Drink Local: Craft Breweries, Distilleries, and Wineries in the Berkshires

by Martha Jackson Suquet
Along with local vegetables, fruit, cheese and meat, local beer rounds out the joys of eating local in the Berkshires. We are lucky to live in a region with a wide array of quality craft breweries, each of which combines simple ingredients to blend into delicious, complex beers. For those bourbon-loving friends and wine aficionado visitors, the Berkshires offer high-quality local vineyards and distilleries, too.
Big Elm Brewing and Berkshire Mountain Distillers products are made in Sheffield and Furnace Brook Winery is in Richmond
Why are the Berkshires home to so many great beverage producers? It’s a combination of creative farmers and craft beverage makers, (some) government support, and a customer base that appreciates the quality and ethos of local beverages.

All alcoholic beverages are the result of a process that’s both simple and complex. A few basic ingredients, carefully fermented and often aged, give us a wide variety of tasty drinks. For beer, it’s hops, grain (often malted barley), yeast, and water. Wine is even simpler: grapes, yeast, and water. And distilled spirits can be made from a variety of ingredients: corn, wheat, sugarcane, even potatoes. On top of those basic components, additional flavorings like fruit, herbs, and spices can be added to create unique beverages.
Craft breweries began expanding rapidly and taking market share away from major corporate breweries around 2008. In New England, however, local craft breweries weren’t necessarily making beer with local ingredients. Now, craft beverage producers have more options for using locally-grown grains, hops, and add-ins.
Malted barley, a key ingredient in beer, is one component that was formerly only available from distant sources. Darrell Turner (pictured here) at Turner Hill Malt, says he started malting barley when local brewery Big Elm was looking for local ingredients and had trouble finding them. His malthouse, the only one in Berkshire County, supplies malt to Big Elm and Shire Breu-Hous, and is becoming popular with homebrewers as well. “I realized why no one was doing it,” says Turner of malting process, which requires “a lot of work and a lot of investment." His mechanical engineering background makes him suited to the technical challenges of malting, however, and he’s proud of providing something rare to brewers.
Hops are another beer ingredient that can now be sourced closer to home. Historically, hops were an important crop in the Northeast, until Prohibition and disease decimated the industry. The west coast took over and still dominates hop production, but the crop is making a comeback here and many craft brewers seek out locally-grown hops. Or they grow their own: even without their own farm, Barrington Brewery uses hops grown on the side of a barn in its 420 Ale, an English-style bitter.
A small farm in Pownal, VT, Hoppy Valley Farm grows heirloom hops for local brewers. Owner Peter Hopkins (pictured here) says that with disease pressure and unpredictable weather, hop-growing “is hard work, but when someone makes beer from our hops, we are amply rewarded”. To supplement the hop enterprise, Hoppy Valley also makes food products, including mustards, hot sauces, and horseradish sauce. This year’s hop harvest went to Stoneman Brewery in Colrain (which offers a beer CSA share).
Liquor licenses specifically for farmers in both New York and Massachusetts have attempted to encourage farm-based production, though the issue is complicated. In Massachusetts, craft beer producers face a hurdle to full participation in the locally-grown movement: they are not allowed to sell their beer at farmers markets. A legislative bill currently under consideration would change that restriction and allow local beer to join wine, cider, and distilled spirits at markets.
Christine Heaton, co-owner Big Elm Brewing
If you like straightforward beers, try a classic like Big Elm’s American Lager or Bright Ideas’ Northern Brights. For something more adventurous, Shire Breu Haus offers Embarrassment, a sour ale with peach and mango; there’s also Bright Ideas’ Quaffable Waffle, an imperial stout brewed with, yes, waffles. See the list at the end of this article to find local craft brews, and remember that offerings often change seasonally.
Craft distilleries and local wineries have also been on the rise alongside the craft beer industry. As with beer, local distilleries are using local ingredients to create unique spirits. Cooper’s Daughter Spirits at Olde York Farm, over the border in Hudson, New York, is a “woman-owned and family-operated distillery with a cooperage onsite making barrels by hand”. Black walnut, rhubarb, and even wild ramps go into their unique offerings, and a cocktail garden is open year-round. Berkshire Mountain Distillers in Sheffield uses regional ingredients to create more straightforward spirits, including Ice Glen Vodka, Greylock Gin, and New England Corn Whiskey.
Cooper's Daughter Sophie Newsome, owner and flavor developer, Berkshire Mountain Distillers Ice Glen Vodka and keg room
Wine drinkers, you’re not left out! While the Northeast climate is a challenging one for grape-growing, farmers have found cold-hardy varieties and patches of micro-climates that do allow grape production. There are several wineries in the Berkshires and nearby areas, and most have tasting rooms or outdoor spaces where visitors can sample the products. Susan Powell of Home Range Winery in Canaan, NY says that it can be a challenge to draw visitors to their smaller operation, but the combination of food trucks, live music, and convenient location (and of course, wine) does attract people visiting the Berkshires and Hudson Valley. At Hilltop Orchards and Furnace Brook Winery in Richmond, the wine is complemented by a number of agritourism activities, including apple picking, hiking trails, and winter snowshoeing.

