Tuesday June 19, 2012

GREAT BARRINGTON -- Sam Adams has come to the Berkshires to wade into the uncharted world of whiskey.

Berkshire Mountain Distillers, located on Home Road, has partnered with The Boston Beer Co., maker of Samuel Adams beers, for a cross-state, multi-year project in which the local distiller will create two specialized whiskeys from the Boston-based brewer's beers.

Berkshire Mountain is using 12,000 gallons of Sam Adams' flagship Boston Lager and the small-batch Cinder Bock in a triple distillation process intended to create aged craft whiskeys expected to be ready for sale by 2015.

Chris Weld, left, the founder and owner Berkshire Mountain Distillers, shows Jim Koch, the founder and brewer of the Boston Beer Co., a batch of whiskey
Chris Weld, left, the founder and owner Berkshire Mountain Distillers, shows Jim Koch, the founder and brewer of the Boston Beer Co., a batch of whiskey made with Boston’s Beer’s Samuel Adams Lager. (Ben Garver / Berkshire Eagle Staff)
The process should yield 500 gallons, or 12,000 bottles, of whiskey.

Chris Weld, founder, owner and distiller of Berkshire Mountain, approached The Boston Beer Co. three months ago with the idea. While showing Jim Koch, the founder and brewer of The Boston Beer Co., the progress of their nascent venture on Monday in the Great Barrington distillery, Weld said he was intrigued by the idea of taking a great beer, putting it through the distillation process, and seeing what happened.

Whiskey is made from beer -- though the ales that are typically used are bland (because they're brewed without hops) and aren't intended to be drank on their own.

Koch said he was intrigued by the possibility of making small-batch whiskey when Weld approached him. And soon enough, a truck with 15 kegs was brought in to see which beers would work best.

"I was fascinated," said Koch. "I've always tried to explain to people that distilled beer is whiskey, just like distilled wine is cognac."

As Koch finished the tour, he said he was amazed by Weld's ability to "reveal" the flavors by stripping away other tastes in the distillation process. He compared it to the work of a marble sculptor, and paraphrased the words of Michelangelo in saying that Weld is simply taking away the layers to find the finished product that's already there.

Berkshire Mountain Distillers’ Chris Weld gives Boston Beer Co. founder Jim Koch a tour of the distillery grounds on Monday.
Berkshire Mountain Distillers’ Chris Weld gives Boston Beer Co. founder Jim Koch a tour of the distillery grounds on Monday. (Ben Garver / Berkshire Eagle Staff)

"That's essentially what he's doing, he's taking away the marble," said Koch.

Berkshire Mountain was founded only five years ago, but it's already distributed in 19 states and has received accolades from near and far. As the company prepares to put out its most high-profile product yet, Weld said it was an honor to be collaborating with a pioneer in the field of spirit-making.

"We're thrilled to be the first to distill it," said Weld. "I hope we do it justice."

Koch and Weld aren't unsure of how the final product will turn out, but both said the unknown is what makes it fun.

"The smaller part of this is the business part of it," said Weld. "It's just been exciting meeting new people and making new spirits and experimenting to make something new."

Berkshire Mountain will distribute the whiskey, and the oak barrels used in the aging process will be returned to Boston to be used in a future aged beer.

More than 50 casks have been filled with the craft brew and it's expected to take at least two years for the whiskey to be ready for sale.

To reach Trevor Jones:
tjones@berkshireeagle.com,
or (413) 496-6214.
Follow him on Twitter: @BE_TrevorJones.