My trip to one of the rising stars in the craft beer world, Tired Hands, actually begins at a small Greek restaurant and bottle shop on the outskirts of Lancaster. I have an hour to kill, tumbler of Dirt Wolf in hand, shifting between the humming malt liquor coolers and the shelves of craft beer I’ve picked through ten times over. I wait with the other beer geeks and hipsters to score one of 24 available bottles of Goose Island Bourbon County Coffee Stout, wondering when the beer is going to be distributed as the chaotic blob of beer-ites grows bigger.
This is like every other big beer release I go to, full of beer nerds like myself that talk about how the exclusivity and hype surrounding beer releases is bullshit while actively participating in them. The irony is not lost on me, but I tell myself I’m above it because I’ll jump through whatever hoops and pay for the privilege once. Yeah…
While milling about, getting a gauge of what beer styles people are into and who can outdo each other for ultimate beer cred, I think someone claiming to have a Samichlaus from the early 90’s may take the cake, I end up talking to a young twenty something and a grizzled beer veteran. Both separately mention that the best brewery in the area, nay in all of PA and possibly beyond, is Tired Hands.
I heard of it, knew it was about an hour away from me, but never considered making the trip. I have a nice conversation about the brewery for the next hour, staying far past the buying time. I left there with a bottle of BCB Coffee Stout and a burning determination to drink the crap out of some Tired Hands. Less than a month later, I choose to skip one of my favorite annual food and beer expos (next year PA Flavor, next year) for a trip to the Tired Hands pub in Ardmore, Philadelphia.
Tired Hands – The Place
Tired hands, as mentioned in the previous sentence, is located in Ardmore, just off the main drag and next to an empty lot. I’ve included some pictures of the establishment that I’ve borrowed from various Web sites, so full credit to them (most of my pics didn’t turn out). I made this trip with my beer compatriot Chris, and my dad, a beer drinker that I introduced to the world of craft brew who now home brews and who also likes to avoid a few hours of weeding on a weekend.
The empty lot next door to the pub is just that, empty. Perfect place for a car park, but I digress. We snag a metered parking space right out front. It’s 2pm on a Saturday, so glad to get it. Walking in, it feels like this place is made to exude artisanal cool with some designed age for good measure. Everything is made of rustic looking wood, like reused lumber from a fairly well-cared for barn, and exposed brick. The building extends back in a long rectangle. A few tables are near the door and steps spiral up to an unseen second floor. A wood bar lined with taps extends down the wall with 15-20 total seats. Space on the first floor is limited, but a decent amount of locals are packed in. In mathematical terms, a decent amount always equals 2.6 humans per cubic yard. Always.
We look at the chalk boards to see what’s on, and glance around the room. A waitress asks us if we’d like to sit upstairs and we follow her up. This is a slightly wider space with a few windows at the front and back. Twelve or so tables are scattered in an open area at the front of the house with a smaller bar that seats ten across from two bathrooms at the back.
The waitress motions to a table and we sit. Glancing at the bar and seeing plenty of seating open, we opt to switch over. We’re on a beer diet, so no need to take a table from a group of fooders. As soon as we saddle up to the bar, another group wanders upstairs and takes over the table, like a white blood cell absorbing a foreign body.
Eight wooden tap handles line the short side of the L-shaped bar. The repurposed wood bar top is worn by poured pints and only a few years of leaned elbows. The couple bar stools and angled back wall makes this a cozy space. On the wall is a small collection of Tired Hands glasses and bottles of past beer releases (a rare-ish sight as Tired Hands bottles only a few times a year).
We say hi to the bartender and mention our mission from the beer gods to have Tired Hands beer. He gives us a quick welcome and hopes we like what they have. Before I get to the pours, I have to comment on the service we experienced from this point on. The gentleman tending bar seemed like he’d rather customers weren’t there. He certainly wasn’t interested in talking, in fact he mostly towel dried glasses and stared at the floor, and messed up several times not just with our groups, but fellow patrons as well (pouring beers no one asked for, giving the wrongs beers, ignoring requests, etc.)
As this is my only experience there, I can’t say that the service overall is subpar or condemn the bartender. He wasn’t rude, but more aloof. Maybe it isn’t the best fit for a professional beer server to have a traditionally social job while being a disinterested anti-socialite. Perhaps the locals prefer the staff keep to themselves or he was on edge waiting for the next Wild West saloon style shootout to occur or he was just having a bad day. I don’t know and ultimately I suppose it doesn’t matter, but it’s always nice to feel welcome and chat about the brewery’s own beers. Sadly, this means I have no real insight into what I was drinking. Aloof bartender is aloof.
