When I pulled around the corner to the restaurant-pub my GPS directed me to, I knew there was a different story waiting for me here. I only worried that it was a story of a disappointing variety. The building seemed too small to house a brewery of any significance. Still, I also knew that The People’s Pint in Greenfield, Massachusetts had a strong reputation and a more extensive history than most breweries in the area. Had I been deceived?
The surprise was a good one and quickly relaxed my concerns. The brewery portion of the business stands separately from the restaurant a few streets away. The bigger surprise was that this was not always the case. When The People’s Pint got started as a restaurant and brewery in 1997, brewing happened in the same space as the kitchen. Anybody who has worked in a kitchen can understand temperatures get hot. I could only imagine the nightmare of heat control and the challenge of brewers and kitchen staff cooperating in tight quarters. Hats off to the crew able to make that scenario work because, thanks to them, The People’s Pint has had a chance to grow into the gem it has become.
In 2001, the brewery found its chance to expand beyond its kitchen brewery. Co-founders Alden Booth and Dan Young were able to acquire new brewing equipment from the auction of another brewery in Alston, Massachusetts. The former Northeast Brewing Company was getting rid of everything, and the team at The People’s Pint got a great deal on the equipment that would furnish their new operation. It took a year from then to get an off-site location set up with their new equipment for a more appropriate brewing environment.
A few years later, Dan Young would vacate his position when he moved to Michigan and started his own hard cider business. At that point, Alden’s wife, Lissa Greenough, who had been working with The People’s Pint almost from the start, stepped up to become an official co-owner. The business would receive another boost in 2007 when Chris Sellers joined the team, at first labeling bottles and washing kegs, among other things. “Mine is kind of the story of a lot of people that end up running a brewery. You start labeling all the bottles and washing all the kegs. Eventually, you work your way up to a point where you become quite passionate about the beer.” Passion and knowledge were easy words to attach to Chris Sellers when listening to him talk about beer.
Chris Sellers’ Years of Brewing Excellence
Sellers came to Massachusetts from Pennsylvania with his eye on the developing world of brewing. He knew there were a lot of breweries in the area and was already interested in moving his life in that direction. After finding joy in homebrewing and meeting many people in the brewing industry, he applied to as many breweries as he could before he got a job with The People’s Pint.
Years spent with the manual labor of the brewery convinced Chris it was time to investigate opportunities in professional education for brewers. He found that most diploma programs were expensive and required a lot of time away from work. In his early twenties, he didn’t have the money to invest in such an education, which meant he couldn’t take enough time away from work to get it anyway. He instead took advantage of his membership with the Master Brewers Association of America, a science-driven professional trade organization for brewers. Through this membership, he was able to take advantage of a faster-paced education program offered at the University of Wisconsin at a price he could manage.
An Attitude of Improvement and Experimentation
Completing the one course didn’t result in an immediate elevation in Seller’s position. Still, it was only a year later that he gained a promotion to Brewery Manager at The People’s Pint. Now he enjoys the thrill and freedom of tweaking recipes, working with ingredients, and creating new beers.
“The fun part is always working on new beers and looking at the stuff we’ve been brewing forever and finding a way to make it a better version of itself.” Through talking to Chris, I gained an appreciation for the obsessive experimentation in different techniques of brewing. Regularly during our interview, he would bring up instances where he was working with a beer and would say something like, “We decided to experiment with another way of adding hops, and it worked better than we expected. It’s taken out a lot of the bitterness and astringency from some of our beers.”
Sellers made sure to mention the complications that are involved with being a brewer. “It’s a small business. Handling and producing the beer all needs to be happening at the same time. Any of these breweries around here will tell you it’s a lot of work. It’s never just about focusing on the beer as a brewer; it’s about the economics as well.”
Sellers emphasized the attention to detail that goes into his craft. “It’s like being in a recording studio, and you’re playing with the mixing board. Small tweaks to different settings have a big impact.”
A Uniquely Sustainable Working Environment
I was pleasantly surprised to hear about the business’s commitment to sustainable practices. As a restaurant and brewery, they have a great deal more waste to deal with than the average brewery. Still, they’ve managed to reduce their standard amount of garbage to one barrel of trash per day. “We do a lot of composting,” says Sellers.
The commitment to sustainability is also not a recent adoption for The People’s Pint. Their sustainable practices have been in place since the beginning, for more than 20 years. The restaurant uses no disposable equipment. That means no napkins on tables or anything of that nature. But the commitment to sustainability extends to the brewery as well. They’ve recently set up solar-heated hot water to reduce their electric use, and they even organize delivery routes to be as efficient as possible for minimal gas usage. Partly because of this, their beers are only found in Massachusetts as far east as Cambridge.
The People’s Pint takes a unique approach to their rotating drafts. Many breweries will have seasonal beers that return year after year. The only beers that repeat on tap at The People’s Pint are their year-round selection. Otherwise, Sellers is continuously coming up with new beers to bring out each season.
He says that, while they don’t have beers repeating seasonally, seasonality is a significant factor in which beers they decide to make. “People still like to drink their beer styles seasonally,” Sellers said when talking about how seasons affect what we want. “We can brew a couple of batches of our Oatmeal Stout in the Summer, and it will last the entire season, but in the winter, we need to be brewing it all the time.” When I visited in early February, almost half of their beers on tap were a darker style, and only one of those, the Oatmeal Stout, was a part of their year-round offerings.
Another factor in what they create each season is merely the things they want to try. Among those efforts have been some favorites that frequent guests are requesting a return to the tap list. Two beers they brewed in the past that they named The Lightness and Super Sessions (not to be confused with another beer that has since taken that name) were done with methods to create flavorful beers with uncharacteristically low alcohol content. “I feel bad,” admitted Sellers, “there’s a guy that’s been asking me to bring back The Lightness for the past three years. Every time he sees me, he mentions it. We’ll have to bring it back around.”
The year-round beers include their Oatmeal Stout, The People’s Gold (American Golden Ale), Farmer Brown (English Brown Ale), Piep Piper (American IPA), and Hope Street Amber (British Extra Special Bitter). Of the selection that I sampled, I was particularly impressed by the balance in the Oatmeal Stout and the surprise I got from the Pied Piper.
Although I maintain that I am not a fan of IPAs, The Pied Piper has given me a considerable shove towards making me an official fan. The aroma was very hoppy, making me think it would be a return to my standard disliking. But the flavor was toned back in its intensity from its aroma, providing for an extremely drinkable beer with a pleasant lingering dry finish. I’m coming around to this IPA game.
One unique beer they had on tap that I could not go without mentioning was Slippery Slope. I recently wrote an article about rare beer styles, where I included Braggots among a few I listed. The chance to try a Braggot myself had eluded me until my visit to The People’s Pint where I was lucky to have it recommended to me by the bartender, Ben. On the front of the beverage is a strong apple and honey flavor that tails off into a citrusy finish. It was a joy to sample, and I can only hope that a Braggot trend is coming to sweep the brewing world.
Like any beer drinking, I have the seasonal beers I anticipate returning, but I can’t help but have great respect for the continuous novelty at The People’s Pint. Allowing your palette to tour the flavors of the beer world is a diverse experience that is spoiled by year-round repetitions. Still, I’ll be returning to Greenfield with haste when I hear that The Lightness has returned.