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Iron Duke Brewing gives Ludlow Mills stackhouse new life


July 16, 2014
LUDLOW – From the outside, it looks like nothing but an old pile of bricks, a relic harkening back to years gone by.

But when Iron Duke Brewing Company’s Michael Marcoux and his master brewer, Nick, saw Stackhouse 122 at the Ludlow Mills on State Street, they saw something else – potential.

With ingenuity, creativeness and, yes, a lot of sweat, the upstart brewing outfit has spent the last year transforming the 100-plus year-old structure that was part of an operation producing twine and yarn into a distribution-sized brewery and tap room that is just months away from opening.

“We got the key on July 17, 2013,” Marcoux said. “Things have been happening fast since then. It’s been very exciting and a lot of work, but we like to think that’s what our beer symbolizes – a celebration of hard work.”

Iron Duke is one of the recent additions to the mills, which are currently owned by the Westmass Area Development Corporation, one of several operations attempting to develop new uses for mill properties that are so prevalent in the Pioneer Valley and western Massachusetts.

When he first decided to turn his hobby into a business about three years ago, Nick, a Ludlow native, identified the Ludlow Mills as a promising site and began talks with the developers about the mixed-use property.

When Iron Duke got its approvals to begin operation and opened the doors, for many, the possibility of a successful brewery would have been hard to see, Marcoux admitted.

“When we got in here, everything was white – drop ceilings, white walls – and parts of the ceiling was leaking and there was carpeting on the floor,” he said. “It was nasty, so we gutted the place, all the way down to grinding the floor.

“Basically over the last year, everything you see, we’ve done,” he continued, noting significant assistance from Nick’s father-in-law and brother-in-law, as well as other helpers along the way.

In addition to appearance, the stackhouse also had no running water or underground plumbing, adding to the challenge.

“It all had to be done over. We had plumbers and all kinds of professionals in here making sure we had what we needed,” Marcoux said.

As layers were stripped away and new elements were added, the more and more it began to feel like home. Once the space was cleared out, the true creativity in developing the location into a brewery began to shine through.

“You look at it now and it’s perfect. It really fits the look and feel that we’re looking for,” Marcoux said. “We’re trying to keep as much of the old character as possible.”

For instance, he said, the wood for the wall that will separate the tap room from the brewing facility, which will feature windows to allow patrons to actually see beer being brewed, was constructed with repurposed wood from demolished homes, while the bar includes recycled tin features. Even the footrest will tie in an element of the area’s past.

“We have an old railroad track that we’re going to use as the footrest,” he said. “It literally came from right out here [behind the brewery]. In the winter, it got plowed up and we jumped at the opportunity to tie in more of the past into this place.”

Other pre-existing elements, such as large sliding metal doors, will remain.

The creativity didn’t end with basic construction, however; it went right down to the brewing equipment itself, Marcoux added.

While the company’s fermenting tanks are standard for the industry, having been purchased from a Florida brewery in the midst of reorganization, several other pieces of equipment are not run of the mill for a brewery.

For instance, the mash tuns, the tanks in which the beers’ malts are steeped with water to convert sugars to be fermented, are actually old dairy tanks the crew found at farms in upstate New York.

“Nick was literally knocking on farmers’ doors and asking if they had any retired tanks they were looking to sell,” Marcoux said with a laugh. “One of them the guy had been storing out in the woods for about 20 years, and another hadn’t been used in 10 years and the guy was a hoarder, so we had to empty his garage to get at it.

“But they’re perfect, food-grade tanks and once we cleaned them up, they look amazing,” he added.

The brew kettle, in which the wort – the liquid created by the mashing process – is boiled with hops, is also from an old dairy farm.

“I don’t know how many other breweries you’re going to go to and see stuff like this,” Marcoux said.

One of the most exciting aspects of Stackhouse 122 is its location, he added.

In addition to being within close proximity of the Massachusetts Turnpike and I-291, which is a major benefit when distributing the product, the brewery will sit in a central location within the town and with the surrounding area being prepared for a facelift of its own. A proposed Riverwalk development behind the mills along the Chicopee River, spearheaded by Westmass, is in the works that would literally bring foot traffic to the brewery’s back door.

Even with the walkway still in the planning stages, the mill is a popular place for walkers, runners and bicyclists and Iron Duke has already seen some curious heads poke in.

“We can’t say enough about the town and the people of Ludlow,” he said. “Literally on the weekends, we’ll have the garage door open and people will stop in and are excited about a brewery in Ludlow.”

Expecting to open in late summer or early fall, Iron Duke will start off featuring two beers – its Stackhouse 122 IPA, a hat tip to the place the brewery calls home, and the Baby-Maker Red Ale.

“Stackhouse 122 is a session IPA for the most part at 5.4 percent alcohol and it’s really smooth,” Marcoux said. “The Baby-Maker is the one that Nick has been brewing the longest and he’s won some home brewing awards with it. We’re classifying it as a red ale, but it really doesn’t qualify as anything. It kind of falls between a porter and an Irish red.”

The goal eventually, he said, is to have six to eight beers from the taproom, with several rotating based on the season.

The taproom will be open for limited hours to start with evening hours on Thursday and Friday evenings, while remaining open from lunchtime into the night on Saturday and Sunday. Exact hours will be announced at a later date.

For more information, visit www.irondukebrewing.com or connect with them on Facebook or Twitter.

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