Big Elm sets sights on statewide distribution

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Photo Gallery | Big Elm Brewing Co. to expand distribution area

SHEFFIELD — Big Elm beer is already big in Berkshire County. And now it's getting big outside the county.

The locally brewed and bottled beverage is now available statewide as the result of a new distribution agreement with the Craft Brewers Guild, according to owner Bill Heaton.

Until a couple of weeks ago, it had only been for sale in Berkshire County. Although there are only four full-time and four part-time employees producing and packaging the product, they also did all the delivering.

"Up until we got a distributor, we were doing all the brewing, packaging and delivering, in a 14-year-old van, because we care," Heaton said. "We don't get to see our customers as often, but now we can spend more time on customer service."

Bill and his wife, Christine, co-founded Big Elm in 2012 with another couple, Jen and Russell Jaehnig.

After a modest start, the popularity of Big Elm took off, doubling in sales in 2013 and again in 2014. These days, the company sells about 8,000 gallons of beer monthly through about 100 outlets, Heaton said. Last year, they sold about 1,400 barrels of beer.

But because the Berkshires are now fairly well saturated in Big Elm beer, there was no room left to grow the business. The distribution deal allows for that growth. Now, Big Elm can be found in stores as far east as Boston.

"We're selling more beer outside Berkshire County where we couldn't before because there just weren't enough hours in the day," Heaton said. "So the goal now is to grow a little more every year. And now we're at a point where we can make more beer and sell more beer."

Fortunately, he said, the brewing and canning facility on Silver Street, with about 8,500 square feet of space, can accommodate the expansion, so relocating isn't an issue.

In the half-year since Heaton and his partners decided to ramp up the operation, the company has been adding staff and equipment.

Heaton was reluctant to make any bold predictions about the statewide success of Big Elm, which offers six year-round brands and normally two or three seasonal brands every quarter.

The hope, he said, is to make a dent in the Boston craft beer market, the 14th largest in the United States.

"If we can scratch the surface of that market, we'll be happy," he said.

Contact Derek Gentile at 413-496-6251.


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