Berkshires After Dark: Where beer is the star

Thursday November 15, 2012

GREAT BARRINGTON -- It’s been more than five years since we checked in for After Dark purposes, so we thought it might be a good time to drop in on one of the stalwarts of the unpretentious local After Dark scene, Bar ring ton Brewery and Restau rant.

The attraction here isn’t the latest in farm-to-table cuisine (though, the place does make a special effort to source produce locally, and offers a grass-fed steak as an alternative to the factory farmed version), or live entertainment.

It trades in heavy, rib-sticking comfort food and fresh beer -- a particularly welcome combination as the days grow colder.

With the demise of Pittsfield Brew Works more than two and a half years ago, Barring ton Brewery is left as the location of choice to munch on pub food and drink beer a few yards away from where it was brewed.

Barrington Brewery is a no-frills operation that seems to thrive on allowing people to feel comfortable. I went on a weeknight, but it was packed, with variously shaped parties that ranged from couples having a quiet dinner to groups of friends huddled around a table for a cheerful toast.

A collection of children’s books placed below a table of regional giveaway publications, directly facing the bar area, did not seem inappropriate. It just felt to me like everyone is welcome.

It’s also a place to find a pretty good return on investment of your dining dollar. The fall season brings with it a daily special, with filling down-home options like an old-fashioned roast beef dinner or roast pork dinner (each priced at $10, with sides and salad), roast turkey dinner for $13, or the barstool favorite of 10 wings and a pint for $10.

Otherwise, the menu is heavy on hungry-man’s favorites like shepherd’s pie, fish and chips, and a ravioli of the day (spinach and gouda, on my visit). There are indeed some vegetarian options, and a menu of nine different salads, served with house-made salad dressings, offers at least some options for a lighter choice.

Upon entering the restaurant, you see there’s a side dining room and table where all the homemade desserts are on display, as if to warn you to leave room for them.

Down a couple stairs is the main dining room, which leads on the left to the bar. From the bar you can go up a floor to enjoy the two pool tables (and a CD-based jukebox). From the bar you can also see two giant vats representing the on-site brewing process for the namesake line of beers.

On my visit, there didn’t appear to be any patrons under, say, 30. But the bar, particularly the upstairs pool area, offers a great opportunity to set up shop with a group of friends. The upstairs space also offers a particular sense of privacy (and in fact is a favorite location for private parties), though you do have to keep negotiating those stairs on your way to and from the bar.

Beer is a big deal here. If you want to receive some gentle ribbing, go ahead and try to order a Steel Rail or Dray man’s Porter, or some other Berkshire Brewing Company selection. It’s a common mistake among the uninitiated who confuse the super-local brew on tap here with the BBC variety.

Beer comes in pint glasses, three-ounce flights (five for $4.65), 22-ounce bottles to go, and cooked up in plenty of the food.

Most everything comes with ale bread, which arrives warm and happens to go quite well with the house salad dressing, a homemade shallot-herb concoction.

Beer-battered french fries and onion rings (which were surprisingly light, as onion rings go) are pretty much required sides, and sausages -- in the form of bratwurst, bauernwurst or kielbasa -- are steamed in beer. Cheddar ale is a favorite soup, and the steak & stout sandwich features sirloin marinated in, you guessed it, a stout.

On my visit there were six regularly available beers in rotation, including that Black Bear Stout, a lighter Berkshire Blonde, and Barrington Brew ery’s twist on an I.P.A. These were supplemented by three seasonal beers: a New England Farmer’s Ale, the Scottish, and the ESB, which I’m figuring stands for "extra special brew."

There are a handful of red and white wines available as well, and a full bar, but rather than a menu of specialty cocktails, there are a few beer-based mixes on offer, including a pale ale with ginger ale, the expected Black and Tan, and a combination of beer and champagne.

I’ve never heard of that last one, but beer is the business here, and I’m tempted to trust in the institutional wisdom.


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