Brew Biz: Werts and All

Ken Carman is a BJCP judge; homebrewer since 1979, club member at Escambia Bay and Music City Homebrewers, who has been interviewing professional brewers all over the east coast for over 10 years.

Written by Ken Carman

Barrington Brewery and Restaurant
aka: Berkshire Mountain Brewery
420 Stockbridge Road
Great Barrington, MA 01230
413-528-8282
Brewer and owner: Andrew Mankin

As a kid I traveled a few times through the west side of New England, via Connecticut. I was with my father… on business trips. Not the nicest locations in New England, to be overly polite. And we flew into Boston once, going to… ah, once again, “not the nicest locations…” So when my friend Dell, and his mother Kathleen Setzer, kept asking me to go with them to a camp near Otis, Massachusetts, I avoided it like intentionally exposing myself to chicken pox again.

Boy did I screw up.

The Berkshires are every bit as beautiful as my beloved Adirondacks. But on the plus side, I might never have had the adventure of discovering the Berkshires with an adult’s perspective and going places that simply weren’t around back then, like Great Barrington Brewery.

Great Barrington Brewery; otherwise known as Berkshire Mountain Brewing, sits just a few miles north of dead center Great Barrington, Massachusetts. Duh: hence the name. If you’re coming out of Pittsfield or Lee, Massachusetts you take Rt. 7 straight down to GB, but from Becket it’s route 8 to 23 west to route 7 north. It’s be on the eastern side of 7; midst an antique store and several shops in the Jennifer House Commons.

I met Andrew Mankin the brewer, for the first time, last year. A little tall; thin, he is also the owner and the creative inspiration behind this brewpub. He is not classically trained, yet he brews beers that are stylistically more on the mark than most Siebel/UC Davis/etc. brewers I have met. Unlike too many “classically” trained-only brewers I have met, most of his beers I’ve tried are not only on the mark style-wise, but couldn’t be described as bland, or boring. Last year I shared his Vienna with my beer tasters in Beaver River and they raved about it. As a judge I was impressed with the stylistic accuracy of his Vienna, yet just how individually pleasing of a brew it was. A brew can fit the styles quite well, yet be so boring you wonder if you should drink it, or use it to wash your car seats to give it that pleasing beer scent the officers so love. “Well, I was going to give you a ticket, but the interior of you car is so pleasingly odoriferous…”

Right.

His Vienna seems to speak of freshness and the malt almost sang like the fabled choir. How did they them all in there? Did they complain when they went in? Or did they eagerly cry as the jumped right in the bottle, “V (go) ien-a.”

Sorry.

While he has little “formal” training he did apprentice at Vax Brewery in England, pronounced “Vox.”.

Andrew’s goals over the years for his brewery: yes he does own it and started it, are amazing and quite noble. This brewery is partially solar powered: all the hot water goes through the solar system. Even on cloudy days they often have plenty of hot water to make wert. The solar set up has 30 panels on the roof and it cost about $70,000. Luckily Andrew has a brother who is a contractor. It helps a lot in the summer; saving 65% of gas usage, though not quite as useful in the winter.

What you don’t see in the solar system. There’s also a huge capacity tank that stores solar heated water underground.

The brewing equipment is by Stainless Steel Specialists/LaBonne out of Montreal.


You never know how much inspiration you might find when you open a homebrew kit your sister gives you, right Andrew? No kidding: that’s what started this adventure for Andrew, way back in college. The brewery/restaurant itself has been going for about 15 years, though he has transplanted hops he has been growing long before that. They now happily climb up the sides of the brewery, and often into his beer: though he willingly admits he uses pellets and hops from other sources.

I also met his assistant: Scott Craumer. (Did I spell it right, Scott?) He used to work in the paper mills, “But then I found something I really loved.” Blond, thin, with an eager “let’s get to it” attitude, they seemed an excellent pair.

I interviewed Andrew on the Monday after the 4th of July. Most brewers would be off on a day like that; maybe watching fireworks, or shooting them off… if their state allows. But Andrew already had his “Fireworks” on tap; bouncing between helping the bartender wash glasses, to discussing brewing concerns over the phone, and with his assistant. At the same time he answered my questions and brought me around the brewery.

