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Revitalization by the Pint

Chemical engineer turned craft brewer toasts his adopted hometown

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Chemical engineer Mike Pratt ’07 first started playing around with fermentation in a lab he took as a senior. Though he admits the wine he made that semester “came out terribly,” the class had piqued his curiosity—he wanted to learn more.

After graduation, Pratt started home brewing. Though he initially took it up as a hobby, his love for the craft evolved into a desire to open his own brewery. But then life got busy, as it often does, as he and his wife Catherine M. Pratt ’07 grew their family by two. A few years later, with their daughters approaching school age, the time was finally right to revisit that dream.

This beer is an homage to where we come from.

—Mike Pratt ’07

And that dream, as it turned out, was twofold. After moving to Holyoke, Pratt fell in love with the city and could see enormous potential in the unoccupied buildings of the once-thriving industrial town. He points out that Holyoke, with its former paper and textile mills and brick warehouses, is set up for producing things. The new Arts and Innovation District on Race Street, which includes Gateway City Arts, the Holyoke Community College (HCC) Culinary Center, and Freight Farms—two shipping containers turned hydroponic farms, in which a team of Holyoke residents and HCC students are growing food—seemed like an obvious choice for a new brewery and taproom.  “We need to do this now,” he says, “and on Race Street.”

At 208 Race Street, precisely. In February 2019, Holyoke Craft Beer officially opened its doors to the public in the basement of the historic STEAM Building, a former factory that had once produced valves and steam lines. The brewery itself is a one-barrel kettle with six fermenters, which allows them to keep a rotation of a variety of beers on tap. Ninety-five percent of the grain they use comes from Valley Malt, just up the river in Hadley.

The beers themselves pay tribute to Holyoke, with names like Revival Pale Ale, Dreamers & Makers Belgian Table, and Podoke Porter—a reference to the Podokesaurus holyokensis, a dinosaur fossil that was discovered in a hill near Mount Holyoke College. Holyoke Craft Beer’s head brewer Adam Copeland, the creative mind behind the names, also wrote the recipe for 413—a session New England IPA comprising four types of grain, one hop variety, and three yeast strains. “This beer,” he explains, “is an homage to where we come from and what put the area on the map: making hazy New England IPAs.”

When Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker issued a stay-at-home advisory beginning March 24 closing “nonessential” businesses due to the coronavirus pandemic, liquor stores were allowed to remain open, and Pratt’s shop began offering a weekly pickup time for their growing group of customers to bring home a variety of their beers in cans and growlers.

Pratt continues to urge local businesses to set up shop in downtown Holyoke, even naming one of their beers for this vision—it’s called No Vacancy.

A version of this story was published in Edible Pioneer Valley and is reprinted here with the permission of Jordana Starr and Dominic Perri.