On Location: Berkshire Brewery Tour

It’s wintertime in New England.  Cold, snowy, fireplaces, coats, gloves, and scarves.  If you need a friend to turn to, you often seek advice from one of the thousands of ski slopes in the area, or if your a novice, you’ll find yourself in the lodge.  But what to drink?  Dean’s Beans Coffeehouse Porter from Berkshire Brewing.  The first time I had this beer was in the winter of 2009, and it was awesome.  Very rich and hardy with oatmeal, coffee, and toasted wood all making an appearance.  Ever since that first brew, I found myself checking out the latest from Berkshire, and if you read my post on Whale’s Tale, you know I’m a fan of beers that rhyme, hence my fondness for their Steel Rail Pale Ale.
With the beer being so fresh and close (and so good), I wanted to stop by the brewery to see, as they say on MTV Cribs, “where the magic happens.”  J.Lo, Diddy, and Lil Wayne have nothing on the house of Berkshire.  Before you walked in to the brewery, you knew that it was honest, hardworking, and minimalistic.  The building itself is located on Railroad Street (hence the hardworking aspect), and it had on site parking… on a narrow grassy strip at the edge of the property (hence the minimalistic characteristic).
The tour started at 1:00 and stragglers were still filing in around 1:10, however being the perfect hosts that they were, we were treated to our first free 12 oz brew as soon as we walked in.  I was expecting a tasting at the end perhaps or a brew at that point, so I figured at the end of the tour, they would make money off of us and charge 5 or so dollars for a tasting… no big deal as long as I got something free.  I went with a rarity from Berkshire: Oak Aged Shabadoo (pictured left), their black and tan cask fermented which I have yet seen for sale anywhere. 
Oh.  My.  God.  It was incredible.  I thought it may be a little to heavy for the 90 degree weather outside, but how horrifically wrong I was.  At first smell, the head gave off a wonderful Oak aroma with hints of grapes and malts coming off… I was excited to taste this guy, and rightfully so.  It tasted very sour with the strong hint of oak coming through; the roasted malt and barley definitely took a back seat to the tartness of the beer, which I was really surprised at (pleasantly mind you).  The brew went down easy, and I actually finished before the tour began… more please.  The tour was designed to take 25 or so people, but approximately 60 showed up, so they had to split us into two groups.
Our tour was conducted by the friendliest brewer around, Charlie.  He refrained from biting my finger, and really hourting me, which was very unBritish of him, but also a good thing (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=he5fpsmH_2g).  He led us to the grain room to talk about malt, hops, and their production (which grew 20% in a year).  A really knowledgeable and friendly guy who’s favorite brew was BBC’s Pilsner (a summer seasonal available now.)  The facilities at BBC were rather elementary and small, and I mean that in the most respectful way.  Again, they are a small craft brewery and have to make due with what’s around them.  Malt was housed in large $6.00 Sterilite tote bins, and walking around was a bit tight.  With increased sales, and essentially all of the floor space taken up by machinery, storing tanks, and fermenters one can visualize that the small facilities imply a thriving business and one can interpret the Sterilite bins as a company not wanting to charge consumers for their expenses (hence the honest quality as mentioned before).
After the grain room, Charlie led us back to the lobby to get… yes, another free beer.  I went with the nitro coffee stout, an old favorite (pictured right).  It was less carbonated than I remember and it had the creaminess of Guinness, however a higher ABV at 6%.  The brew had a thick, thick head, and it gave off chocolate, coffee, and toasty aromas.  The taste didn’t stray from the smell, with a strong presence of coffee coming through making it a very rich beer.  As we were drinking, Charlie led us to the packaging room, where BBC has made some technological leaps, but still uses manpower to fill growlers.  All their brews sell in 22oz bombers and 64oz growlers, which Charlie said was their solution to the six pack.  Another neat thing about Berkshire is that all their brew is made cold, shipped cold, and unlike Coors Light, sold cold everywhere you go.  No preservatives are in their beer, making have an unobstructed, organic taste and forcing retailers to store it in their coolers.  The only unfortunate thing about being 22 ounces and sold cold is that when you go to your favorite package store, Berkshire brews sit awkwardly and uncomfortably next to Steel Reserve and 40s of Bud Light, much like that 53 year old divorcee drowning himself in cheap whiskey who decides to strike up conversation with you at the bar.
All in all, I highly recommend checking out the brewery.  The tour is free, you get two free (off market) brews, and you can take home a pint glass for a reasonable 5 dollars (with the best saying in beer on it: “Things are looking up!).  Tours run every Saturday at 1:00 and BBC is located on 12 Railroad Street in South Deerfield, MA (ironically, not part of the Berkshires in Massachusetts.)  Support local breweries (and bring the lady friend too, she can seek comfort in BBC’s Raspberry Barleywine and not to mention the Yankee Candle superstore is 5 minutes away).

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