Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Stopping in at Berkshire Brewing

After a great breakfast at the Roadhouse (see post below), I cajoled the family into letting me make a quick stop at Berkshire Brewing in South Deerfield, Mass. Berkshire's always been a favorite, and one of those 'under the radar' breweries that turns out excellent beers, self-distributes, incurs a very low debt load, and is practically unknown outside their small distribution area. That's starting to change, and I think it's going to change a lot, real soon.

As we rolled into the parking lot, co-owner/founder Gary Bogoff was helping his sales guy (I'm sorry, sales guy, I didn't write your name down, and my sieve-like memory didn't retain it) get their beer trailer set up for an event. I walked up to him and said, "We talked at the Stoudt's Anniversary Dinner; Lew Bryson." Big grin, we shook hands, and took a quick tour.
Wow. Things have changed a lot since I last visited. For one thing, there's a bottling line. Up until not too long ago, Berkshire hand-bottled in 22s and growlers. They're still hand-bottling the growlers, but the 22s now run on a bottling line. The kegs run on a very spiffy automated line that the guys picked up for a substantial discount, and that's a good thing: over 60% of sales are still draft, a beautiful microbrewery thing.

But they're doing some of the more edgey stuff these days, too. Berkshire has always been about the beer: good, drinkable, flavorful beers, like Steel Rail Extra Pale and Draymans Porter. But they're doing bigger beers, like an Imperial Brown, and barrel-aging some of them. I got a sample of the barrel-aged Imperial Brown, and it was a serious mouth-full, working really well with the bourbon wood. The picture to the left is the barrel-aging area at the brewery.
Gary said they're on track for 15,000 bbls. this year, but I suspect they may surpass that. It seems like Berkshire is poised to finally break out of the Pioneer Valley. They're still self-distributing, still selling almost all their beer within 50 miles of the brewery. And the beer still tastes fantastic. You may be able to find that out for yourself, sooner than later. Cheers to this solid little microbrewery, and success in the future.

19 comments:

bill mc said...

Lew, do they offer samples or on site sales to us ordinary folk??

Lew Bryson said...

There's a tasting room, so yeah, there should be samples. Sales, well, I'd be really surprised if a self-distributing brewery didn't, but it's possible that they do not to keep their local retailers happy.

LandmarkBeer said...

Love their beer. Get it all the time when I'm in Western MA. Steel rail goes great with BBQ.

LStaff said...

To me, BBC is the like the Rock Art of MA, since they make solid beers that are well made, have a good local following, but none of their beers really appeal to me. I wish they (or anyone other packaging brewery in New England for that matter) would make an IPA with pronounced hop flavor and aroma - how many light colored, entry level beers do you need? They have a golden, 2 pale ales, and an IPA (which I would call just another pale ale). With that many entry level type beers, you would think they would be able to make an IPA with balls to appeal to the hop heads out there.

Great tour though - especially sticking your head into an open fermenter and taking a deep breath - oooh...dizzy.

Amazed at the amount of finished product they had on hand (and then you learn they have a bunch of warehouses as well) - alot of $$$ tied up in storage costs if you ask me. Size of plant and inventory is in stark contrast to Wachusset's just in time model where you will be hard pressed to find raw materials or finished goods sitting around the brewery (I suspect they hide some in the trailers though).

Travis said...

They do a tasting tour thing on Saturdays. I fogot the time...Late morning early after noon I think. I don't think they sell beer out the door but you can pick up their beer just about anywhere (gas stations, Mom & Pop stores included) in the area. A local restaurant, Wolfie's, just up the road with great food (try the Big Bad Wolfie) has two or three beers of the BBC offering on draft and very fresh.

I hadn't check in on the blog in a while...too bad I missed you Lew. I live about two miles from BBC and I have some very nice homebrew IPA and an English Strong ale with 8 months in the bottle (not to mention the 07.07.07 Vertical Epic that I'm about to open).

Travis said...

Oh yea...
I forgot Gary is also part owner in a beer bar in Brattleboro, VT on Flat Street that has all the BBC beers on draft and four of five other beers from great breweries. Usually there are about 20 different beers available. Nice place with some decent appetizers and upscale snack food.

Lew Bryson said...

Lstaff,
I like the beers. That's why not everyone has to make a whip-sharp IPA; it's about variety, not sameness. Anyway...yeah, Wachusett uses the trailers for storage, always have. JIT's great when it works, but...

Travis: I'd like to get to that bar in Brattleboro, God alone knows when I'll be able to get to New England again, though.

Anonymous said...

What's better than a local brewery that makes solid beers for the local area with not much care to move beyond that? Nothing.

Not every brewery, local or not, need WOW the pants off every geek in existence. Sometimes a solidly made local hits the spot that no "insanely hard to find, small batch...rare and uber-secret special" brew will ever do.

Been a Berkshire fan for years...with no reason to soil my pants over their beer either.

Lew Bryson said...

Yup, good beer's all you need. And you know...most successful craft brewers sell a whole lot of "non-pants-soiling" beer in their local markets. I was just over at Allagash, where Rob told me that sales of White, in Maine, on draft, are booming. Geeks groove on Curieux, Interlude, Four...but White rocks the bar world. Not a bad thing.

