In the previous chapter of our story, our protagonists, Steve Wilkes, Andy Sparks and I, had just finished a tasty lunch at Victory Brewing’s pub. If it weren’t for the persistence of Bryan Kolesar, publisher of thebrewlounge.com, the day might have ended soon after with a satisfying nap. However, Bryan had three more stops planned, and he was not going to abandon his desire to show off his hometown of Philadelphia – even though the timing outlined on his spreadsheet had been blown to Hell by traffic snarls and smallish bladders.
So, off we went toward Ambler, Pennsylvania and the intersection of Forest and Main – the home of Forest and Main Brewing.
The brewery and restaurant resides in a charming Victorian-style home built in the 1800s. The owners and brewers, Gerard Olson and Daniel Endicott, spent 16 months stripping modernity from the old home and restoring it to a previous charm. Thanks in part to Bryan Kolesar’s chainsaw, the bar made of salvaged barn wood spans the back end of the home’s front room.
Behind the bar, Daniel served us samples of delicious beers that defy typical recognized beer styles. His training in the UK gave him a background in British styles, and Gerard has a passion for beers of a Belgian flavor. The resulting combination is more than a sum of its parts.
For instance, one might order a dark, roasty stout-like beer with the complimentary character of Saison yeast infused. The brewers say coming up with names for their beers is the biggest challenge. Instead of style tags, the beer menu features detailed descriptions of the flavor, aroma, and mouthfeel of the brews.
The seven-barrel brewery is squeezed into a small room at the back of the house. Cobbled together from various bits and pieces, including dairy tanks, the equipment reminds us that great beer doesn’t have to come from shiny copper. But, as homebrewers, we already knew that.
After an inspiring chat recorded for Basic Brewing Radio, we were sent on our way with precious bottles of sour beer from the basement.
Next stop: the Mt. Airy neighborhood of Philly and Earth – Bread + Brewery. Beer and bread have parallel historical timelines, and Earth – Bread + Brewery owners Tom Baker and Peggy Zwerver seem to know that and put it into their food and beers.
According to Peggy, the building that houses the brewery and restaurant has always been a bar, and until they took it over has not always been a positive influence on the neighborhood. Peggy characterizes the previous bar upstairs as a “gentlemen’s club.” Mirrors have been ripped off the walls and replaced with local artwork, and magenta carpet has been discarded in favor of repurposed wood flooring.
In fact, Peggy says everything in the establishment has come from somewhere else – the tables, chairs, and bars came from other businesses, and even the seven-barrel brewhouse came from the couple’s previous brewery: Heavyweight Brewing of Ocean, New Jersey.
Tom is apparently into a Saison phase right now. Saisons fill each of his two fermenters – named for Peggy’s sisters, Leslie and Lynne. One beer is infused with lemon grass and lime zest – “Bandwagonesque.” The other showcases American hops – “Automatic for the People.” Tom draws inspiration for the names of his beers from music. The Saisons are a part of a series called “Saisons of the Times,” a Zombies reference.
Across the restaurant from the brewery is a wood-fired oven, and we must resist the temptation to call it a “pizza oven.” The flat, round pieces of bread with toppings that are cooked in the oven are not pizzas, according to Peggy. They are flatbread. The difference, she says, is that the flatbread dough is chilled overnight, allowing the yeast to give character to the bread. Yeast is busy on both beer and bread here.
We spent half an hour with Tom and Peggy recording for Basic Brewing Radio. Tom giving us tips from his experience of using blended yeast strains, and Peggy talking about sustainability and neighborhood responsibility. By the end of the conversation, Earth – Bread + Brewery had filled with families chatting across tables in their neighborhood gathering place.
The last stop on our whirlwind tour is appropriately named: Tired Hands Brewing Company in Ardmore, Pennsylvania. Our hands and several other body parts were beginning to tire from 130 miles on the road. But, as David Letterman says, it was a good kind of tired.
Bryan’s planned schedule was completely overrun by that point, and we missed our window of opportunity to meet with Tired Hands owner, Jean Broillet IV. But, the kitchen and bars were open, and we soon got a rejuvenating dose of inspiration.
For eats, we chose a meat plate, a cheese plate, and a beet plate (Steve’s request). To accompany the food, we selected Caskette, a four percent golden mild, generously hopped with Amarillo. Tortoise is a six percent amber ale hopped with Zythos and fermented with Brettanomyces and yeast from Crooked Stave brewery in Colorado. Hop Hands is a pale ale brewed with oats hopped with a blend of Amarillo, Simcoe and Centennial. All of the beers were delicious and paired well with the food.
Tired Hands offers the option of three serving sizes: four, eight and 16 ounces. This was especially helpful in our efforts to pace ourselves as the day neared its end.
We are very grateful to Bryan Kolesar for his guidance and patience in showing us around Philadelphia. What a great beer town! We are also especially grateful to the brewers who shared warm hospitality, time and knowledge. Beer people are good people.