Wednesday March 24, 2010

PITTSFIELD -- Pittsfield Brew Works is tapping out of the restaurant business.

Though the rumors and whispers have been flying around for nearly two months, Brew Works' owners/master brewers Bill and Christine Heaton officially announced Tuesday that the restaurant will close on Saturday, May 15.

Their business of brewing, however, will still be here in the Berkshires.

"It was one of the hardest decisions we've ever made. We've spent so much time here. Here is like family," Christine Heaton told The Eagle on Tuesday afternoon. The Heatons broke the news to their staff of 17 about two months ago.

Between their waning interest in running a restaurant, their passion for brewing, the recent birth of their son, and the fact that their lease is up this spring, the couple feels it's the right time to move on.

"We've been successful and we're still doing OK. But in our heart of hearts, we want to make beer," Bill Heaton said.

The Heatons said that they have signed a purchase and sale agreement with a local proprietor but were asked by the proprietor that they not be identified. The Pittsfield licensing board clerk did confirm that an application has been filed for the Pittsfield Brew Works location of 34 Depot St. But the clerk said that the application has not been processed and application details were not yet available.

The Heatons did say that they are scheduled to appear before the Pittsfield Licensing Board at their monthly meeting on Monday night with the prospective buyer.

"They've been outstanding tenants and they do such a good job," said George Whaling, who purchased 34 Depot Street LLC for $880,000 in November 2006.

"I think of some of the things they've done, like Berktoberfest. It's like ‘How do you get 650 people to gather on a cold, rainy October day?' But people came. I'm going to miss them as tenants, but also as creative proprietors there," said Whaling.

Nonprofit groups have also benefited from the Brew Works' charitable investments. In November and December of 2009 alone, proceeds from pint sales of firkin, or small-batch brewed beer, and sales of the brewpub's Gerry Dog Stout collectively raised nearly $800 to benefit Berkshire County Kids' Place, and the Berkshire Humane Society and the Eleanor Sonsini Animal Shelter, respectively.

"They were very community oriented," said John Perreault, executive director of the Berkshire Humane Society.

The Heatons said that once the new brewery is up and running, they plan to continue their philanthropic work.

Laura Nixon, a former employee of nearly three years, has also planned special events for the brewpub -- something the Heatons also hope to continue. She and her sister Colleen Nixon first started a trivia night there in April 2007, which still attracts between 50 and 75 people every other Tuesday night. "Can you imagine Pittsfield without a brewpub?" said Nixon. "That was how I really go into beer."

It's that growing beer culture which the Heatons are hoping to bank on. The couple is currently scouting for a building in Pittsfield to purchase and grow their brewery in, with hopes to be up and running by late summer. The name "Pittsfield Brew Works" will be gone with the restaurant. Instead, the brewers' signature Legacy I.P.A. and Gerry Dog Stout will be sold under the moniker "Bump's Brewing" -- Bump being Christine's maiden name.

In addition to the Heaton's brewing venture, Wandering Star Craft Brewery, a project formerly known as Nomad Brewing started by Chris Post, is also close to being up and running at 11 Gifford St. in Pittsfield. It has a May 1 "Big Brew" event on tap to celebrate National Homebrew Day.

Despite the close startup time of these similar ventures, brewers and fans alike say two Pittsfield-based breweries will be a boon. According to data published by the Brewers Association, the national craft brewer retail dollar value in 2009 was an estimated $6.98 billion, up from $6.32 billion in 2008.

"I think it's going to be tremendous having two commercial breweries in the Berkshires. I think it will validate Berkshire County as a home to craft brewing," said Lynn Lefebvre, a member of the Berkshire Homebrew Association and Brew Works' trivia night co-host. "The more potency in an industry the more you'll really grow the industry."