I am brimming over with appreciation for what Mike and Catherine are doing, not only for the local craft beer industry but for our spunky little city! Their energy and courage is inspiring and we are truly honored to have spent a little time with them and grateful that they’ve shared their story with us! A Gigantic thank you to the Pratt family for their contribution and commitment to making Holyoke “map worthy”. ⠀
We’ll be learning more about Holyoke’s newest brewery and it’s proprietors, Mike Pratt and his supportive wife Catherine over at “Holyoke Craft Beer” on Race Street. ⠀
This super cute couple has a great story and an energetic passion for what they do! Thirsty for the details about the Holyoke Craft Beer? ⠀
Whether it’s just a run of the mill day of daily operations or a funky batch of “interesting” flavors, it’s a story worth hearing! You’re definitely going to want to see what all the hubbub is about once you start getting to know them. Let’s see what the Pratt’s are brewing over at Holyoke Craft Beer!
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Please tell us a little bit about the owners…
Holyoke Craft beer is a small scale, mom and pop operation. Mike and Catherine Pratt met while studying Chemical Engineering at UMass Amherst. The idea of starting a brewery had its roots in their classes, actually. Mike was particularly inspired by a fermentation assignment and practiced home brewing for ten years before opening Holyoke Craft Beer on Race St. As so many homebrewers do, Mike had the dream of opening up his own brewery, and Holyoke was the perfect place to do it.
How did the HCB come to settle in Holyoke?
First and foremost, Holyoke is our home. We have lived here for over ten years and are raising our family here. We want to be a part of this community and contribute to it in a way that feels natural to us. Opening up a brewery felt like a great way to continue the revitalization of downtown Holyoke and leave our mark on the community in this great, historical city.
How long have you been brewing?
The development of our first beer began ten years ago in a friend’s basement and, like many first beers it didn’t come out exactly the way we wanted it to. The process though kept us coming back to brewing. We loved the challenge of perfecting our recipes and the communal aspect of brewing and sharing.
Now, ten years later, we are in a new basement making increasingly wonderful beers. Our brewers have years of experience and take the craft very seriously. They are always making creative suggestions and taking us in new directions.
Tell us how you fell in love with making beer, were you influenced by a person or a particular brand and lifestyle?
From coffee shops to performance stages, we are inspired by all those spaces in life that cultivate artistic expression and celebrate individual, unique contributions. Small business and local economies promote a special kind of creative commerce that brings so much to a community. We see craft breweries as an important part of that development. Each brewery has its own personality, culture, and impact. Ultimately, craft brewing is an art form with infinite possibilities that brings people in communities together in enjoyment, appreciation, and optimism.
Was becoming a brewmaster difficult, would you share some details about the process?
For many years the idea of opening a brewery felt like an insurmountable challenge due to the formal regulations and licensing requirements. With the fairly recent changes to the laws, the process has become much more accessible. Even after opening the brewery though, there are still many challenges to running our business due to the inherent complexities of and the restrictions that come along with manufacturing alcohol.
From a brewing perspective becoming proficient at brewing requires highly focused experimentation. The goal is to take an idea and make it a reality. That requires conception, execution, and iteration of a recipe over time. So practicing patience and continuing education are keys in the continual improvement of our beer, which for any great brewmaster, is the most fun.
The reward is the amazing excitement that people have for what we are doing, and all the support that we have received so far.
What was the defining moment that you realized that you were about to embark on the process of switching from beer lover to professional brewmaster AND that you were definitely going into the beer-making business?
The city really inspired the brewery. There have been exciting things happening on Race St. in Holyoke for several years now, such as the opening of Gateway City Arts and the Cubit building which has condos and also houses a culinary school. We were particularly inspired by ArteSana, a non-profit that empowers and employs women while converting old textiles into beautiful works of art and useful household items. We attended their grand opening in December 2017 and walked away thinking that we wanted to be a part of the growing energy and on that street specifically. Within three weeks we had the equipment, the name, and the location specified for our business. It has been a non-stop adventure since then!
Walk us through how HCB comes up with new flavors and how naming the beer happens?
We have dedicated brewers on the staff and generally, our recipe development is a product of their collective inspiration. Sometimes the seasons provide creative guidance. Other times we are inspired by the ingredients we have on hand. The most fun beers come from sparks of creativity or desire to execute a new style. Our latest beer, A Never Setting Sun, is a Key Lime wheat beer from our brewer Nate. Since we are a small brewery, we are able to be very nimble in bringing new beers to market and always keep things interesting.
Many of all our beers are named by our creative staff member and brewer, Adam. He has a way with words and often finds a connection to our namesake city and community. The name that we get the biggest kick out of is Podoke Porter, named for the dinosaur species Podokesaurus Holyokensis which was discovered in Holyoke! We especially love this name for this beer because it is a classic and one of our most beloved beers.
What’s an average day like at Holyoke Craft Beer like?
Pre-coronavirus outbreak, we held weekly taproom nights on Fridays. Since our brewery is so small (1BBL = 31-gallon batch) and so is our space, we would transform our working brewing into a taproom, reconfiguring the setup each week. Friday nights have been a lot of fun, especially when we have hosted special events such as live music performances and trivia nights. Currently, our Fridays are centered around our weekly curbside pickup event, which means more canning, but still getting to see our customers!
During the rest of the week, we are either brewing up another batch of one of our staples or working on bringing a novel beer to our dedicated customers. Our team works together to make sure everything is executed to the highest standards so that the beer is as close to perfect as possible. It is the little things that matter in making great beer.
What’s the weirdest ingredient ever included in the beer?
We have a Milkshake IPA called “Cake” which, as implied by the name, contains birthday cake! We created it for the brewery’s first birthday in February 2020. It was a hit and sold out half-way through the first night on tap. We continue to brew it to channel those good times and because there is always something to celebrate! (It also makes the brewery smell like a birthday party on brew day, so we love brewing this beer)
What are your top three selling sellers?
Our New England IPA, Theory, is always a top seller. It features Galaxy hops, a super popular variety that provides notes of pineapple and tropical fruit. Folks who want an easy-drinking beer often go to our Milling About White Ale. It is light and refreshing. It also features hops from Four Star farms in Northfield, and all of its grains are from our neighbors in Hadley, Valley Malt. We also see a lot of enthusiasm for Dreamers & Makers, a table beer that is simple yet perfectly delicious.
What’s the worst experience you’ve had as a brewer?
Going into our second year, we had a LOT of plans. We were most excited to participate for the first time in the Holyoke St. Patrick’s Day road race activities. With sponsorship from PeoplesBank, we created an Irish stout recipe special for the event, named PeoplesStout. We also developed a small-scale canning process and ordered our first cans, which donned an awesome shamrock label designed by local artist, Jordana Starr. We were so excited to share it with the Holyoke community on an important day!
When we heard the news that the parade and all associated activities were canceled due to the pandemic, we were somewhat crushed. We quickly realized our year was going to be a lot different than we planned. Like everyone else, we had to adapt and move forward. We were able to pivot our business and transitioned to an online ordering system and a contact-free weekly curbside pickup on Fridays. We have expanded our offerings and now are doing local deliveries as well. This time has been a challenge for each and every one of us, but we feel encouraged by those that are supporting us and we aim to continue our craft despite these circumstances. Stay tuned!