Beer Nut: 10 craft beer pioneers of Pioneer Valley

Aug 18 2017

Who were the early craft beer pioneers of the Pioneer Valley?

That was a question that popped up in my head as I was writing last week’s column about the Northampton Brewery’s recent 30th anniversary.

So today I give you 10 of these trailblazers who forged a path for craft beer “before it was cool,” as the hipster saying goes. In no particular order:

Marvin Spence — Beer aficionados under 50 will not recall how hard it was to get great beer back in the early-to-mid-1980s. After all, there were fewer than 100 breweries in the country back then. But as the head honcho at Spirit Haus in Amherst, Spence carried a wide array of tasty imports and far-flung domestic offerings that you couldn’t find anywhere else.

Janet Egelston-Cichy — As owner of the the Northampton Brewery, the first craft brewpub in the area, Egelston-Cichy was far ahead of the curve back in 1987. And her constant renovations to her business keep her there. She also is still one of a small number of female craft brewery owners.

Garry Bogoff and Chris Lalli — Although Lalli has moved on from the business, Berkshire Brewing was one of the first Pioneer Valley breweries that deservedly became renowned outside of the area. Its flagship Steel Rail Extra Pale Ale remains a standard.

Jay Hebert — Opened in the same year as Berkshire Brewing (1996), Hebert’s Paper City Brewing unfortunately recently shuttered its operations. But the brewery had a great run for 20-plus years, with its popular “social nights” on Thursdays and Fridays.

John Korpita — Amherst Brewing Co. opened just a year later than the previous two (in 1997) and it was a hit from the start, despite having one of the smallest brewhouses you’ll ever see. In 2015, Korpita sold the business, which is now incorporated into The Hangar in Amherst.

Alden Booth and Dan Young — Booth and Young gave the beer lovers of Franklin County a reason to stay up north when they opened the People’s Pint in 1997. I was there the first day (long before I wrote this column, I convinced my editor at the time that a brewpub in Greenfield was big news), and was immediately impressed. The brewery remains the flagship of an area that now includes several other great beer venues.

Dan and Will Shelton — While the craft beer industry has become increasingly local, with a brewery seemingly on every corner, the Shelton Brothers have long been the hallmark when it comes to imports. Uncompromising and committed to upping the quality of brews across the board, the Sheltons started their impressive company on sort of a whim in 1993 because they couldn’t find the beers they wanted.

Todd and Jason Alstrom — The founders of had moved out of the Pioneer Valley by the time they started their super-popular craft beer site, but the Monson natives cut their teeth here, so we are counting them. The site is a vast treasure trove of beer information.

Daniel Lanigan — He owned the Moan and Dove in Amherst and opened The Dirty Truth in Northampton. Enough said. But Lanigan has now moved on to brewing (Lord Hobo) in the eastern part of the state, as well as having his hands in several other craft beer venues.

O’Brian Tomalin — Most people know him because he owns the Sierra Grille in Northampton and runs Building 8 Brewing with his wife, Meghan, but Tomalin’s Pioneer Valley craft brew roots are deeper than those two places: He also helped open Amherst Brewing back in the day.




Jul 2024