Abandoned Building Brewery in Easthampton releases first beer, Lola’s Saison

Last modified: Thursday, March 20, 2014
EASTHAMPTON — There’s a new girl in town, and her name is Lola.

Lola’s Saison by Abandoned Building Brewery, the first beer by Easthampton’s first operational brewery, could be available in bars and restaurants around the Pioneer Valley by the end of the week.

Owner and brewmaster Matthew Tarlecki said Tuesday that the batch of saison — a variety of Belgian farmhouse ale — will be distributed as soon as he finishes stenciling his logo onto the small kegs, sanitizing them and filling them with the light gold brew.

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“I’ve spent the whole year doing everything but making beer, so this feels good,” he said.

The 28-year-old moved to Hadley from the Philadelphia area two years ago with the goal of starting a microbrewery in the Pioneer Valley. One year ago, he started renovating a 2,700-square-foot manufacturing space in The Brickyard, a former mill building at 142 Pleasant St. in Easthampton, to house his operation. It was licensed at the end of 2013, but delays in installing custom-made ventilation stacks and completing plumbing meant he could not put his first batch of beer into the fermentation tank until Feb. 27.

Tarlecki is just one of the young brewers putting Easthampton on the microbrewing map.

Fort Hill Brewery off East Street is scheduled to launch its first beer, a German-style Oktoberfest lager, as soon as it is done fermenting in five or six weeks, said owner Eric Berzins. Berzins, 27, is putting the finishing touches on his $4 million, 9,500-square-foot brewery at 30 Fort Hill Road and said he has brewed one test batch so far.

A third brewery may move in on Pleasant Street later this year, Tarlecki said. The space in the Mill180 building was intended to house High & Mighty Beer Co., but the brewery pulled out of the plans last year. Building owner Michael Michon did not return a call about future plans for a brewery in his building.

Tarlecki said there has been “a lot of chatter” about the up-and-coming brewing industry in the city and residents are excited at the prospect of seeing the taps of local breweries in restaurants and bars.

“They say every other city around here has a brewery except Easthampton,” he said. “It’s happening now.”

Belgian belle

Tarlecki, who has brewed beer at home for eight years, said he decided to brew the Lola’s Saison first because he expects it will be one of his business’s flagship beers.

“Our niche focus is Belgian beers,” he said. “The saison is one of my favorites to make because it’s not too complicated and it has good flavors and aromas.”

He was inspired to name the beer after a woman he met on a trip to Belgium. “She shared the same enthusiasm as I did for Belgian beers, especially saisons,” he said. “I guess it’s a tribute to her and Belgium.”

The brewery will also produce ales and stouts. His next beer, Pennhurst Pale Ale, is fermenting now and may be out as early as next week, he said.

Tarlecki, who named the brewery after his hobby of exploring old, abandoned buildings, christened the pale ale for the Pennhurst State School, a former asylum near where he grew up in Phoenixville, Pa. “It was one of the first abandoned buildings I explored,” he said.

His third release will be the Dirty Girl IPA, a 7 percent ABV India pale ale with a citrus-like taste, he said.

“I want to focus on doing two or three really well to let the area know what we do,” he said.

All his brews will use some malt made at Valley Malt in Hadley, and he hopes to start using his own hops, grown near his home on Rocky Hill Road in Hadley, later this year.

While the three batches he has brewed have turned out well, he said he is still altering recipes to efficiently use ingredients while achieving the right balance of flavors and alcohol. Throughout the process, he regularly tests the temperature, pH, and gravity — an indicator of alcohol content.

He plans to have a grand opening party around the middle or end of April when he opens his tasting room. He still has to set up the bar and order glassware, but then the public can come in to see the operation, try samples and buy beer in half-gallon jugs called growlers. Eventually, he hopes to sell his beer in stores in 22-ounce bottles. “We’re focusing on one mode of delivery at a time,” he said.

He said he went about 10 percent over his $200,000 budget for the investor-funded project, but he is “pretty happy with that.” He saved money where he could, including by buying kegs secondhand from a brewery in California and getting a used walk-in cooler, which he cools with two wall unit air conditioners.

Tarlecki said that with the exception of some friends who helped on the first batches, his brewery is a one-man operation. It will be a while before he can hire any employees, he said.

He will be brewing once or twice a week with the goal of making 750 barrels in his first year. Most of the beer will be distributed around the Pioneer Valley, but he said he has had some interest from businesses in Boston.

“We’re looking into maybe doing a few bars in Boston,” he said, but the main limitation is the time it would take to deliver it. “We’re working up to it.”

People looking to try Easthampton’s first brew can visit www.abandonedbuildingbrewery.com to find a list of the bars and restaurants that will have it.

Rebecca Everett can be reached at reverett@gazettenet.com.