Sunday, December 26, 2010

BrewEngland Visits: Berkshire Brewing Co. - Deerfield, MA

Sometime last year, Sarah's cousin Anna shared with her a bottle of Berkshire Brewing Co.'s Coffee House Porter with her. Sarah enjoyed it so much, she bought a bottle for us to try. Although I had heard about the brewery before that, it wasn't until then when I tried one of their beers for the first time. That was the day I fell in love with Berkshire Brewing Co.

Since trying the Coffee House Porter back in March of this year (which you can read about here), We have just about all of their year round beers, and several of their season offerings. So far, I'd have to say Steel Rail Ale and their Oktoberfests are my two favorite beers, but I really haven't had a bad beer by them. Because we love their beers, we decided it was time to make the trek out west to Deerfield, MA to visit their brewery.

Knowing that my friend Mike loves BBC about as much as I do, and that brewery tours are ALWAYS more fun with friends, we invited he and his wife Jenn. Our friend Andy and his brother Pat were around too, so we recruited them for the tour as well. Mike, Jenn, and Andy also attended my 30th birthday tour at the Harpoon Brewery in Boston, so I knew they would enjoy the BBC too.

Despite the traffic along the way, we arrived (just) in time for the 12pm tour. As of right now, Berkshire Brewing Co. only offers tours on Saturdays at noon, but it didn't disappoint.

When we first arrived, we filed into their tasting area. Fortunately for us, their Oktoberfest was readily available - as we went in October - so we got our first sample prior to heading into the brewhouse. Even though we got some great pictures, there were something around 75 people on the tour. According to our tour guide, they typically have about 8-12 people on the tour each weekend; however, it was the first few weeks of the new semester, so many students from UMass Amherst and other colleges decided to stop in that day.

Nevertheless, that wasn't going to stop us from having a good time!

Our first stop was the grain room. It's a rather small room, but they have quite the mill. They have their grain trucks pull up outside this garage doored room, but blow a good deal of their grain in through an air duct. Some of their specialty grains are stacked on pallets, as you can see in the picture.

The next stop was the actual brew area. BBC is set up with one mash tun and one kettle. According to our tour guide, who is also one of the brewers, the company tours five or six times per week. They have many primary and secondary fermenters, many within a cold storage area (to make lagers) which store their supply of year round beers. They also reserve a few for their seasonal beers.

We then head to the bottling room. We were told that the company started, they filled all of their bottles by hand. For anyone who brews their own beer, you know how annoying it is for a regular five gallon batch - imagine doing that for several barrels! Anyway, they wanted to spend as little time bottling their beer, so they decided to go for the biggest bottles they could get, 22oz bomber bottles. Therefore, the only way you can get their bottled beer is in the bombers. I guess that's not too bad, eh?

Anyway, BBC utilized many volunteers to help them with the bottling process. This helped them meet the demand of their many local consumers.

Much like our friends at Mayflower Brewing Co. as well as Harpoon in Boston, they have one of those kick ass keg washers/fillers. This allows them to fill a keg in a matter of a couple of minutes.

Our final stop was back at the tasting room for a few more samples. Some of the River Ale, a Steel Rail or two, a new Imperial Pint Glass and T-shirt later, and we were off.

L to R: Mike, Andy, Jenn, Adam, Pat, and Sarah

If you get a chance to make the trip, this brewery does not disappoint. Bring some friends and then stop off at the Northampton Brewery for some lunch, and it'll make for a great day!

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