Through a homebrewing project in Philadelphia, the foundation for Abandoned Building Brewery formed. Matt Tarlecki made a hobby of brewing and sharing his homebrews with friends. Being the hit they were, he tried his hand at a homebrewing competition. The prize was the chance to brew the beer in the brewpub of the company holding the contest, McKenzie Brew House.
Tarlecki understood the styles of McKenzie Brew House, and he set out to create a beer that suited their liking. The result was a Belgian Quad that won Tarlecki the crown and led to the beginning of his experience in larger-scale production. The experience assured him of what he already suspected was true. He wanted to open a brewery.
At the time, Tarlecki was a Civil Engineer homebrewing on the side as a hobby and volunteering to help in breweries. With the desire gaining steam, he saw a personal deadline for himself to start a brewery soon, or he figured it wouldn’t happen at all. With friends in Western Massachusetts, he already had a place to stay and fans to serve. He began making trips to the area on weekends to research the brewery scene and look for potential locations. On each trip, he would bring some of his homebrew experiments to serve at parties in the area. Now, years later, he has patrons at Abandoned Building telling him they drank his original creations before the brewery even existed.
Finding The Abandoned Building
Tarlecki developed a reputation for himself bringing his homebrews to Western Mass while he was researching places he might house the brewery. He decided it would be named Abandoned Building. The only thing left to do was to find a location that could accommodate this project of his.
As it turned out, Easthampton was the perfect location with an actual abandoned building waiting for him to move in. It was March of 2013 when the renovations began at 142 Pleasant Street. A year later, in April of 2014, the brewing began.
The start of the business was a grind. Tarlecki and his girlfriend at the time were the only employees, and they could not serve anything except two-ounce samples and growlers. Tarlecki wore all the hats but found success in getting his beers into local bars, many of which keep his beer on tap consistently to this day. With the growing reputation came more employees. Tarlecki has been happy to leave the sales and distribution processes to people he says are “much better and smarter in those fields.” Now he stays focused on the brewing, and yes, that girlfriend became his wife.
Tarlecki has stayed true to some of the Belgian-style brewing that gave him his start at the craft in Philadelphia. He has continued working with the Belgian-style, and it has found him many admirers in the area. Notably, the Odin Quad – a version of the Belgian Quad that won him that original competition – is now being barrel-aged and saved for releases of vintage Odins.
No Shortage of Inspiration from Belgium
While Philadelphia gave him his background, Tarlecki has drawn inspiration from one of the beer-making capitals of the world. He has made multiple trips overseas to Belgium and has steeped himself in their beer culture through visits to bars and breweries. In particular, he’s drawn motivation from the operations of Cantillon in Brussels and Huisbrouwerij De Halve Maan in Bruges.
He hasn’t been able to emulate the Lambic styles of the Belgian brewers. Tarlecki makes sure that any souring of their beers does not risk infecting other beers. Lambic brewing is currently too much of a risk. He may not have the chance to try his hand at the at the craft of this style yet, but he remains informed and inspired by the work done in Belgium.
The citizens of Belgium have provided their share of inspiration in his work as well. Abandoned Building’s Lola Saison gets its name from a Belgian woman that Tarlecki couchsurfed with. Lola is aware there is a beer in the States named after her, but there is no word on when or if she will ever get out here to sample her representative beer. Whether she does or not, local brewery visitors are grateful for the creation. There is also a dog whose owner frequents the brewery named Lola. Many question the relation between the beer and the dog, but Tarlecki promises the relationship is strictly coincidental.
The abandoned building that houses Abandoned Building brewery is quite large and is now home to many other businesses. One of those is another of the breweries we’ve featured here on the Brewery Spotlight, New City Brewery. While Tarlecki and Sam Dibble of New City have not collaborated on beers, they are cooperative. When one needs an emergency ingredient, they will work together if they can. They also pour beers at an annual event called Mill Pond Live, at Lower Mill Pond, located behind New City Brewery. The two breweries feature beers quite different from one another, so the complementary flavors provide a nice spread of options.
Abandoned Building also hosts FoodTruck Fridays in their parking lot during the summer months of New England. Every other Friday from May through October, a mini-festival takes place outside Abandoned Building. The space is open to drinkers, eaters, and music listeners. All summer, an assortment of music and food is dished out every other Friday and plays host to sometimes thousands of guests.
“We don’t really have the population density out here like Boston does to justify all the beer gardens that they have,” says Tarlecki. “This is an awesome way for us to be able to provide that outdoor environment for this region of the state.” It is an opportunity the Western Mass community loves, as it continues to draw a crowd each time it pops up.
Maintaining a strong assortment of beers, Abandoned Building has found their wheelhouse working with Belgian-style beers, dark hoppy American beers, and experimenting through barrel aging. The quality they have been able to deliver with what is a relatively small amount of experience has grabbed attention and deserves every bit of it. As years pass and knowledge grows with experiments for this brewery, many will anticipate the level of beers yet to come.
Thus far, a track record of reliable consistency has served them well. Abandoned Building has the good fortune of not having too many blunders where disposing of a batch of beer was needed. “You always need to be prepared for that,” says Tarlecki. “If you can’t deal with that possibility, brewing probably isn’t a good thing for you.” It is important to him to have the beers at Abandoned Building be high quality and consistent. Therefore, he remains prepared to dump something that seems off.
Although the track record is good, there have been some blunders. One of those, the crew was able to salvage. “It was supposed to be an Irish Red Ale, but it didn’t come out right,” Tarlecki says. He mentioned that it was still a good beer, and they just had to adjust their approach. That turned into one of their beers that is now on rotation, an Irish Black Ale fittingly named Blunder.
Some of the other beers that Abandoned Building delivers include a special kettled sour. This beer features flavors of blueberry, boysenberry, and raspberry. This recent experiment has turned out to be a favorite of their visitors. The beer gained the name Tart for its sweet flavor, and due to its popularity, Abandoned Building came out with a follow-up to this beer they named Double Tart.
Darker beers are also in the mix, including their Brickyard Porter and a special winter release, the Cold Brew Infused Nightshade Coffee Stout. I sampled the Stout myself and was impressed by the beer’s drinkability. It is a well-balanced Stout with an appropriate strength that is not overpowering. Tarlecki told me that the cold brewing process for the coffee they use removes a lot of the acidity from the coffee. In turn, that process ends up making the beer itself a more drinkable beverage.
The immediate goals for Tarlecki and Abandoned Building revolve around maintaining their consistency and finding some room for experimentation of new beers. With their recently acquired new space, the expansion has given the crew plenty to think about as the business grows. Apart from their main bar area that they call ‘the livingroom,’ Abandoned Building now has a second area they use as a banquet hall for private events, expanded brewing, and barrel aging.
With the event space booked for now and the outdoor season lurking around the corner, this abandoned building turned brewery has plenty on its plate. Tarlecki says that he is grateful to have his sales team taking a lot of his plate and Night Shift distribution maintaining their Eastern Massachusetts deliveries. The distribution of responsibilities gives him more time to focus on the brewing that he loves to do. His increased brewing time is an excellent sign for fans of beer and the future for the Abandoned Building Brewing Company. The more Tarlecki can turn his mind towards his accomplished brewing, the more delectable beverages we are sure to have.