Berktoberfest is happening Saturday. The downtown beer festival started by former Pittsfield BrewWorks owners and brewers Christine and Bill Heaton is now in its fifth year featuring different craft brews, food and music.
The local Jill Gallagher Band and hi8us, a group from Boston will provide music this year.
The Heatons have gone on to do what they really want to do: Brew beer as Big Elm Brewing in Sheffield. Two former BrewWorks customers, Lynn Wallace and Colleen Nixon, are now running Berktoberfest - among other things.
"We're so busy working," Wallace explained. "I'm a home brewer. I'm just married and Colleen has a new baby.
It's the two of us that do this whole thing together. We do this our free time."
But she wasn't complaining.
"It's a really fun event," she said. "It's a great fundraiser and a way to enjoy the Berkshires. We raise money for local charities that mean so much for us. We, ourselves, became a not-for-profit, Berkshire Brewing Heritage, in order to keep the festival afloat."
"This year, proceeds benefit us, the Elizabeth Freeman Center and Moments House," she said.
Nixon added: "We've tried our best to make it bigger and better every year, and this year, Big Elm is going to be making their debut at Berktoberfest.
All of our big three breweries in the Berkshires will be there.
The two besides Big Elm are Wandering Star Craft Brewery, a micro brewer that opened up in a warehouse off Merrill Road in 2010 just after Pittsfield BrewWorks closed; and Barrington Brewery and Restaurant which has been doing business on Stockbridge Road in Great Barrington since 1994.
Gary Happ, co-owner of Barrington Brewery with Andrew Mankin, who is the actual brewer, said they will be featuring their Oktoberfest brew Saturday.
He said it has a balance between the slightly bitter flavor of hops and the sweet flavor of malt. They will also have their Berkshire Mountain Brewery Dunkelweizen dark wheat beer; and one of their pale ales, which he said is, "a little more hoppy," more like an English Bitter.
Happ said each beer from each brewer will taste a little different.
"It's like bread. You can go into the supermarket and buy a loaf of commercial white bread. It's bread, but if you're having a party you want something nicer. You go to a little bakery where they bake their bread every day in small batches."
"Freshness counts in beer," Happ went on. "We have no preservatives in our beer. It's not pasteurized. You gotta drink it when it's fresh."
Heaton said she and her husband, Bill, will be bringing the three beers they are making right now.
"The IPA [India Pale Ale] similar to what we did at the brewpub," she said; " Gerry Dog [ oatmeal] stout we brewed at brewpub; and our new farmhouse ale, the 413, which will highlight a lot of local ingredients including pink peppercorns imported by Himala Salt [ in Great Barrington] and local honey and some other stuff in there, too."
Packing this week
Heaton said they are packaging their beer this week so they can begin to sell it around the county starting next week. She said those three beers will be available at all times and they will brew seasonal beers throughout the year.
"We're very excited to be back at Berktoberfest," Heaton exclaimed. "It's been too long."
Chris Post, owner, founder and brewmaster of Wandering Star Brewery will be serving their beers at the festival.
Wandering Star is a production brewery. They sell draft beers only, usually to restaurants and bars. But on Saturdays, customers can purchase smaller- than- keg- size growlers of their fresh draft beers at the brewery itself.
Coming from England
"Along with the three Berkshire brewers, there will be another 15 from around New England and some from as far away as England," coorganizer Wallace said.
Most of the brewers are from Massachusetts plus Baxter Brewing of Lewiston, Me.; Innis & Gunn of Edinburgh, Scotland, who age their beer in whisky barrels; and a cider brewer, Woodchuck Brewery, from Middlebury, Vt.
Wallace said that the festival normally draws between 600 and 800 beer enthusiasts to the city. Last year at least 850 festival- goers showed up in the rain. Apparently, it always rains during Berktoberfest. This year, the weather is predicted to be "chance of rain," but there are tents with table and chairs inside for hanging out, she said.
Wallace said Josh Cohen, owner of Moe's Tavern in Lee, " comes every year. Moe's sponsored Berktoberfest this year, which allowed us to expand by having tents and better music."
Wallace said Berktoberfest attendees will get a 2-ounce sample mug and 10 tickets for tasting beers.
"Once they run out of tickets they can purchase additional tickets," she said.
She said she appreciated the quality of the restaurants selling food at the festival: Baba Louie's, Brix ( soon to be Phin's), Flavours, MadJack's and Mission.
"It's be like at Third Thursdays," she said. Still, for the Heatons and organizers Nixon and Wallace Berkfest is not only a celebration of brewing. "It's not so much about the beer," Wallace said. " It's about community. This is a beautiful place we live in. This is the time of the harvest, the place we choose to live. Let us enjoy those things."