By John Seven
Two breweries in the Berkshires are setting out to put the region on the map when it comes to beer lovers.
When Best of the Berkshires winner Bright Ideas Brewing opened its doors just over a year ago on the Mass MoCA campus in North Adams, its goal was much loftier than just making beer.
“My interest was in using beer as a community center,” said Eric Kerns.
He and business partner Orion Howard were inspired by the change in Massachusetts law that allowed farm breweries to pour “retail pints” — in essence, set up a tap room rather than rely on a distribution model. Both wanted a beer that was inseparable from the place that served it.
“The beer is made to be drank in that room,” Kerns said. “The Bright Ideas experience is about sitting in that room and listening to the music we play and talking to our great staff and soaking up the vibe and meeting other people.”
It was also important to the two that the brewery be entirely of the place it was situated — that is, it represented North Adams to Mass MoCA visitors, and it also served as a point of entry to the museum campus for residents.
“It is a way of integrating the campus and the city,” Howard said, “because this is a place that people can step on the grounds of the Mass MoCA who haven’t been here in years. This is North Adams — this is manufacturing, this is community.
“We do a lot of evangelism for North Adams in that room,” said Kerns.
It’s a place where visitors and locals sit together and talk, where outsiders get an inside feel for the city. It’s like a visitors center with beer. The product itself is a collaboration with brewer Chris Post, who helms his own Wandering Star Craft Brewery in Pittsfield.
The sensibility behind the brews is one of solid flavors with spark that eschew gimmicks.
“A lot of people are getting into the wacky curveball business, making funky peanut butter cherry beers or whatever, but we felt that while there’s room for that, those can be polarizing,” Kerns said. “There’s a hole up the middle for getting back to basics and doing thoughtful, honest versions of each style. Not without creativity and not without some spark to them, but instead of being in the curveball business, we’re in the 100-mile an hour fastball business, throwing it right down the middle of the plate.”
Bright Ideas has its flagship line but does like an interesting experiment. Its current effort is with heirloom hops varietals foraged by Hoppy Valley Organics in Pownal, Vt., hops that are unique and no longer used in brews. This has resulted in limited-edition brews, including a Gold Rush-era steam beer from wild Vermont hops and a popular pre-Prohibition cream style named Heritage 2.
“Nostalgia and surprise are the two most powerful forces that you can make people feel something,” Kerns said, “and I think that we’ve created something that provides both of those.”
Just to the south in Dalton, the Shire Breu-Haus has opened its doors in the Stationery Factory, the result of a DIY collaboration between home brewers and reunited childhood friends Andrew Crane and Nick Whalenare. After bumping into each other after a decade apart, they bonded over their enthusiasm for beer. Crane had been given the opportunity to start a brewery but didn’t want to go at it alone. Whalenare had been considering the idea already. It was a match made in heaven.
Turning the space into a brewery meant a considerable investment of money and hard work, with the two enlisting friends and family to get it into shape, and to repurpose as much from the factory itself and the Berkshires in general for the space. The bar top is from a tree Crane and Whalenare cut down. They also utilized old barn board, factory machinery, and local marble to create an ambiance they call “rustic farmhouse industrial.”
And then there’s the beer. What are they shooting for with their brews?
“Good beer,” said Crane. “That’s kind of it. When it comes to styles or things like that we’re doing ales, we’re doing lagers, we’re going to be doing some Belgians, we’ll be doing some sours. So pretty much any style of beer out there, we have thought about doing.”
Crane says they are working off their own recipes and have about 100 yet to be made, which include more traditional beers, but they also make room for some unusual ones, like their mint beer using Crane’s family’s mint.
They’ve also begun a small effort to grow their own hops, including Cascade, Nugget, Chinook, East Kent Golding, and three indigenous hops gathered from around the Berkshires. These are expected to be ready in a couple of years. But whether it’s traditional brews or experimental ones, Crane says their standards of quality are uncompromising — they won’t offer their customers anything they wouldn’t drink themselves.
“We’re not going to release any beer that we don’t think is really good, if not outstanding,” said Crane. “As it stands, we’ve released seven batches, and we have dumped one that we didn’t think was good enough. As things progress, we’ll have a couple of those here and there.”
Check out these Berkshire County breweries.
Barrington Brewery and Restaurant
420 Stockbridge Road, Great Barrington, Mass.
Big Elm Brewing
65 Silver St., Sheffield, Mass.
Wandering Star Brewing Co.
11 Gifford St., Pittsfield, Mass.
Facebook page: facebook.com/Wandering-Star-Craft-Brewery-108627745829142/
Bright Ideas Brewing
111 Mass MoCA Way, North Adams, Mass.
63 Flansburg Ave., Dalton, Mass.