Lefty's has pints of pride
Submitted and file photos
It’s a Wonderful Night in Turners
Turners Falls is taking to the streets Friday with a townwide celebration it’s calling It’s a Wonderful Night in Turners Falls. There will be art, live music, locally crafted beer, hot chocolate, a photo booth and two screenings of, naturally, “It’s a Wonderful Life.” See “Potpourri.”
Lefty's brew crew: Lefty’s brew crew: from left, Duane Nelson of Bernardston; Kevin Barnes of Gill; Bill Goldfarb, co-owner and brewmaster, of Gill; Melissa Forostoski, marketing and co-owner, of Gill; Chris Fontaine of Greenfield; Chad Champoux of Greenfield; Mike Hathaway of Easthampton.
Melissa Forostoski and Bill "Lefty" Goldfarb in the Wells St brewery
graphics on walk in cooler
the Wells St brewery
Lefty's Brewing Co. offerings
Oats and grains
Four years ago, Bill “Lefty” Goldfarb would come home after a long day of roofing, reach for a cold beer, and come up empty-handed.
Goldfarb had been brewing beer since he received a five-gallon home brewing kit for a Christmas present at the age of 18. He later upgraded to a 27-gallon home kit, but still couldn’t keep his beer from flying out the door.
“When we couldn’t keep a single bottle in the fridge for ourselves, because our friends and family were taking it all, Bill knew he was onto something,” said Melissa Forostoski, Goldfarb’s girlfriend and business partner.
At the time, Goldfarb saw two paths laid out before him. He could build on his professional experience and start his own roofing company, or let his home-brew hobby ferment into a full-fledged business.
He decided he’d rather smell like hops and beer yeast than roofing tar.
In 2010, the couple started Lefty’s Brewing Co. on South Street in Bernardston. At first, the brewery was its own sole retail outlet. Three years later, the brewery is in a much bigger space in Greenfield and Lefty’s beer can be found for sale at more than 100 bars, restaurant and retailers.
Not bad for someone who’s mostly self-taught.
“I never went to brew school,” said Goldfarb. “I did spend a couple weeks at Southern Tier’s brewery (in New York), to learn about commercial-scale brewing.”
Soon after the two opened up shop, they found themselves having to temporarily close their doors to the buying public.
“We sold out of every bottle on our grand-opening weekend,” said Forostoski. “We expected maybe 50 people to show up and we had more than 400.”
Without any beer to sell, they had to restock and it takes two weeks for their beer to be brewed and bottled.
They opened their first account when nearby Antonio’s II Pizza and Grinders owner Clayton Cardin came by and asked for a keg. The pizza shop now serves several varieties of Lefty’s on tap and in 22-ounce bottles.
One of the first retailers to carry their beer was Falltown Spirits in Bernardston, which was a former tenant of the Bernardston brewery before moving to the old Streeter's Store on Church Street.
The New Salem General Store was another of Lefty’s early outlets, before Falltown Spirits stocked its product.
Goldfarb will unveil one of his latest brews at the General Store’s Hilltown Brewfest Saturday. His Tennessee Whiskey Barrel Aged Scotch Ale has been steeping in a charred oak barrel that came from one of America’s distilleries. Though Goldfarb can’t legally say what brand of whiskey those barrels used to hold, you can probably guess.
Lefty’s aged that brew for three months, but another batch will sit even longer. The New Salem General Store will celebrate its 20th anniversary in 2016 and its anniversary beer is already in the barrel.
Goldfarb expects to deliver about 20 cases of 22-ounce bottles from that batch. He’s going to keep a couple for himself and the rest will be available only at the New Salem General Store.
Goldfarb said he enjoys collaborating with his commercial customers to craft one-of-a-kind beers, which are each distributed only to a single bar or store.
He’s made exclusive brews for others, too, including a Barrel Aged Imperial Maple Stout for Ryan and Casey’s 100th anniversary, a Campfire Ale for the Red Door in Greenfield and a historic “Old Mile Ale” for Historic Deerfield.
Lefty’s Old Mile Ale follows a recipe from George Washington’s collection, said Goldfarb. It uses spruce tips instead of hops and incorporates molasses and rye malt as well. It can only be found at Champney’s Restaurant and Tavern at the Deerfield Inn, on draft.
Goldfarb said it’s quite popular at Champney’s, but his personal favorites are the barrel-aged brews, inspired by his appreciation of good whiskey. He’s also partial to his Pale Ale, which was the first beer he made from his own recipe.
Goldfarb has made a few different barrel-aged beers because he likes the flavor the charred oak whiskey barrels impart on the brew. Though it’s certainly not the most efficient process, he’s not jacking up the price on the limited-edition ales.
Expensive ingredients and time-consuming aging processes can drive his costs up, but he doesn’t want to gouge his customers.
“We try to keep our beers around $4.99 (per 22-ounce bottle),” he said.
“Some of the maple, bacon, or barrel-aged beers go up a couple bucks, to the $7 or $10 mark,” he continued. “We could’ve sold our barrel-aged beers for $20 each, but we told stores that we were pricing them so they could sell them for $9.99, and they respected it.”