Now with all that chatty bullshit out of the way, I can finally focus on what we came for. You hear that liver? The free ride is over and it’s time to earn your spot in my body. You better perform, or I’ll replace you with a third kidney so fast…
Tired Hands – The Beer
Our first round is ordered and from there we work methodically through the tap list. It’s possible these beers will be available again, but Tired Hands is the type of place that constantly puts out limited releases and rarely looks back. Here’s what I had:
This has a musty lemon, grass, and grapefruit aroma. Brewed with a bready grain backbone, nutty oat body, hit of unsweetened grapefruit and a flair for bitter, it finishes clean and avoids the seltzer metallic quality that can plague the style. Good, drinkable beer that also has a nice body. Definitely not your typical session beer.
The aroma has a strong, musty grain, lemongrass and yeasty bread aroma. The initial taste is lemon tang and yeast. Hitting this again, my palate finds mild coconut and a dry finish. This mash up of the full body of a robust grain bill Saison with the gassy carbonation and lemony qualities of a wit make for a nice summer drinker. An above average Saison, but not one of the best.
The nose is dominated by mega coffee roast and an undercurrent of farmhouse rye. What my eyes are seeing and nose is smelling indicates a beer with a beautiful identity crisis. Crazy mash up of coffee roast, tangy raisin oat funk with some deep plum notes. Very interesting, very distinct, very dark and not like much else I’ve had.
It has a milky lactose and creamy OJ citrus, pepper, and grain aroma. Big flavors follow the nose with so much orange juiciness, you may want to strain the pulp out of it (Note: this beer contains no pulp). The fruity sweetness of the citrus is subdued by a toasty bread backbone. Casked Wilbur is chewey and delicious with an extra dose of citra hops. Contrary to most cask beers, Wilbur was served cold (cask beers are typically close to room temp). The non-cask Wilbur, also on tap, is dank with a stronger rye, floral backbone. I prefer the non-cask Wilbur (it was my favorite of our time at Tired Hands) but this is easily one of the best cask beers I’ve had.
Tired Hands – The Wrap Up
Let’s address the biggest questions: Would I recommend Tired Hands to others and would I make the effort to go back? For the atmosphere, there isn’t much to recommend. This isn’t Cheers (look it up kids!) and little effort was made to make us feel welcome. If you just want to go there with a patient group of friends that only want to drink undisturbed, you’re probably going to have a good time. I’m not going to let a single chilly, mistake-filled visit dictate my entire opinion of an establishment, especially when I interacted with probably 15% of the actual staff, but I was left with the impression that this place is too cool to care.
On the other hand, the beer I had earned them a bit of swagger. They may be too beer hipster for their own good and can get a little playful with the names (Gelatinous Womb and The Light that Spills Out of the Hole in Your Head comes to mind), but damn if they don’t back it up. My biggest take way from the nine beers I sampled is that this place does body right. Tired Hands is a brewer that could give a crap about beer clarity and that’s just fine with me. Even the session beers had a relatively full mouth feel. The presence of oat in damn near everything could have resulted in a fatigued palate, but the spirit of experimentation is brewed into these beers, making each one feel fresh.
Tired Hands has a reputation for brewing fantastic beers and just might have earned the attitude to go along with it. Maybe that’s not such a bad thing in an industry where local craft brewers are rewarded by a beer buying public who demand little more than mediocrity and a brewpub not too far from their house. The constant experimentation (they have over 300 beers listed, most of which are one-off batches) should be applauded. You can probably go back once a week and experience an almost entirely new tap list. In a time of “me too” breweries over-saturating the market, Tired Hands stands out as an evolving creator of beers that refuses to be average.
Note: Rumors from the Lancaster beer scene indicate that Tired Hands is going to reach out to our area. Just how far those fingers stretch and what form they’ll take is unknown (I’d assume draft only). I’m definitely excited to marry their beers with the “glad you’re there” atmosphere of my favorite watering hole. Lancaster-ites (and the areas in and surrounding Philly), keep your eyes out for cloudy glasses of pale orange and straw hopefully pouring near you soon.