EASTHAMPTON — Amherst has two brewpubs and Northampton and Williamsburg have one each, but Easthampton is poised to become the new microbrewery capital of Hampshire County.
Construction of two breweries in the city is nearly complete and owners said they hope to offer beer within a month or two. Both owners are seasoned homebrewers and Valley transplants in their 20s who are bucking the microbrewery trend of IPAs to focus on other styles of beer.
Plans for a third brewery at 180 Pleasant St. are on hold, though a company could be brewing there later in 2014.
Abandoned Building Brewery at 142 Pleasant St. is fully licensed and aims to brew its first batch before the end of the year, said 28-year-old owner and head brewer Matthew Tarlecki of Hadley.
Fort Hill Brewery at 30 Fort Hill Road is waiting on a state brewing license and expects to have a beer fermenting sometime in January, according to owner Eric Berzins, 27, of Easthampton.
But for now, plans for High & Mighty Beer Co. to brew in a former mill building at 180 Pleasant St. have been tabled. The brewery partnered with the building’s owner, Michael Michon, to build a production space starting in 2011, and though the space is ready, the brewery is not moving in.
“There is going to be a brewery there, but it won’t be High & Mighty,” owner Will Shelton said by phone last week. He lives in California but said he still has a hand in running High & Mighty Beer Co.
“It’s unfortunate because we were looking forward to being in Easthampton,” he said.
He declined to give details about what led to the decision. High & Mighty Beer Co. will continue to brew at the Paper City Brewery facility in Holyoke.
Shelton said he heard another brewery is looking to move into the space sometime in 2014. Michon, who did not return calls for comment last week, told the Gazette in March that the brewery was fully licensed and constructed.
Abandoned Building Brewery
Tarlecki, a native of Philadelphia, has been working to transform a high-ceilinged industrial space in a 1910 mill building on Pleasant Street into the new home of Abandoned Building Brewery since March. A civil engineer, he designed the brewery himself.
“All the equipment is in, we’re just hooking all the systems up now,” he said. “We hope to have our first batch in by the end of the year.” He said it will take about two weeks for the beer to be ready. It will be a Belgian-style beer called Lola’s Saison, he said.
“We’re very excited to get it up and running,” he said.
He plans to focus on brewing Belgian-style beers as well as traditional American styles such as pale ales and stouts. The brewery will use local malt from Pioneer Valley Malt in Hadley as much as possible, he said, and he picked up the first order of malt in the first week of December.
His brewery includes a 15-barrel system that will allow him to brew about 450 gallons of beer at a time and a system for filling kegs and half-gallon jugs, called growlers, for purchase. There is also a tasting area with refinished hardwood floors and a bar he built with used wood.
The biggest hiccup in the process of opening was the government shutdown in October, he said. While employees at the federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau stayed home from work, he waited for his federal brewery license to be approved. “That delayed us about three weeks,” he said.
In addition, he said he didn’t expect the amount of plumbing work that needed to be done so the space could handle the large amounts of water required to brew beer.
Unlike the custom-made brewing system Fort Hill Brewery is installing, Tarlecki’s brewery will not use an automated system.
“The only thing that’s automated are the switches that turn on the pumps. Everything else depends on the brewer,” he said. “It’s much more hands-on.”
At least at first, Tarlecki said, he will be the only one working at the brewery, but he will consider hiring additional help once he has a sense of how much work is involved.
Tarlecki started brewing beer at home eight years ago and eventually his recipes were good enough to win prizes at regional home brewing competitions. He was introduced to the Pioneer Valley by friends and moved here in February 2012 to find a good spot to build his brewery and the investors to make it happen.
He said he has managed to stay within his $200,000 budget by doing some of the work himself and finding bargains, like the used but perfectly good walk-in cooler he purchased.
Fort Hill Brewery
Just over a mile away, Berzins is building Fort Hill Brewery from scratch with a budget of $4 million to $4.5 million. Construction of the 9,500-square-foot building resembling a red barn began just over a year ago on the 3-acre property on Fort Hill Road.
Thanks to eager investors, his budget for construction and start-up costs doubled from more than $2 million to upward of $4 million in the last year.
“Craft brewing is really increasing its presence in the beer market,” he said. “So investors have a lot more faith in projects.”
He originally hoped the brewery would be producing by late November, but a delay in delivery of the brewing equipment set him back. Throughout December, more tanks and the kegging line will be installed. “There are all these various puzzle pieces we need to fit together,” he said.
The brewery has its federal permit and Berzins expects his state permit to be approved sometime in January. His first lager could be ready in February, he said. “It will be a variation of a German Oktoberfest with an Easthampton twist,” he said.
He plans to use hops from 500 plants he planted in a field off Duda Lane in some of the 5,000 barrels he hopes to produce in his first year.
He bought a custom-made 50-barrel brewing system from a German company called BrauKon. Much of the system is automated. Using a touchscreen computer, a brewer can activate software that will send compressed air to open a valve and send the mash or liquid to the next tank.
Berzins plans to focus on lagers, which can take anywhere from three to six weeks to brew, compared to the ales most microbreweries are making, which take only 11 days to three weeks to brew. He will sell beer by the keg and growler and also in cans.
Berzins plans to manage the business and hire a brewmaster to oversee the production of his recipes. He estimated he will hire about 20 employees within six months to one year of his hoped-for February opening.
He said he is considering applying for a new license from the state, called a Farmer Series Pouring Permit, which if approved would allow him to sell pints of beer to customers touring the plant. If he does get the license, he would likely only open the tasting room bar for limited weekend hours, he said.
He said the 2-ounce samples breweries are allowed to give out at tastings are not enough to get a good taste of the beer. “But our goal is really to be a production brewery and not necessarily a bar.”
Rebecca Everett can be reached at email@example.com.