It’s only 4 p.m. and already there’s 100 or so outdoor folding chairs that line the sidewalk on Cricket Terrace, a short, yet winding street in Ardmore.
The chairs—and all their vibrant colors—face the street as if awaiting a parade snake for a block, then turn a corner and continue down an adjacent street.
Almost all of them are empty.
Nearby, a handful of guys stand in a small group, waiting.
“You should’ve seen it last week,” says one, in a wool cap. “It stretched all the way up to Lancaster Avenue, then back into the parking lot. Must’ve been 600 of them.”
“Eight hundred,” says his friend.
Just another Wednesday afternoon outside Tired Hands Fermentaria, the trendy Main Line brewery. The seats are set up by hardcore beer enthusiasts—both locals and out-of-towners who drive all night to get here, drawn by the brewery’s once-a-week sale of canned one-offs. At exactly 5 p.m., the brewery’s rear door opens, and the throng will eagerly shell out up to $24 for a four-pack of Tired Hands’ notoriously cloudy, hops-heavy pounders.
“Yeah, I guess it is a little crazy, I’m not going to lie,” says Ashley Clemas, 32, of Manayunk, who heard about the release from a Beer Nerds Facebook group. “But it’s my hobby and something I love to do.”
Even if you’re familiar with the practice of standing in line for special beer releases, the scene around Fermentaria is unique because—until that back door opens—you’re likely to find few people actually in the line. Instead, starting around noon but sometimes earlier, they claim their spot with a cheap folding chair, then wander off. Some head into the brewery’s restaurant for an extended liquid lunch; others stay warm in their parked cars, juicing up their iPhones; others go home, leaving behind a buddy to watch the chair.
“I bring my laptop and spend all day in the restaurant, writing computer code,” one 47-year-old tells me. “One time my whole company was in here. I get more work done here, waiting for the beer, than in the office.”
One or two neighboring businesses have complained about the chairs, but Tired Hands sends out workers to keep things orderly, and for the most part Ardmore seems to take the whole thing in stride.
More curious to me, though, is how it is that Tired Hands draws this crowd. The fans in line will tell you that it’s because the beer inside the small brewery are so good, it’s worth the hassle.
“Their IPAs are incredible,” Clemas says. “I, personally, sway that way: The hoppier, the better. “The quality, the flavor—there’s just nothing else like,” adds Bo McClain, 35, of Skippack.
Yet, in truth, other local breweries do make beer that’s every bit as good, every bit as hoppy.
But they’ll never draw lines like this.
Odder still, more than a few beer experts grouse that Tired Hands’ beer is not all that great. It has never won a major judging competition in five years of operation, some of its unfiltered one-offs have been known to go bad within weeks, and many purists deride its cloudy, sediment-filled IPAs—no matter how tasty—as “snow globes.”
Yet, the hype is undeniable.
Last spring at the Craft Brewers Conference held in Philadelphia, I watched in amazement when professionals lined up 20-deep for a small plastic cup of the brew. Though the keg was running slow and foaming like crazy (a sign something might’ve been wrong with the beer), and even though lines were open for two other excellent beers from Yards and Troegs, they waited—and waited—for Tired Hands.
Back on Cricket Terrace, some of those in line acknowledge they’re fishing for “whales”—hard-to-find brews that serve as trade bait for other impossible to find brews. McClain, who joins the line at least twice a month, says a can of Tired Hands can easily attract the likes of Tree House or Trillium, a pair of New England breweries whose IPAs are especially popular these days.
At the head of the line, Eric Everett, 32, is sacked out in a folding chair, holding a place for a friend. “We got here around noon,” he says. “We get lunch, hang out. I’m mostly doing my buddy a favor because he’s the one who likes the beer.”
How about you? I ask.
“Honestly, not that much. The others in line make fun of me, but I’m more of a Coors Light guy.”