Close-up photo of a hand painting a colorful sugar skull with a frost glass of beer in the background.

Suds and Spirits: Hot Plate Brewing Co.’s Dia de los Muertos Fusion

November 1, 2023

As autumn leaves cascade from the trees and the chill in the air hints at the frosty winter to come, Pittsfield, Massachusetts, is gearing up for a different kind of celebration—a vibrant burst of color, culture, and community. Imagine a room festooned with marigolds, sugar skulls grinning from every corner, and the air rich with the aroma of traditional foods and experimental brews. This isn’t your run-of-the-mill November gathering; this is Dia de Los Muertos, the Day of the Dead, a Mexican holiday that’s all about remembering loved ones who have passed, while celebrating the joy and beauty of life.

Dia de los Muertos, with Hot Plate Brewing Company

What: Brews, Food, Music, Community, Ofrenda, lively coversation
Where: One School Street, next to the Pittsfield PD
When: Wednesday, Noviembre 1 at 6:00 p.m.

Visit Hot Plate Brewing Company online!

Step into Hot Plate, the brewery at the heart of this cultural fusion, and you’ll likely bump into Sarah Real, a woman of Mexican descent who’s as passionate about her craft beer as she is about her roots. Tucked into the nooks and crannies of downtown Pittsfield, sharing a wall with the local police station (talk about good neighbors), Hot Plate is not just another watering hole. It’s a community hub where craft beer meets social conversation, and where the experimental chamomile brew might just change how you think about beer. Sarah isn’t just pouring pints; she’s serving up a blend of tradition and innovation that makes this Dia de Los Muertos celebration as unique as her beer list.

A woman and a man pose for a close-up photo holding an electric hot plate.
Sarah Real (left) and Michael Dell’Aquila, pose with the hot plate that started it all; photo courtesy Hot Plate Brewing; via Facebook.

The event will feature an oral history project with Berkshire Community College, music, discussions, and much more.

Long before the first brew kettle was fired up at Hot Plate, Sarah Real and Mike Dell’Aquila spent years in the trenches of the brewing world, honing their skills and carving out a niche for themselves. Together, they’ve cultivated a space that not only welcomes beer aficionados but beckons the community to partake in a shared narrative.

Sarah’s journey into brewing wasn’t a casual sip; it was more like downing a pint of revelation. Enthralled by the craftsmanship and community that brewing offered, she knew she had found her calling. Mike Dell’Aquila, her practical and supportive co-owner, cautioned taking it one step at a time—no need to go full-on craft brewery overnight.

The name “Hot Plate” isn’t just a clever moniker—it originated from a period when co-owners Sarah Real and Mike Dell’Aquila were living in a Brooklyn condo that lacked heat and hot water due to a building-wide gas shutoff. Faced with this predicament, they began homebrewing on a literal hot plate, turning adversity into inspiration for their future business.

Considering next steps, the couple initially looked at Upstate New York as a possible location for their brewery, but found it oversaturated with other craft beer establishments. Mike, who had previously attended writing workshops in the Berkshires, suggested they look into this relatively untapped market. The area’s balance of natural beauty and cultural activities, combined with a lack of local breweries, made it a promising option.

Sarah, not one to shy away from a challenge, had been diligently teaching herself the art of brewing, even under less-than-ideal conditions. Her drive and Mike’s literary influence combined to make the choice clear: they moved to the Berkshires, recognizing it as an area where their skills and passions could fill a notable gap.

Both destiny and good business sense led Sarah and Mike to the Berkshires. Attracted by the community’s need for fresh narratives and local haunts, they found their new home. With Pittsfield as their canvas, they began sketching out Hot Plate Brewery, blending both their dreams and the town’s rich history.

“And when you look at the numbers,” pointed out Dell’Aquila, “both of full time residents in Berkshire County, and then you add in tourism to it, we really felt like this was an area where, from a craft beer perspective, the region was underserved. And so we thought there might have been an opportunity here. And then we started looking at different areas and specific places. Up in North County, South County, Central Berkshires, kind of just looking all over since we didn’t have any family roots”

“I want to be able to have someone who doesn’t generally leave their couch, be able to come in and meet friends,” explained Real. This person can still enjoy a classic beer, a classic traditional beer. And again, that’s why we chose the license we have for a pub brewers license so that we can serve wine and cider as well. Because not everybody can have beer and not everybody likes it. But we still want people to come and be part of the community and enjoy the conversation. It’s challenging because I would love to say, okay, I’m only making this type of beer or I’m only going to make the beer I want to drink. I would not be able to stay in business because we are serving a community. And there needs to be something for everyone.”

