CHICOPEE, Mass. (WWLP) – The craft beer drought in Chicopee is over.
After more than 44 years, beer production is coming back to the city with the grand opening of Leadfoot Brewing on Friday.
Owners and longtime friends Jeff Thibodeau and Patrick Randall have been waiting for this moment for years. They started brewing beer at home and gradually made bigger batches before getting serious about opening a brewery and taproom.
Ironically, the location they chose happens to be the at the site of the former Hampden Brewery, a New England staple that closed back in the 1970s.
Carrying on Chicopee’s rich beer history
Leadfoot Brewing is located at 95 North Chicopee Street in Willimansett. It’s inside the same building where Hampden Brewery had their can and bottle storage.
The historic Hampden Brewery opened in Chicopee in the 1800s and remained in business until 1975. Its Hampden Ale was wildly popular throughout the area.
“We’d like to have people come back to this same location and be able to drink beer again–locally crafted beer–and treat it the same way and be able to speak to their grandkids the way my grandparents and others around us have spoken to us about how attractive this site was for over 100 years,” Thibodeau said.
On opening day, patrons can expect to see some memorabilia from Hampden Brewing displayed around the taproom.
Opening Leadfoot Brewing
It took Thibodeau and Randall two and a half years to find a suitable location for Leadfoot and another year or so to get through the construction process.
When you walk into the brewery, the first thing you see are massive fermenting and conditioning tanks from the production area, which is separated from the taproom by a modern art-deco wall.
“We wanted people to walk in and actually feel like they are a part of the process and have it be a congregation hall, an assembly hall, a place where you can come and hang out during the day,” Thibodeau said.
Both Thibodeau and Randall told 22News they wouldn’t have made it this far without the city’s support.
“The city of Chicopee has been awesome throughout this whole process,” Randall said. “From the mayor to the building department, wastewater, city engineering, all departments have been very cooperative and helped us through this whole process. We didn’t pick Chicopee for that reason, but we’re glad we did.”
A ribbon cutting event is being held at Leadfoot Brewing Friday at 3:00 p.m.
“We expect a lot of people to be here that helped us get here,” an emotional Thibodeau said.
Leadfoot Brewing’s Beer
Thibodeau fell in love with pilsners after traveling to Prague back in the early 90s.
“We have a special German lager here, our pilsner, and we think it’s pretty close to the flavor profile over there,” Thibodeau explained.
He added that they are ‘session guys’ and prefer to make beers with lower alcohol content between 4-6 percent.
That doesn’t mean they are afraid to make other styles of beer. They’re particularly proud about their Pioneer Valley IPA, which is made from all local ingredients.
“All the malt comes from Valley Malt in Hadley and all the hops come from Northfield, Mass. At Four Star Farms. It’s a pretty cool, different IPA character than people are used to.”
All the spent grain from Leadfoot will be sent out to local farms to feed local cows.
There is also a non-alcoholic option at Leadfoot: Nitro Cold Brew Coffee.
The brewery will be open Thursday and Friday from 4 to 8 p.m., and Saturday to Sunday from 12 to 6 p.m.
The taproom is dog-friendly and there will occasionally be food trucks parked out front and musicians playing inside.
WEB EXTRA: Brewery tour