“Anything worth doing, is worth doing right” – Hunter S. Thompson
It didn’t take long for Iron Duke Brewing Company in Ludlow, MA to come across my radar.
When you talk about beer as much as I do, especially steering the conversation to local beer, any brewery or home brewer in the area eventually gets brought up.
People love talking about the brewery down the road from them — it’s one of the polarizing forces that is helping fuel the craft beer expansion. There is always a note of community pride in their voice as they tell me about such-and-such brewing company right in their back yard.
So, Future-Wife and I set out on a nice Saturday to find two local breweries to tour, with the first stop being Iron Duke Brewing Company.
Our GPS led us to an old set of mills off the Chicopee River — which is a recurring theme in the new breweries opening up in the area. We drove past a sign or two ushering us beyond a couple little machine shops and soon arrived at the right location.
This brewery may not look like much from the outside, but once we set foot inside the front door we were pleasantly surprised with what they had done to the place!
The first thing we noticed was the combination of old brick and old wood, which really gave the place a nice industrious meets rustic look. The brick looked almost brand new, which is amazing, especially when you consider how long this mill had probably sat unused.
The brewing area was completely visible as soon as you walked in, which is one of my favorite things to see in breweries. Several large stainless steel barrels and vats were back there happily brewing away the day’s creation.
The bar itself is wonderful, a long stretch of polished wood with tin paneling along the bottom side. It is one of those bars that dares you to slide a full glass of beer down it, but being a polite guest I refrained from doing that.
Everywhere you look there are neat little design ideas spread out.
- The tap itself was a stretch of copper tubing bent into a C, very aesthetically pleasing.
- One of the tanks visible in the brewing area had a clock with beer names on it instead of the hour.
- The footrest for the bar was actually an old train track that they found laying around.
- Old piping and new wood make up a series of shelves for glasses behind the taps.
- That on tap board you’re looking at below is actually a cast iron door painted with blackboard paint.
After we ooo’d and aah’d over the look of the place, we got down to business and ordered a couple flights of beer to sample.
My mix was the following:
- Wendy Peffercorn – White Rye 5.2% ABV
- This is a tasty, light and flavorful beer! It has a spice and honey opening with a malty finish. It took a couple sips to pinpoint the inviting butterscotch aftertaste that this has. A great beer, perfect for summer, which is no shock since the name is an homage to a character in The Sandlot.
- Wildcard – Black Lager 5.3% ABV
- I have a soft spot in my heart for black lagers, and this one does not disappoint. This is a dark, rich and light beer with a slightly spicy taste. Hints of molasses are there and the normal malt characteristics you would find in a lager. This beer cleans up after itself with a nice smooth finish that requests you take another sip.
- Rusty Horseshoe – Saison 6.0% ABV
- What an excellent spicy saison! Lots of dark fruit flavor here, fig and plum being the most noticeable. Nice malty character that doesn’t extend too far into the sip. I couldn’t believe this was 6% ABV because it tastes so fresh, and I just couldn’t put it down. I love a good saison, and this goes on my list as one of them.
- Truss – Barley Lager 8.2% ABV
- This was my “try something you haven’t yet” beer and I was shocked to find it my favorite of the four. Strong citrus front that rides the bubbles down your tongue. Barley flavor very present and mixing with the malt. Everything comes together into a spicy finish with no aftertaste. Amazing depth on this beer, and at 8.2% it’s put-you-on-your-butt strong.
As we sat there drinking our flights we made conversation with Mike Marcoux, the owner of Iron Duke.
We told him it was our first time coming in and he welcomed us happily and genuinely. Future-Wife started to ask questions about the transformation process of the mill, and Mike happily filled us in on the details (with an accompanying slide show on the TV).
The mill had been unused for a long time and sat in a condition that left a lot to be desired. The nice maintained bricks were all covered in white paint that they power washed off…one by one. That was no easy task, especially considering everyone involved worked full-time jobs and came by the fledgling brewery to assist after their normal shifts.
We learned about them taking down the drop ceiling and revealing the trusses above, which was an inspiration for the barley lager’s name, as well as pouring the concrete for the floor. Basically, the more Mike told us the more we got the distinct impression that everything in Iron Duke’s creation can be boiled down to hard work.
It’s kind of their thing.
Even the equipment they brew on, a collection of old dairy equipment and containers, required a bit of hard work and elbow grease to turn into what they wanted it to be. I think it stands to reason that everyone involved in this project stood there after it was all done and beamed at what they had created.
The more we talked with Mike the more two things became clear to me: he is one driven, intelligent, and determined guy and he has that rare quality of being incredibly approachable right off the bat. The perfect storm for a young entrepreneur with a background in marketing who just went full time at Iron Duke last week.
Iron Duke wants to, in Mike’s words, “build a community from the ground up.” There is live music at Iron Duke regularly; they open up some of the area in back and block off the fermenters so that the band has enough room to play and people have enough room to enjoy it. The bike path out back provides traffic that they cater to, and they want to build a kayak dock for folks to use when they come down the Chicopee River.
In short: they have plans and they aim to accomplish them with the same hard work and determination that got them to where they are today.
I waited until the beer glasses were empty and our conversations were ending to let Mike know that I wanted to do a write up on Iron Duke.
I tend to employ that strategy to keep away any preferential treatment, not that there would be any for this little blog, mind you. His reaction was a genuine, warm enthusiasm that I am told is classic Mike Marcoux.
Future-Wife and I left Iron Duke to carry on our brewery tour day feeling a touch of that same pride the people in Ludlow, MA feel towards their brewery. Iron Duke might not be in our direct back yard, but if they’re willing to keep putting that same hard work into brewing great beer and serving it with a smile, I am more than willing to drive a little bit out of my way to let them know how awesome they are.
Twitter – https://twitter.com/irondukebrewing