As Sarah herself puts it, “Usually, if you want to see me brewing in action, it usually happens on the weekends because I do have my day job. Or a late night brew. Yeah, I’m happy to talk with anyone, teach anyone, and just have conversations about kind of what this all means.”

As a Latina brewer, Real is truly one of a very small minority. She explains that her relationship with her heritage is complicated, growing up in New Hampshire, in a community that didn’t include a large Hispanic population. As an result, she explored her cultural ties largely on her own. As an extension of this identity quest, Real is comfortable interpreting the Day of the Dead in her own way.

“I didn’t grow up necessarily with a Dia de Los Muertos celebration,” Real notes. “So how am I going to make it my own now? Because I’m my own. I have to have agency over myself.”

She’s done work on “what tradition means and how people are passing it on,” and feels the freedom to create this celebration in her own image. Sarah adds, “I may not want to do this traditional aspect. So, you know what? I’m not going to do it. I’m making this my own thing,” even if that sometimes “steps on the toes” of her family.

This approach not only enriches her personal connection to the celebration but also invites the community into a nuanced conversation about tradition and cultural adaptation. While she knows that creating a space where all cultures will feel welcome isn’t just a one-and-done event, the celebration November 1 — which includes decorating sugar skulls — might just be the start it’s needed.

She said, “It’s come as you are…It’s about creating new traditions. And I know people don’t necessarily like change here, but not all change is bad. And it’s an evolution. So what can we kind of start the conversation. We’re not trying to come in here and totally change this community. We are seeing things as outsiders, but we’re trying to start these conversations and bringing people back to the table to talk about their experiences and see about how we can move forward.”

While Dia de Los Muertos is rooted in Mexican tradition, its universal themes of remembrance and celebration appeal to a wide demographic. It’s more than just a Mexican holiday; it’s an opportunity for various communities within Pittsfield to come together, share their own traditions and perhaps, learn something new. As the host of the event, Hot Plate provides an inclusive space where everyone, regardless of their cultural background, can participate.

Dell’Aquila pointed out that their brewery, Hot Plate, is working on bridging the gap between the local Latino community and their predominantly white customer base in the Berkshires. He noted that Latino guests often seem out of place and are more likely to request drinks like tequila or Corona, which are heavily marketed to them, rather than trying craft beer. It’s a long-term goal for the brewery to help this community adopt the craft beer experience. Mike also mentioned that they had a salsa dancing night earlier this year to attract more Latino patrons, but found they were looking for products the brewery didn’t offer. Going forward, food might be the key to making the brewery more inclusive and relatable for the Latinx community.

If you’ve been on the fence about checking out Hot Plate, the Día de los Muertos celebration offers a great introduction to what this unique brewpub is all about. The event is more than just an occasion for craft beer and delicious food—it’s a testament to Mike and Sarah’s commitment to community engagement and cultural understanding. It’s the kind of experience that makes you want to return, offering a snapshot of the vibrant and inclusive atmosphere they’re working to create.

Don’t think of the Día de los Muertos celebration as a one-time deal; consider it your first taste of life at Hot Plate. The brewpub aims to be a place where everyone, regardless of their background, feels welcome and comfortable. As Mike and Sarah continue to roll out new beers and host various events, they are focused on turning Hot Plate into a communal space that keeps people coming back—essentially, ensuring there’s “life after death.”

Jason Velázquez

Jason Velázquez has worked in print and digital journalism and publishing for two decades.
Phone: (413) 776-5125

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Illustration of a teenage boy pushing a lawnmower across the lawn of a very expensive house, in the background
Previous Story

FICTION: All Those Better Futures

Illustration of sections of Gaza City in ruins after air strikes.
Next Story

Top Left Corner #183: Berkshire County residents demand an end to US aid to Israel

Latest from Food & Drink