The brewery would rather have Lefty’s be a household name than something reserved for special occasions.
“We want to be people’s everyday beer,” said Forostoski. “We’ll never be as cheap as Budweiser, but we’ll never be producing their numbers.”
Their prices are also kept low because Lefty’s is a one-stop shop. The owners and their five workers brew, bottle, market and deliver their product, so there’s no middle man taking a cut.
“I get calls from distributors every month, wanting to sell our beer,” said Goldfarb. “I politely decline.”
While it’s more work doing everything in-house, it means Goldfarb gets to do things his way.
“It’s the simple things that count, like letting the beer sit a little longer and using quality ingredients,” he explained.
While many breweries rush to get their beer out the door, Lefty’s takes its time. A couple extra days in the fermentation tanks mean the yeast re-absorbs some undesirable, hangover-causing compounds, said Goldfarb, resulting in a more pleasant product. He also uses whole-cone hops, rather than processed pellets, which may be more expensive, but he feels add a little something extra to the finished product.
Since Lefty’s started in 2010 with six varieties, it has made 25 different kinds of beer, including discontinued limited releases. Despite having so much of their own product, Goldfarb and Forostoski still find room in the fridge for other craft-brewed beers.
Craft brewers are more collaborative than competitive, they said, and they sometimes find inspiration in other brewers’ bottles.
“We were on a vacation in Maine, sitting in a hot tub, drinking everyone else’s beer,” said Forostoski. “We had Southern Tier’s Choklat Stout, Rogue’s (Voodoo) Bacon Maple Ale, and Stone’s Smoked Porter with Vanilla Bean. I wanted to smash them all into one bottle.”
That’s how Lefty’s Breakfast Stout was born. Though the idea came when they were hours away, most of the ingredients come from the Pioneer Valley. It’s made with Mount Massamet Sugarhouse maple syrup, Esselon Coffee Roasters’ beans, cocoa nibs, oats and, the coup de grace, smoked bacon from Little Brook Farm in Sunderland.
The bacon goes in while the beer is in its fermentation tank, the last stage before bottling. Goldfarb said his staff argued about who would get to eat the beer-soaked, smoked meat afterward.
It turns out, all that was left was a bag full of flavorless, chewy meat. It wasn’t that tasty.
“All the flavor went into the beer,” Goldfarb explained.
The resulting beer, on the other hand, was quite flavorful. You’ll have to wait to try it, unless you can find a bottle left over from the last batch. This reporter managed to find one in the cooler of Highland Spirits in downtown Orange a couple weeks ago.
Otherwise, look for the bold Breakfast Stout in stores between November and February, when it, along with other winter seasonals Maple Ale and Maple Oatmeal Stout, will also be bottled.
Though Lefty’s has since moved the brewery to a much larger Greenfield location and no longer does any of its own retail sales, Goldfarb and Forostoski haven’t forgotten their Bernardston beginnings.
“Since we left Bernardston, the town has remained very supportive,” said Goldfarb. “Whenever they have an event like Old Home Day or Scarecrows in the Park, they always ask us to be a part of it.”
Lefty’s Fest Sept. 14
Bernardston’s ongoing support is a big reason that they’re holding the first Lefty’s Fest on Sept. 14 at the town’s Kiwanis Park, off Brattleboro Road and about four miles north of Antonios II.
“We wanted to do something to say ‘thank you’ to our customers,” said Forostoski.
“Without them, there wouldn’t be a brewery,” added Goldfarb.
Lefty’s Fest will run from 3:30 to 11 p.m. with Goldfarb and Forostoski proudly pouring pints.
Admission is $3 in advance, with tickets available at the brewery during its regular Saturday tours, at several stores that carry their beer and online. If you show up without a ticket, $5 will buy your way in.
At the event, pints will be $3 and there will be live music and a ton of free games, as well as a beer stein holding contest, which costs $5 to enter and may win you a 34-ounce Lefty’s stein.
Forostoski said they tried to keep the event affordable for their fans and hope to make just enough to cover expenses.
Though the festival is the biggest thing the brewery’s got going on this fall, Lefty’s makes appearances at several other events, big and small. Goldfarb, Forostoski, the brewery staff take turns representing Lefty’s at brew fests, small tastings and other happenings, as do two women who work exclusively in promotions.
Last month, the owners debuted their Imperial Porter at Happy Trails Liquors, in Shelburne, where it was available exclusively for the first week. Its label features a face familiar to Happy Trails’ customers — Archie, the English mastiff. Goldfarb and Forostoski had the event catered and poured free samples of their new porter and other beers for their fans.
Goldfarb said he especially likes watching people enjoy his handiwork. He and Forostoski are always glad to talk shop at tastings.
They can tell you why they go for quality over quantity, how every bottle is hand-bottled and capped, or why the handle is on the “wrong” side of their half-gallon “growlers.”
Staff reporter David Rainville has worked at The Recorder since 2011. He covers Bernardston, Leyden, Northfield and Warwick. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 413-772-0261, ext. 279.
Staff photographer Paul Franz has worked for The Recorder since 1988. He can be reached at email@example.com or 413-772-0261 ext. 266. His website is www.franzphoto.com.