At one small suburban brewery,
creativity reigns supreme
PHOTOGRAPHED BY CHRIS MALLOY
“It’s 156 degrees,” says Jean Broillet IV, co-owner of Tired Hands Brewing Company in Ardmore. He climbs up a four-step ladder and peers into the mash tank, a colossal cauldron filled with what looks like steaming oatmeal. His right-hand brewer, Jon Defibaugh, busies himself nearby with a long orange hose he’s rerouting.
This vat of grain and water will eventually become Extra Knuckle, an India Pale Ale flavored with Mosaic hops, the 210th different beer Broillet has made since christening his brew room in June 2012, when Tired Hands opened.
Broillet started brewing for fun in 2004 in his parents’ garage. After finishing school at West Chester University, he learned the ins and outs of scrubbing kegs, cleaning mold, and the rest of the unglamorous but essential work needed for making beer while at Weyerbacher Brewing Company. He went on to a five-year stint at the Iron Hill Brewery, where he fell for the small-scale charm and freedom of the brewpub model.
“Brewing,” Broillet says, “is by nature a creative endeavor.” A look at the kind of beers Broillet has crafted in the Tired Hands brew room and served in the attached two-story pub shows that he takes that call to creativity more seriously than some of his beer-making colleagues. He has made beer using unlikely ingredients, including local plums, persimmons, grapes, cherries, apples, sage, squash, lemon verbena and honeysuckle. He has tossed hibiscus, pomegranate powder, locally roasted coffee, escargot shells and sweet potatoes (for “Octüberfest”) into tanks with beer. He has used seaweed, hemp seeds, sesame seeds and Sichuan peppercorn to reconstruct shichimi togarashi, Japanese spice blend, in the form of a saison. He names beers “Sergeant Salamander” and “Cosmic Slop” and “I See a Darkness.” Why “Extra Knuckle” for lucky number 210?
“Because it’s weird!” Broillet says, studying the contents of the mash tank, smile spreading wide. His beer is more than simply weird. It’s also good—very good. Enter the digital lairs of the beer snobs (BeerAdvocate, RateBeer), and you will find praise for Tired Hands. Not bad for a small Ardmore brewpub that churns out a staggering 10 new beers a month.
Extra Knuckle, like any beer Broillet has brewed, started as an idea. Broillet wanted to craft a simple, solid IPA that would showcase the Mosaic hop. “Mosaic is new to the hop scene,” he says. “It’s got some nice nuances, like honeydew and blueberry.” Broillet imagined that Extra Knuckle would be a citrusy IPA with a bone-white foam.
With this one, Broillet and Defibaugh weren’t shooting for a genrebending brew, they were merely making a great IPA.
Like every Tired Hands beer, Extra Knuckle was born in the mash tank. In the tiny brew room with worn brick walls, one late fall day, Broillet poured sack after sack of malt into the tank, which was loudly filling with 120 gallons of hot water. Every time malt slid into the water a plume of sweet dust rose from the tank and caught the soft morning light coming in through the frosted windows and open back door. When all 440 pounds of malt had been added, Broillet and Defibaugh, each outfitted in a black hat, black Tired Hands sweatshirt, jeans, and boots, had to stir the mash and raise its temperature to between 152° and 154° using the heat of the inrushing water.
The mash hit 156°. From the top of the four-step ladder, Broillet said it wasn’t a big deal. Defibaugh switched off the water. Broillet gave the mash a few final stirs with an oar-like paddle.
“Jon!” Broillet called out over the fan.
“Yes?” Defibaugh said.
“We’ve got some chunks!”
Broillet climbed down. Defibaugh peered into the tank. Using two hoses and an empty keg, he created a circuit, pumping the starchy liquid back up a hose to the tank’s top to be filtered. This 30-minute process, called recirculation, breaks up malt chunks and clarifies the wort, the starchy liquid that will soon become beer.
Broillet and Defibaugh took a spate of sugar and pH readings. Hoses thrummed, fans whirred, steam rose from the mash, and 20 yards outside the brick walls people in dresses or pressed slacks were driving to work. Soon, Defibaugh routed the liquid—the wort—to a hulking, gas-fired boil kettle in the corner.
“The nucleus of what we do is solid brewing,” Broillet noted, as the wort slowly warmed to a boil. “We do simple, methodical experimentation with a solid backbone of technique.”
Broillet and Defibaugh added hops to the liquid many times: when it hit boiling, ten minutes before it stopped boiling, and then off the heat. Using a heat exchanger, they chilled the wort to 66° and ran all 217 gallons of it into a polished fermentation tank. Finally, they spiked the wort with yeast.
Fermentation lasted six days, Mosaic dry-hopping took a few more, so did cold-conditioning, but soon enough Tired Hands had 187 gallons of 6.3%-ABV Extra Knuckle, the best IPA Jean Broillet has ever brewed, at least according to the brewer himself. (The customers would agree. Broillet rarely brews a beer twice—the main exceptions being his staple IPA, HopHands, and staple saison, SaisonHands. However, he would start to brew a second batch of Extra Knuckle just ten days after tapping the first.)
So far, the beer had traveled eight feet.
On its 14th day of life, Extra Knuckle voyaged from the fermentation tank through a 60-foot hose to a serving tank in a chilled chamber in the basement; and from there, on call, it rises, cold as a polar wind, through five feet of tubing and the brewpub’s concrete first floor to the tap, to your bulb-bottomed glass.
“Extra Knuckle,” reads the description on the paper menu. “Mosaic IPA. 6.3% … So damn juicy and dank … Notes of orange zest, drippy mango, sticky grapefruit.”
Broillet fills my glass. “We’re lucky to have found customers that like for us to take chances and go out on limbs.”
Extra Knuckle, once an idea, is now a cold beer in my hand. It’s two weeks old and has traveled just about 73 feet. It shines amber, and it has the sticky, bone-white head that Broillet had envisioned. Expectant, enthused and thinking about how far beer has come in its short history, I lift the frosty glass to my mouth for a sip.
TIRED HANDS BREWING COMPANY
16 Ardmore Avenue, Ardmore