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Northampton Brewery celebrates turning 30

The party will also serve as a community fundraiser for The Literacy Project

  • Northampton Brewery owner and founder Janet Egelston-Cichy, right, and head brewer Donald Pacher talk Oct. 5, 2017 about the 30th anniversary for the business. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Northampton Brewery, shown last week, is celebrating its 30th year in business on Sunday, Oct. 15, with a combination birthday bash and fundraiser for The Literacy Project, an adult education organization. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Northampton Brewery owner and founder Janet Egelston-Cichy, right, and head brewer Donald Pacher talk Oct. 5, 2017 about the 30th anniversary for the business. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Northampton Brewery owner and founder Janet Egelston-Cichy, right, and head brewer Donald Pacher talk last Thursday about the 30th anniversary for the business. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Northampton Brewery head brewer Donald Pacher talks Oct. 5, 2017 about the 30th anniversary for the business. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Redheaded Stepchild, an American red ale, left, Four Star Hop Harvest, a hoppy lager with local hops from Four Star Farms in Northfield, Black Cat Stout, and Paradise City IPA, all of Northampton Brewery, are displayed at the business last week. The brewery turned 30 in August and will celebrate with a fundraising event this Sunday, Oct. 15. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY



@BeraDunau
Monday, October 09, 2017

Northampton — Few businesses can boast having made it to the 30-year mark. Fewer still can say they’ve had the same management team for more than a decade. Yet, the Northampton Brewery can claim both of these distinctions, and it doesn’t look like either streak is going to be broken anytime soon.

“I have no idea what else I would do,” said Janet Egelston-Cichy, the brewery’s founder and owner.

“I can’t imagine working for anybody else at this point in my life,” head brewer Donald Pacher said.

Egelston said that the most important thing she’s learned at the brewery is the importance of putting together a strong team. She and Pacher also spoke to the importance of taking care of the brewery as an entity in and of itself.

“We’re all kind of here ... as a group taking care of it,” she said.

“The energy’s so good, and the people care so deeply about what they’re trying to do,” Pacher said.

Although the actual anniversary was Aug. 10, the brewery will celebrate with a birthday bash next Sunday, Oct. 15, to mark three decades in business. The celebration will also serve as a community fundraiser for The Literacy Project, an adult education organization.

“It’s a really, really a great organization,” Egelston-Cichy said.

The party will feature live music, cornhole, auctions and raffles. The $30 entry covers food and beer at the event, and all money raised from entry, auctions and raffles will go to The Literacy Project.

Raffle prizes will include offerings from a number of different area breweries, while one of the auction prizes is a tailgate party for four at the brewery, with a menu designed by the brewery’s chef.

“This won’t be just chicken wings,” Pacher said.

Another auction prize will be cooking classes from Good Stock Farm.

Guests at the party will be given a map with the locations of the food and beer there, as well as a glass.

The party runs from 3-7 p.m., and Ubers will be available for people who need a ride home.

In the beginning

Egelston-Cichy moved to the Valley in the late 1980s to attend the University of Massachusetts Amherst, but those plans quickly changed when she had the chance to open Northampton Brewery alongside her brother Peter and both their romantic partners at the time. Indeed, she sent a letter to UMass informing the university of her decision.

“Sometime later I actually met that admissions person,” Egelston-Cichy said. “He remembered that letter.”

Egelston-Cichy was only 26 when the brewpub opened, and her co-founders were around the same age. She remembers writing down lists of the wealthy people she thought she knew and who might be willing to invest in the endeavor.

“I still have those original lists,” she said during an interview from the brewery at 11 Brewster Court last Thursday.

In the end, however, Egelston-Cichy and her co-founders were able to get a loan from a bank, which allowed the business to open. When it did so in 1987, Northampton Brewery was one of about only 150 brewpubs in the United States.

“Now there’s 5,300,” Egelston-Cichy said.

Indeed, Northampton Brewery is currently the oldest operating brewpub in the Northeast.

“I’m proud of that,” she said.

The brewery employs between 60 to 90 people, depending on the season.

Egelston-Cichy and her brother also founded Smuttynose Brewery and Portsmouth Brewery, both in New Hampshire. She is no longer affiliated with Portsmouth Brewery, but is on the board of Smuttynose, while her brother is no longer affiliated with Northampton Brewery. However, Egelston-Cichy said this reorganization hasn’t negatively affected their personal relationship.

A master brewer

Like Egelston-Cichy, Northampton Brewery has shaped the course of Pacher’s life as well. Indeed, it’s where he met his wife, which happened when he was off-duty and they had both finished a run.

“This place brings people together,” he said.

Pacher grew up in the Bennington, Vermont, area, and about a dozen years ago he decided to make a change and move to western Massachusetts as a result of what he dubbed an “early midlife crisis.”

He started working at Northampton Brewery, and within 18 months he was given the position of head brewer.

“Incredible desire to learn,” Egelston-Cichy said when asked what had prompted her to give Pacher the job.

Pacher said the brewery makes about 50 varieties of beer a year, and that this number is actually significantly cut down from how they used to operate.

“We were like a jazz band back there,” Pacher said.

Yet when the outdoor seating is taken down for the fall and winter, clarinet solos once again ring through the brewery, as Pacher and his team have more time to experiment with new beers.

“Now we get to have fun,” Pacher said. “More fun.”

Pacher had his first beer in middle school when he stole a Genesee when on a camping trip with his father.

“Hell no,” he said, when asked if he’d liked it.

He also said that drinking an Otter Creek Copper Ale after college turned him onto craft beer.

Two of Pacher’s favorite beers that he brews are Pils, the Northampton Brewery’s pilsner, and Blue Boots IPA, the first beer he developed as head brewer. He also said that he loves seeing people take home cans of the beer he makes.

“That’s probably the best feeling, I think,” he said.

His white whale of a beer, meanwhile, is Taras Boulba, a hard-to-find Belgian beer that he has so far failed to imitate, which he likens to “the perfect hug.”

Indeed, Pacher intends to visit Belgium next summer so that he can finally get it right, as he’s unsuccessfully tried to make it about 15 times before.

Pacher also said that more and more women are entering the brewing business, and he credits female owners like Egelston-Cinchy for helping to shrink the gender disparity in the industry.

Bera Dunau can be reached at bdunau@gazettenet.com