About two years ago if you had told this trio of beer loving friends that they would be professional brewers, they probably wouldn’t have told you that prospect was nothing more than a pleasant daydream.
But on a summer evening in 2018, Eric Paul, Jared Methe and Todd Kopiec are standing around a bar they built joking and reminiscing about how they ended up starting on the ground floor – literally – of their venture into brewery ownership. Rustic Brewing Company, a one-barrel nanobrewery in the basement of the Indian Orchard Mills, is the dream that became an unexpected reality.
For Eric, Jared, and Todd, enjoying a craft beer at Paddy’s Irish Pub might be just as much fun as the weekday night hockey game they play beforehand. As the weekly ritual progressed and the three continued to share their enthusiasm for brewing, they decided to get together and start making their own.
“We didn’t expect to do anything with it, honestly. It was just about us making good beer that we could drink,” admits Paul.
After a year or so of developing and refining recipes and, yes, enjoying the fruits of their labor, the trio jumped at the opportunity to share their beer with an audience beyond their friends and family by entering a homebrew competition sponsored by The Beer Shop in East Longmeadow. Bringing three IPAs and some high hopes, Rustic Brewing was entering the most competitive field in the competition.
“Out of a little over 50 entries, I believe 26 or 27 of them were IPAs,” Todd recalls.
Rustic Brewing nearly swept the competition judged primarily by a panel of local professional brewers, winning Best in Show and taking first and second place along with an honorable mention in the IPA category. The cherry on top was the People’s Choice award, chosen by popular vote. The men of Rustic were blown away. “That’s when it was kind of like, ‘Oh, maybe people like our beer!’” Jared laughs.
After their double IPA called Toebreaker took fourth place out of 30 brewers at the homebrew contest at the The Worthy Fest in downtown Springfield and their lavender milkshake IPA called Lavenous won a charity Homebrew Showcase at Paddy’s Irish Pub later that year, along with the praise came the sense that maybe, just maybe, there was a chance for their hobby to be something more.
Tucked away on the bottom floor of the Indian Orchard Mills, Rustic Brewing Company’s surroundings are humble, but well-crafted. Greeting you at the bottom of the stairs is a large wooden door with the Rustic logo emblazoned upon it. Inside, exposed brick, handcrafted wood and metal fittings abound. A simple wooden bar with chimney caps fashioned into light fixtures hanging from the ceiling above. To the left, another large Rustic logo hangs, this one illuminated.
All done by hand by the three brewers, there is an authentic feel to the Rustic brewery.
“This place, it has a certain feel to it that I think really goes along with the Rustic name,” Eric says while pointing out some of the features of the old mill property. “It’s a big part of why we chose this place.”
It’s a small space, but it feels anything but cramped. The Rustic brewers admitted they would have loved to go bigger – “Who doesn’t want to just quit their day job and open a brewery?” quips Jared – but practicality trumped ambition.
In their space at Indian Orchard Mills, there’s some room to grow, if that’s where fortune leads them. If they maintain their status as a nanobrewery, they’re fine with that too.
“When we originally talked about making this a business, I think we were all kind of in the same boat. We were OK if we never became Tree House,” Jared explains. “If all we do is brew once a week on the one barrel system and we never grew past it, as long as people liked the beer, we’re OK with that, because that has always been the focus – just make good beer.
The good thing about starting small is if we make a beer that isn’t up to our standards, we’re wasting one barrel of beer. We won’t put it out there. When you get into these huge spots and you have a beer that’s not good, but you still have to pay for all of those ingredients and everything, you’re probably going to release it. We want to make sure that we’re making quality beer first, and then giving people an awesome experience.”
What is Rustic? It’s a question often asked of the three men of Rustic and one that doesn’t have a simple answer – what does it mean to be Rustic?
“I racked my brain for that one,” says Eric, a designer who created the company’s brand and logo. “Thinking of what rustic means to me, it means something that’s old, simple in style, but lasts a long time. So going back to the whole brewing process and beer, its core ingredients essentially haven’t changed. You have your grains, your water – hops kind of came about down the line – and yeast. To me, right there, that’s something that has lived on over time and still exists today. Where we are in that name, we’re trying to add depth to that. We are adding our own personal touch to something with a lot of history.”
Especially for Eric, brewing tradition and history isn’t just an abstract concept. He has his own history that keeps him coming back to brew more.
“I started brewing with my dad when I was about 8 or 9 and I was hooked back then,” he explains. “I loved the smell of the wort boiling on the stovetop back in the day of 5 gallon batches. My dad laughs now because his memory of me brewing with him was me always wafting the steam from the boiling wort towards my nose after adding hop additions. So for me, brewing is not only a passion of mine, but also a fond memory of my childhood.”
Rustic brings their own touch to the ancient art of brewing primarily through crafting beers in the style of the extremely popular hazy New England IPAs and the emerging milkshake IPA (brewed with lactose to create a fuller, creamier body), as well as some stouts.
“I think our milkshakes can stand out there with any other one that I’ve had,” boasts Jared.
He’s not alone in that opinion. “We had a lot of people between The Worthy and the Whip City Brew Fest tell us how much they’ve enjoyed our beer. When we said we were in Indian Orchard, they tell us they live or work right by there and they can’t wait. The response has been really positive,” says Todd.
In addition to strong community feedback, Rustic gained a big boost this past March when Hop Blind won a blind taste test hosted by the popular beer website Mass. Brew Bros., topping 19 other IPAs from breweries across the state.
“We’re making quality beer and people are enjoying it. That’s most important to us,” Jared adds. “That’s what Rustic is all about.”