As we mentioned when covering agritourism last month, all of these thriving breweries, wineries, and distilleries have a combined economic benefit for the region. You can see the inter-connected nature of the industry when one brewery’s website encourages visitors to check out other nearby craft beverage producers. Together, these businesses make the Berkshires a destination for craft beverage lovers. You can map out visits to local producers on the Beer and Cider Trail, or check out our list below.
Shire Breu-Hous, Dalton; Barrington Brewery, Great Barrington,
Big Elm Brewing, Sheffield, Bright Ideas Brewing, North Adams
North Canaan, CT; Old Klaverack Brewery, Claverack, NY; Roaring 20s Brewery, New Lebanon, NY; Roe Jan Brewing, Hillsdale, NY;
Balderdash Cellars, Richmond;
Home Range Winery, Canaan, NY;
Sabba Vineyards, Old Chatham, NY
Save the date! Book signing for Pig Years
November 4, 6-8 pm
with reading by local farmer and author
Ellyn Gaydos
In partnership Berkshire Grown, Scout House invites the public to attend a book signing and reading with local author Ellyn Gaydos, reading from her New York Times acclaimed best seller Pig Years, on Friday November 4, 6-8 pm. A former team member at Abode Farm in New Lebanon, NY as well as many other farms in the area, Gaydos reflects on the wisdom she gained while working the soils and tending to animals in the Berkshires.

In her New York Times review of Pig Years, Kristen Kimball wrote that "memoirs about farming tend to slide in one of two directions: the farce or the ode. Neither of those genres is as satisfying as what we have in Ellyn Gaydos’s debut memoir, “Pig Years,” about her life as a farmhand in New York and Vermont. What this young writer has given us is more of a memento mori, rendering realistic scenes full of vivid and sometimes bizarre detail, always with an acknowledgment — on the surface or just under it — of the inescapable facts that life entails death, and growth, and arises from decay."

Ellyn will read from Pig Years, and answer questions in a Q&A moderated by Berkshire Grown Executive Director, Margaret Moulton. Wine will be provided by the Egremont Wine Shoppe.

This event is free and open to the public, co-hosted by Scout House and Berkshire Grown. Scout House is located at 21 Elm Street in Great Barrington.

For more information email Sharon at Berkshire Grown or contact Bobby Houston/Scout House at 914-319-3396.
Meet Maeve Dillon, Food Access Program Manager
Maeve grew up in Sheffield, attending Mount Everett Regional High School and Bard College at Simon’s Rock in Great Barrington, and completed her B.A. in Psychology and Studio Arts with a specialization in Art Therapy at Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson. During her time at Bard, Maeve worked on various Biodynamic farms throughout the Hudson Valley and beyond. Upon graduating, Maeve moved back to the Berkshires, splitting her time at Railroad Street Youth Project and Common Hands Farm in Philmont, NY, and later at Indian Line Farm in Egremont, MA. This past summer Maeve also managed the Great Barrington Summer Farmer’s Market.

We are pleased to have Maeve join the Berkshire Grown staff as Food Access Program Manager, overseeing Share the Bounty and Farm to Food Access, our two programs that support local farmers while also addressing food insecurity in the Berkshires. As a grower, an active community member, and a strong advocate for food justice, Maeve is excited to use her farming skills and community connections to work on eliminating food insecurity in the Berkshires.
When Maeve is not at Berkshire Grown, you can find her in the ceramics studio, adventuring with her dog Wicket or cooking up something in her own kitchen. 
Save these dates, too! See you at the Winter Markets!
Berkshire Grown helps you find your local farmers markets throughout the seasons. Learn more about events, vendors, and food access programs by using our Food and Farms Map. The Berkshire Farmers Markets map also sites farmers market locations, dates and hours, and the Berkshire Grown website directs you to local markets that offer Market Match programs for SNAP. On the road this week? You can use the Eat Local MA app to help you find local food and farms all around the Commonwealth.
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What We Are Reading:
Taste Makers
Seven Immigrant Women Who Revolutionized Food in America

America’s modern culinary history told through the lives of seven path-breaking chefs and food writers.

By Mayukh Sen 

Who’s really behind America’s appetite for foods from around the globe? This group biography from an electric new voice in food writing honors seven extraordinary women, all immigrants, who left an indelible mark on the way Americans eat today. Taste Makers stretches from World War II to the present, with absorbing and deeply researched portraits of figures including Mexican-born Elena Zelayeta, a blind chef; Marcella Hazan, the deity of Italian cuisine; and Norma Shirley, a champion of Jamaican dishes.

In imaginative, lively prose, Mayukh Sen weaves together histories of food, immigration, and gender. Taste Makers challenges readers to look at what’s on their plate—and the women whose labor, overlooked for so long, makes those meals possible. Read the full conversation between Mayukh Sen (the author) and Reem Kassis here.
Berkshire Grown's

Every time you buy directly from a local farmer, you eat the freshest farm products and you support local agriculture as a vital part of the Berkshires economy.
This 2022 Guide to Local Food & Farms is the region’s most comprehensive guide to local farms, farmers markets, and restaurants offering local foods - use it to find farm stands, CSA farms, pick-your-own farms and orchards, as well as locally sourced value-added products like charcuterie, preserves, and fermented foods and locations and hours of food pantries spread across the county. Within these pages and online at BerkshireGrown.org/Find-Food-and-Farms, you will find descriptions, addresses, and a detailed map.

Keep your Guide to Local Food & Farms handy and use it frequently!
Berkshire Grown connects you with local farmers, restaurants, and food producers. DONATE TODAY to celebrate local farms and food, sustain our Berkshire food economy, and Keep Farmers Farming! Support your favorite local eating establishment.
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PO Box 983, Great Barrington, MA 01230 or call (413) 528-0041.
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Stay in Touch

Berkshire Grown's e-newsletter comes out monthly. 
Please send information to  buylocal@berkshiregrown.org.
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Margaret Moulton, Executive Director
Jordan Archey, Program Manager, Business Members
Maeve Dillon, Food Access Program Manager
Martha Jackson Suquet, Winter Farmers Market Manager
Sharon Hulett-Shepherd, Membership and Office Manager
Join Berkshire Grown here.