Sean Arsenault is pouring a pint of Old Stoop Rye Ale. His wife, Erica, is making change at the counter. His twin brother, Andy, is sanitizing metal fittings from one of the fermenters. The tasting room is packed with couples draining pints and diving into plates from a food truck parked out front.
This is the weekend routine at Brewery ARS, the new micro that opened earlier this year on West Passyunk Avenue in South Philly.
Small and hyperlocal, it’s open for business just a handful of hours on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, serving fresh, very well-made beer brewed in batches that can be measured in gallons, not barrels.
“We’re not looking to take over the world,” says Andy, showing off a tidy line of stainless steel tanks. “We just want to make good beer.”
Ah, the optimistic mantra of startups: If only I make a high-quality product, customers will beat a path to my door. Lately, skeptics have clucked that that’s not enough – that the explosive growth in small breweries across America has made it impossible for start-ups to get a foothold. How can a small company find room on the beer shelf in an industry controlled by a cutthroat distribution network?
It’s even harder when those shelves are lined with the likes of Goose Island IPA, Devil’s Backbone Vienna Lager, Elysian Zephyrus Pilsner and Breckenridge Vanilla Porter – all made by Anheuser-Busch.
Yet, on this cold, sunny afternoon, I can see a future for small brewing here at Brewery ARS.
That’s largely because of its scale.
Though the brothers are ambitious, this is not a huge operation with a high overhead. It’s a storefront carved out of a former mechanic’s garage and tucked in among small shops and rowhouses. The neighborhood is changing from its traditional South Philly ethnic base as it attracts young couples priced out of Center City, yet it bears little resemblance to far trendier East Passyunk Avenue on the other side of Broad.
With a scarce supply of nearby on-street parking, the room is filled with mainly locals who walked here: young guys in ironic fedoras and women in ski caps, some with their kids in strollers.
The tap list is a row of cartoonish sketches drawn by Sean: World’s Apart American Pale Ale, Antique’n Simcoe Ale, Ashland Robust Porter, Wayne’s Pale Ale. “That’s named for our father,” he says. “A portion of the profits go to Parkinson’s research, which he has.”
The vibe is easy and low-key. “Chloroform” by the French rock band Phoenix is playing on the Bluetooth speaker.
People are eating and drinking and talking, but this does not feel like a bar.
The beer was brewed on the premises, but this does not feel like a brewpub.
It is soft-spoken and unpretentious, and most of all it feels like a part of the neighborhood. On a day when Trump is roiling America with another series of caustic Tweets, the tasting room feels like an oasis.
Nursing my Old Stoop, a bitter, aromatic ale with the kind of balance and clean finish that shows off the brewery’s focus on quality, I can’t help but think that Philly could use more places like this.