Of all the new breweries to land in Philadelphia over the last year, Brewery ARS takes the prize for fewest frills. But there's no lack of beer thrills if you've had a chance to taste the Belgian yeast-boosted saisons and hop-vivid ales. Twins Sean and Andy Arsenault — they're the 6-foot-5 ginger dudes with beards — are still operating in what is basically an old, whitewashed brick garage. Up went the garage door. Out went the Model T that was in storage. And in rolled a 10-barrel brewhouse, into one of the bays. A storefront space on the side, through a punched-out brick wall, is a simple tasting room where the house snack menu ranges from Goldfish to Chex Mix, with weekend food trucks to supplement appetites.
But if ever there was a testament to the power of great beer to draw a crowd no matter the setting, the weekend-only Brewery ARS is it, proving — along with the spiffier new Second District Brewing Co. working symbiotically not far away — that grittier West Passyunk has the potential to carry East Passyunk's mojo across Broad Street. The quality of the beer, of course, is the reason. Sean quit his career in the European chemical industry to run the business. Andy is the brewer, trained at the University of California, Davis, with a stint at Victory, though he remains a hops salesman by day. ("No, he doesn't give me a discount," says Sean.) But Andy makes the most of his prime ingredients at the brew kettle with an ever-changing array of beers that I found to have an uncommon freshness, complexity, and life: from the Holy Ghost pale ale, which has a vivid pineapple grassiness from Comet hops in the mix, to the single-hopped Antique'n, a saison that highlights the earthy citrus of Simcoe. My favorite of the flight was Bookend, a saison aged with apricots, whose fleshy sweetness lingered. But of course, that one's now gone, as South Philly's garage brewery cycles through to its latest creations, including a rhubarb saison and a dry coffee stout called Endnote, brewed with Ethiopian beans from nearby Greenstreet Coffee Roasters. Pair that brew with a fresh pastry from Fishtown's new Hello Donuts (sold Sundays after 1 p.m), and those are about all the frills I need for an afternoon.
Tasting flight of four 4-ounce beers; $8; Brewery ARS, 1927-29 W. Passyunk Ave, Philadelphia 19145; 215-960-5173; breweryars.com.