Western Mass’s brewing wunderkind
When I call him late on a Monday night, Tyler Guilmette is in the middle of labeling bottles of his new Imperial IPA, Ambrewsia, in a warehouse in Northampton. He’s doing it all by hand, which must make it difficult to place them straight, I say.
“After the first thousand, you just do it,” he replies.
It’s that kind of “just do it” approach that explains how Guilmette is where he is now.
He went from homebrewing two gallon batches of beer a few years ago to running his own beer company, Brewmaster Jack, today—and he just turned 25.
Guilmette, who lives in Northampton, brews his beer at Paper City Brewing Company in Holyoke, Mass. He has two beers on the market, his flagship, the Stray Dog Lager, and Ambrewsia Imperial IPA.
Launching with a lager was a different approach, as lagers take longer to make because they ferment at lower temperatures, but Guilmette had a homebrew lager recipe that he had been perfecting.
“I had the recipe, and I had messed around with using an ale yeast and it didn’t taste bad, but I just felt the lager was cleaner. It’s easier to drink, and my goal with the first beer was to appeal to a wide audience,” he says.
As he’s based in Western Mass., where Berkshire Brewing Company’s drinkable Steel Rail Extra Pale Ale has found widespread success, Guilmette saw the appeal in an easy drinking, light-bodied, locally made craft beer.
“I found that at tastings someone will have a 30-rack of Budweiser in each hand and they’ll try my beer and say, ‘Oh, this isn’t too bad.’”
He hopes to reach out to more craft beer drinkers with his second release, the Ambrewsia, a dry, citrusy 7.7 percent ABV Imperial IPA. He’s also working on a few darker beers now, like a Chocolate Rye Porter that he hopes to get out this winter and an Imperial Stout aged on vanilla beans, as well as a bigger IPA at about 11 percent ABV and 110 IBU’s, “with more focus on tropical flavors on top of the citrus.”
Guilmette’s homebrewing path started when he picked up a kit in August 2009 from a homebrew store that he would walk by on the way to the grocery store. He fell for it hard, brewing every day or two after a few months. About a year and a half later, he quit his job in insurance, started working on opening a beer company, hooked up with Paper City and started selling beer in January 2012.
Living in Northhampton, an agricultural, locally focused area, has affected how he thinks about brewing. All of his beer includes at least 25 percent locally grown and malted grain, made possible by Valley Malt in nearby Hadley, Mass. He hopes to eventually bump that up to 100 percent.
“Just moving to this area just completely opened up my mind to how important buying local is and keeping money in the local economy.
I started thinking about it and buying my grains from Andrea [Stanley of Valley Malt], I’m supporting my customers, because they are the farmers she buys the grains from, and her herself … by keeping everything local, it keeps things turning in a very obvious way.”
Brewmaster Jack beers, which Guilmette distributes himself, are available across the state, from the Berkshires to Beverly. Find them in the Boston area in 375 ml bottles.
One last thing—who’s Jack? He is Guilmette’s great-grandfather, who brewed beer non-professionally in Vermont in the 1930s. Must run in the family.
Guilmette will be pouring his beers at the Craft Beer Cellar in Belmont Friday, September 28, from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. and at Charles Street Liquors Saturday, September 29, from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.