God, I thought McGuires in Pensacola was tight. There’s a brew related vessel in every nook and cranny.

And all he does… multi-task much?

My usual question: “what advice do you have for homebrewers,” was answered in full and, as per my usual request, nothing about sanitation. Hey, if you’re into homebrewing and you’ve that clueless about such a basic, you’ve got real problems. Focus! Focus!

Ah, but what you focus on is important…

“Too many homebrewers get caught up in details, like water quality. You probably need to know far more about your yeast. Yeast contributes far more to taste and a healthy culture is so crucial. Study up on yeast. And always consider balance when putting in ingredients.”

In the future Andrew hopes to keep the new banquet facility rolling with weddings, bar mitzvahs, cannibal conventions, though that last one he regrets a bit… kind of “eats” at him. Or would that be “regrets a ‘bite?’” And, yes, Andrew, I’m sorry: I made that last one up just to see if my readers were paying attention.

Well, are you?

I tried Firecracker IPA, Raspberry Ale, Black Bear Stout, Hopland Pale, Alt and their Brown

The Firecracker, with a perfect body that supports a hop profile that’s just right: substantial but not so hop crazed that it burns out the palette, has Simcoe, Millennium, Chinook, Fuggles and Saaz. They all blend together very well: offering a great seasonal with just the right amount of hop fireworks. The Brown, to me, was a Southern English: not dry, but slightly sweet. Andrew wasn’t sure he agreed, but since I’m the BJCP judge here that means…. nothing. BJCP judges can be wrong just like everyone else. The body was medium to medium light with ruby highlights, though most of his beer appears a bit hazy. Unfiltered or cold chill? I’m guessing not as filtered as some.

Hey, that’s the way I like it. I didn’t complain one bit.

The Hopland Pale was very Cascade-y with a light body. The Alt had the nice caramelized; Vienna and/or slight Munich, sense one would expect; light but still dominant. Pure Vienna, I suspect? If there’s Munich in here: light. The body supported it perfectly. Raspberry Ale: a perfect light beer… though by no means “lite,” with a raspberry nose and taste. Not much else. If there are hops here they’re very subtle, at best. Light head… not enough proteins to provide a great head? …straw color and, of course, hazy. The Black Bear Stout was, to me, a perfect Dry with just a bit of an alcoholic push. Nice roast nose and taste. Great head. Hey Andrew, how about a nitro push or hand pulled version?

I noticed several of their beers were hop focused. Making full use of the hop garden and your hopback, huh, Andrew?


It was hazy. No, it wasn’t. “Obsidian,” like many stouts.

Dining room


Food? What, you expect me to eat something? Well, I damn well better after all the samples and the beer. I had Andrew’s Hot Roast Beef sandwich at 8.95. Thin sliced beef, on kaiser… no, not Kaiser the car, dummy, that would add too much metallic “crunch….” with horsey on the side. Well, that’s what you would get if you ordered it. I asked for mayo because they’d just wind up throwing the horsey away with me… or shooting if it were more horse, less “radish.”

Yeah, I admit. A pretty “lame” joke.

So far I have only one critique. The pasta side needed to be just a little more flavorful and a bit al dente. I did drool over my neighbor’s dish: an antipasto salad that was huge. He complained…

“Hey beer geek, stop drooling on my salad!”

“Sorry!!!”

Maybe I’ll let someone else drool as they watch.


And there will be a “next time.” Last summer, when I brought that bottle of their Vienna, I knew I had to come back. This visit made me realize; like some beer crazed MacArthur or Arnold, I must come back… to where great taste is brewing in the Berkshires.

-30-


Brew Biz: Werts and All, is a column dedicated to review, discuss and comment on all things beer including, but not limited to: marketing, homebrewing and homebrew/beer related events, how society perceives all things beer. Also: reviews of beer related businesses, opinions about trends in the beer business, and all the various homebrew, judging and organizations related to beer. Essentially, all things “beer.”


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Ken Carman and Cartenual Productions
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