Wednesday August 1, 2012

GREAT BARRINGTON -- The logs, planted in rows and reaching 25 feet into the air, form an imposing perimeter around the 1-acre field on Route 41 just north of Great Barrington.

Passing motorists slow and regard the edifice with long, perplexed stares.

Is it an art installation? The beginnings of a giant jungle gym? An ill-conceived corral for an as-of-yet undelivered pair of elephants?

No, said Evan Williams, the 26-year-old Monterey resident behind the project: It's a hops yard, and when it's finished, the structure will be linked with aerial cables and covered with the skyward-reaching vine used to flavor beer.

"If this were Oregon or Washington, someone would see it and say, ‘Oh, they're building a little hops yard,' " Williams said.

One of the 25-foot-tall posts is set in the ground at the hops yard in Great Barrington.
One of the 25-foot-tall posts is set in the ground at the hops yard in Great Barrington. (Ned Oliver / Berkshire Eagle Staff)
But in the Berkshires, he acknowledged, the structure comes off as a bit unusual.

Williams said it's just one small step in he and his business partner's plans to open a brewery that trades in truly local flavors.

Through their joint venture, Glass Bottom Brewery, Williams, a farmer, and Ezra Bloom, a 27-year-old brewer, say they plan to champion unique, local flavors.

Bloom said their signature beer, for example, is an ESB, or extra special bitter -- a standard variety that's both hoppy and malty, brewed with Earl Grey tea.

"It's not traditional but it's delicious," said Bloom. "We're trying to brew first-class, world-class beer that also has something unique and special about it."

The project is still very much a work in progress. Williams doesn't expect to have his hops, about 800 plants worth, in the ground until the fall, and they won't be ready to harvest until next season. Meanwhile, they've just rented warehouse space in Lee, where they plan to set up their brewery.

Glass Bottom Brewery is still in the process of getting licensed to distribute its beer, but Williams and Bloom hope to be fully operational in the next six months.

Their ambitions, at least to begin with, are modest. They say they only hope to produce enough beer for "people in Berkshire County to drink."

Their early focus on hops, the pair said, is central to their plans to offer a product grounded in local agriculture.

"Maybe they make up 5 percent or less of the beer by volume, but they can make up be tween 25 and 95 percent of the flavor," Williams said. "If you have local hops, you can give your beer a truly local flavor."

To reach Ned Oliver:
noliver@berkshireeagle.com,
or (413) 496-6240.
On Twitter: @NedOliver


About hops ...

  • Growing: Hops, a perennial climbing plant, are typically trained to grow up strings or wires that support the plant.
  • Use: The dried female flower clusters, or cones, are primarily used to flavor beer. They impart a bitter, tangy flavor that dominates certain styles of beer, such as imperial pale ales.
  • History: Hops have been cultivated for use in brewing for 1,200 years. They first found use in present-day Germany.