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Hot Plate Brewing Company opens today in Pittsfield

Hot Plate Brewing Company co-founder Sarah Real shows off her hops.
Josh Landes
Hot Plate Brewing Company co-founder Sarah Real shows off her hops.

A new brewery opens in downtown Pittsfield, Massachusetts at 4 p.m. today.

It’s a brew day at Hot Plate Brewing Company. Co-founder Sarah Real measures out hops in a bowl.

“So, hops are actually a cousin of the cannabis plant," she explained to WAMC. "So, it's a leafy flower, you use the female ones. Go girl power, use the female ones. That's what are hops. So, it is a flower that grows, it grows at a very specific latitude. So that's why you have kind of the strip across like Oregon, Washington, there's actually a hop grower, Four Star Farms here in Massachusetts, she's awesome. And then that it's the same latitude as the hops grown in Germany and over there. So, that's why you get this specific latitude that it's grown. Harvest is usually around end of August, sort of September. And so, the hops for the year are picked, packaged, pelletized- So, this is a little pellet. So, all the flowers are put down into this pellet, they're dried out, put down in this pellet in a matter of a month, and you have that for the entire year.”

The tap room at 1 School Street will have a dozen freshly made beers on its roster.

“One third is going to be kind of your lighter beers- European classic styles, the cream ale we're preparing today, that'll be on there," said Real. "We are next to the police station, so, think post-shift lager type of things. Middle section is going to be kind of what's popular. So right now, New England IPAs are still really popular, but just kind of understanding the trends across the country. And then the third area is where I like to play. So, I do chamomile blonde ale, a jalapeno pale ale, we do a habanero chocolate stout in the winter kind of, think Mexican hot chocolate. We have a Saison series that we'd like to do, where we use local vegetables that are kind of on their last legs. So, we did like a Saison with rutabaga one time. And then also we love Belgian ales.”

Real worked in the media sphere for companies like Adult Swim and Nickelodeon before pursuing a long-held dream of opening a brewery. She envisions Hot Plate as slotting into the existing Pittsfield community in as many ways as possible.

“We're going to have also cider and wine for those people who don't like beer, can't have beer," Real told WAMC. "We'll have some non-alcoholic options as well. We really wanted to be gathering place for the community. So, we'll have board games, we ask that everybody puts the pieces back. But, you know, we’ll have bring your own food. We'll have some snacks, but bring your own food. That way, if you're having a birthday party, bring your own birthday cake, right? Just order in. There are a number of great restaurants around here. It's like, walk over to Marketplace or have them deliver over here and you know, have all your food here.”

Real’s partner and co-founder Mike Dell’Aquila met and bonded over a shared love of beer in the 00s at Penn State. A cross-country drive in 2005 produced the first sparks of interest in opening a brewery.

“The craft beer boom was just kind of getting started," Dell’Aquila said. "Obviously, the industry wasn't yet what it is today. And we stopped at New Belgium Brewery in Colorado, in Fort Collins, and it was smaller than the place that is there now. But one of the things we really loved was not just beer and craft beer, but the culture that they built around it, there was, you know, a bike share program. It's an employee-owned company, they had really good values. And so, we really fell in love, I think, with the entirety of the craft beer culture, and not just craft beer itself.”

But it wasn’t yet in the cards. As the couple pursued careers outside of craft beer – eventually landing in New York City – they kept their love for it alive through homebrewing. From there, they discovered both an aptitude for the art form as well as a name for their company.

“One day, basically, New York City Department of Buildings came in shut off our gas," Dell’Aquila explained. "So, we had no heat, no hot water, and we had to brew and cook on a hot plate. And so, we did that for a number of years. Sarah didn't want to give up the dream of brewing a second time like she had back in 2005. So, we kept at it. Brewing on a hot plate is painfully slow, takes hours to bring up even a two-and-a-half-gallon batch to a boil. But we really just didn't want to give up on the dream. And then what we started doing during those years was we'd make these batches, either two-and-a-half or five-gallon batches, and we'd have our friends over for tasting parties. And we kept working on recipes, refining kind of our craft and our knowledge of how to make beer. And that process of making and sharing beer with our friends was a way to take our mind off a situation that was becoming really difficult.”

The shock of the COVID-19 pandemic prompted the couple to leave the city and bet on their beer, leading them to Pittsfield and the establishment of Hot Plate. Dell’Aquila says making the brewery as welcoming as possible was paramount in the space’s design.

“When you walk in, you'll see there's a lower part of the bar that's fully wheelchair accessible, that's at a height where someone at a wheelchair can actually literally sit at the bar," he told WAMC. "One of the reasons why we wanted to do that was to go above and beyond ADA compliance, and really make sure that people that have disabilities of any kind really feel like we've created a space for them as well. We're going to be talking soon to someone who is a specialist in disability studies to really understand how can we take that even further to make sure that people that have spectrum disorders or hearing disorders or anything like that, how can we make sure that we take that into consideration. So, is there a music volume that if you have a hearing aid, for example, that is too loud to be able to hear background noise or something like that. So, we're looking at that. We're working already with both musicians to have some live music and then talking to other members of the community to see if we can do a lot of cultural programming in the taproom.”

Hot Plate Brewing Company is located at 1 School Street in Pittsfield, Massachusetts.

Josh Landes has been WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Chief since February 2018, following stints at WBGO Newark and WFMU East Orange. A passionate advocate for Western Massachusetts, Landes was raised in Pittsfield and attended Hampshire College in Amherst, receiving his bachelor's in Ethnomusicology and Radio Production. His free time is spent with his cat Harry, experimental electronic music, and exploring the woods.
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