Anonymous said...

Lew
The good word is out on BBC. I've enjoyed their product since it came out and now it's available in our area (northwest connecticut)It's as you say a great little brewery and I hope their notoriety doesn't change them too much.
Cheer. And now I'll have to pick up a quart or two

LStaff said...

>That's why not everyone has to make a whip-sharp IPA; it's about variety, not sameness.

That's what I feel about the 4 pale ales BBC make - they are all about the same. So why not offer something different? I don't know where you are finding all of these whip-sharp IPA's in New England, because they really don't exist outside of a handful of brewpubs.

I am not looking for a small batch, one-off, high octane double or triple IPA. I just want a solid IPA that I can go to and know its going to have decent US hop flavor and aroma. Name one such beer made in New England that is bottled....(cue the crickets). Usually when I go out to local beer bars, I pass right over the local/regional IPA's and depend on IPA's from other regions. Thank God for Bear Republic Hop Rod Rye and Racer 5 because without them, Boston would be a dead zone for hop lovers. There used to be Smutty IPA, but lately that beer has been a bore with just bitterness and no hop flavor/aroma to back it up. Its bold hop aroma/flavor is what made that beer special and quite popular with beer geeks AND non-beer geeks alike, now it seems like they pulled out the rug from underneath us hop heads.

I don't think I'm asking too much for a full US hop flavored IPA that is consistent enough to be good each and every time its made. Its not just beer geeks that like hops - so many times I take my homebrewed IPA that is full flavored in the hop department to family and non beer geek parties and all kinds of drinkers love it and say that this is the best beer they have ever had. I contribute this not so much to my "awesome brewing prowess" (sarcasm), but to heavy handed hop usage and of course freshness. Now that average beer consumers are looking to beer with flavor more and more, you would think that breweries would pick up on that and think, hey,maybe our long time customers are also looking to trade up to even fuller flavored beers than they are used to. When I say full flavored beers, I don't mean high alcohol beer, I mean bold flavors - they can be mutually exclusive, but are always lumped together by those who criticize beer geeks for wanting more flavor.

bill mc said...

quick thank you to all who gave me info about BBC

hope to get there soon!

Lew Bryson said...

Well...I had the Sebago IPA for the first time this week, and that was pretty tasty, to me, anyway; pretty damned PNW in style. Had a pint of that next to a pint of Shipyard: talk about night and day. But see...I happen to think it's even worse that you have such a paucity of lagers in New England! All depends on what you like.

bostonbeerman said...

Great review of one of my favorite breweries. These guys helped me get through grad school about 10 years ago. No, not a scholarship or an internship, just nice growlers of Drayman's Porter and Steel Rail Extra Pale while reading my weekends away. Pair the Steel Rail with a burrito from Bueno y Sano in Amherst, oh the memories...

Anonymous said...

What about trying Paul Davis's Hop Meadow IPA (Hooker Ales's) out of Bloomfield, Connecticut. He puts out a consistent line of brews and I especially like his IPA version and his barleywine known as Old Marley. You may be missing out.

Lew Bryson said...

Yeah, just had the Hooker IPA: pretty danged hoppy beer, and a good one. Found it in Maine, too: more on that soon.

LStaff said...

I don't think I would call them Paul Davis' beers anymore since he is no longer an employee of Troutbrook/Hooker.

But I have tried that beer and was unimpressed with its grassy flavor and have had more than one run-in with unfresh six packs of Hooker beer in this area. Yes, I hold a grudge against breweries that have taken my money and bitten me in the ass in the past.

I have had many Sebago bay IPA's on tap at the brewpub in Old port. Its a refreshing alternative when pub crawling in Portland. It was a decent beer on tap, but more of a pale ale when it came to hop flavor/aroma. Good, but not what I'm looking for. Maybe I just need to move to the PNW or San Diego for some real hoppy commercial beer. In the meantime, until New England brewers catch up to us hop heads, I'll just brew my own.

Loren said...

I'm with lstaff on the Hooker "issues". Hop Meadow WAS a great IPA when fresh (22oz not the contract 12oz) or on tap and especially on cask. Shame with the situation going on Hooker (their head sales rep left the company as well) but...couldn't say I, for one, couldn't see it happening with the change of ownership. Any rate...

Berkshire = good.

Rob, maybe their Double IPA debuting at the Hophead thing this weekend will be THE hop fix you're (and me too) jonesing for?

Juice. That's what I want in an IPA.

Cheers!

Anonymous said...

As a follow up on the discussion on New Englane IPA another good New England brand is Smuttynose IPA from New Hampshire especially the special series IPA in the 22 oz. bottle which will return next year. As for the contract bottled Hooker IPA they just gave it a good review in the Beer Advocate although that may change with the departure of Paul Davis. Look for him at his new digs and you will find great beer and hopefully he will continue to brew a version of his barleywine recipe "Old Marley" which he brewed at Troutbrook Hooker ales from 2001.