Bright Ideas Brewing at Mass MoCA creates microbrews for thirsty locals


Photo Gallery | Bright Ideas Brewing at MASS MoCA is now open

NORTH ADAMS — Call it a bright idea.

Open a microbrewery and taproom in front of a museum that attracts more than 100,000 annual visitors, in a city that has no brewery of its own, in a state that allows small brewers to distribute their own product.

That's what owner Orion Howard and his team have done with Bright Ideas Brewing, a seven-barrel, privately owned brewery and roughly 1,400-square-foot taproom at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art on Marshall Street.

Though still in a soft-opening phase, Bright Ideas served more than 500 pints to thirsty customers in its little-advertised first weekend in operation earlier this month.

Howard, an oncologist at Southwestern Vermont Medical Center, became enticed by the concept of opening a brewery after he was recruited by investors in the Greylock Market project at Western Gateway Heritage State Park.

The Greylock Market had asked Howard to donate the equipment necessary to create a beer "makerspace" of sorts at the park. But when the Greylock Market plan folded last year, Howard still had the itch to start a brewery.

That itch evolved as Howard brought on co-founder and Manager Eric Kerns and won the support of Mass MoCA Director Joseph Thompson. Kerns and Howard brought on brewer Chris Post, lined up the space at Mass MoCA, and spent months building the brewery.

Post, who is also the owner and brewer at Wandering Star in Pittsfield, is the man behind the beer at Bright Ideas, and he began brewing at the new facility in February to ramp up for the soft opening. A full grand opening has been slated for June.

The lineup of beers will revolve and evolve as the brewery finds its footing, but it opened with a wide range from a basic blonde ale to a dark, rich stout. But no matter what the style, the idea is to make the beer match the name: bright.

The relatively small brewing capacity of Bright Ideas allows Post to try his hand at a variety of beers. Fermenting in a conical stainless steel tank recently was a Gose, a light, sour style of beer that originated in Germany.

"If you're brewing a niche beer, it's going to be difficult to sell 15 barrels of it in Berkshire County," Post said.

The process is microbiologically complex, involving a culture of lactobacillus bacteria obtained through Williamstown's Cricket Creek Farm that increases the acidity of the beer. But the result is a simple, tart, clean beer.

That blend of complexity and simplicity is a line Bright Idea will try to walk, providing a solid range of beers to water the mouths of craft beer enthusiasts while churning out beers that are accessible to the casual drinker.

In a craft beer world full of cleverly titled and marketed beers, there's very little fuss about the names of Bright Ideas' brews. Looking for an ale? Try the Ale. In the mood for a red ale? Try the Red.

The taproom is similarly basic, with a vibe that's as much coffee house as it is barroom. Order a beer, hang out and talk to friends.

Though its proximity to a massive contemporary art museum is no coincidence, the people behind Bright Ideas have embraced its hometown and local residents. The labels on its cans display "North Adams MA" as prominently as the Bright Ideas name, and the brewery is hoping to have its beer in every local watering hole and restaurant.

"Our big directive in establishing this brand is that this is the hometown beer of North Adams, Massachusetts," Kerns said.

Howard said Bright Ideas will sell its basic ale to local establishments at a price that's competitive with the "macro" beers like Budweiser.

"Anyone who wants to carry our beer can carry our beer," Howard said.

Cans of Bright Ideas beer are also available for purchase, as the brewery has invested in a machine that cans 32-ounce "crowlers" of on-tap brew.

Thus far, the two fastest-selling beers have been the India pale ale and extra special bitter (ESB).

"The reception has been exceptionally positive," Post said.

In the works are an American pale ale, which is similar to India pale ale but with less of a hop-forward, bitter presence, and a nonalcoholic birch beer.

Howard has made a significant investment into opening the brewery, but is sober about its potential to make substantial profit, noting that he initially expected his involvement in the craft beer (at the Greylock Market) would be philanthropic.

"If I don't pay back my investment for 10 years, I don't care," he said.

Contact Adam Shanks at 413-496-6376.


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