It's customary to bring your hosts a bottle of wine -- but this year, maybe you want to think outside the barrel. If you like giving the gift of Berkshire bounty, it's time to consider some local mead.
We're in a food revolution these days -- farmers, brewers and artisans of all types are making high-quality food and drink with local ingredients. You can get mead and other local libations at Berkshire stores from North Adams to Lenox.
Never heard of mead? That's OK. It goes back centuries, and it's a simple mix: "It really just means a type of honey wine," said Brendan Burns, of Green River Ambrosia in Deerfield. "Traditional mead is just honey and water, and a little bit of yeast to let it ferment."
Green River Ambrosia, part of the worker-owned Artisan Beverage Co operative, produces many different kinds of mead, from basic "liquid sunshine" to a chamomile-infused brew to "Cyzer," which is made with apples from a Deerfield farm.
"You'll find some that are very dry, you'll find some that are very sweet. Ours is right in the middle," Burns said. He added Green River's mead is often described as different from other local meads -- "I think what it is is we do everything as cold as we can," he said. Green River doesn't do a lot of boiling, which is typically done to prevent contamination, because honey naturally is a "good antibacterial substance."
"You don't really need to boil it that much," he said. "You're really losing a lot of the enzymes, a lot of the good things in the honey."
Green River uses a lot of honey -- around 22 5-gallon buckets for every standard 300-gallon batch of mead. "You come home such a mess," Burns said.
You can find a description of all Green River's products at greenriverambrosia.com; while tours of the facility are available, the staff does not do direct sales. There's a list of stores on the website that carry the mead, including Kelly's Package Store in Dalton, Plaza Package in Great Barrington, Spirited in Lenox, Liquors Inc. in Pittsfield, Steeple City Spirits in North Adams and the Spirit Shop and Wild Oats Co-op in Williamstown.
In Richmond, Furnace Brook Winery makes lots of different wine as well as mead, made from local honey with a sweet, dry taste. Visit furnacebrookwinery.com for details and information about tasting (you can taste six wines for $5 at the winery, which is part of Hilltop Orchards on Route 295) and ordering.
The orchard is open year-round and offers many other local products as well as cross-country skiing opportunities. "If there's snow on the ground at Christmas, we're here," said Dave Martell, the orchard manager.
Furnace Brook also makes ice wine, a sweet beverage best paired with desserts, in a converted trailer that has been turned into a brewing freezer. Hilltop's apples are the stars -- they're also used for the orchard's Johnny Mash hard cider.