s all enjoyed in a space both casual and comfortable, and staffed by a team that’s extremely knowledgeable about the food and the drink but never pretentious about it. And the fact that beers are available in 4- and 8-ounce servings, plus full pints, means that experimentation is encouraged. All the better to experience all that they’ve brewed up here.

Just make sure to show up earlier than you might initially be inclined to. It’s a small space and has become justifiably popular. (There will be a second location nearby eight or nine months down the line.) Better to wait for a table or a seat at the bar before you’re starving for a bite to eat. Once people settle in, they may not leave for a while. And who can blame them? Gelatinous or not, Tired Hands is not only comfortable but also, in the best possible sense, almost womblike.

Tired Hands Brewing Co.
16 Ardmore Ave., Ardmore
610-896-7621 | tiredhands.com

Photograph by Rob Hall