Farm to bottle: Berkshire brewers, distillers and farmers look for ways to build locavore beverage market

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PITTSFIELD — When Big Elm Brewing in Sheffield created its 413 Farmhouse Ale, workers wanted to use local ingredients.

The trouble was, they had a hard time finding them.

Big Elm Brewing gets hops — a plant used primarily for flavoring in beer — from Four Star Farms in Northfield.

Berkshire Mountain Distillers has a similar problem.

It gets grain from a supplier in New York.

Michael Sharry, of Berkshire Mountain Distillers, and Bill Heaton, of Big Elm Brewing, shared these concerns as part of an informal panel discussion with a group of about 50 buyers and producers of local food and beverages at Berkshire Grown's annual networking event on Jan. 29.

Producers and buyers, all members of Berkshire Grown, met with each other in 15-minute time slots and mingled throughout the afternoon.

Producers and buyers alike also tasted the producers' wares — coffee, cider, shortbread and more.

The event focused on beverage producers.

"People don't think about how many beverages are being produced in the Berkshires," said Barbara Zheutlin, executive director of Berkshire Grown, a Great Barrington-based nonprofit that supports local agriculture. "[We] thought it was important."

Many producers in attendance are concentrating on expanding their businesses.

Richard "Rick" Intres, who owns Bear Meadow Farm in Ashfield with his wife Nancy, previously operated a genetic testing lab for Berkshire Medical Center.

After being laid off, he chose to concentrate on producing his cider and honey commercially.

With a Ph.D. in molecular biology, Intres uses his science knowledge to help determine the best fruit blends for the cider.

Fruit is separated by season, separately pressed and fermented and mixed to come up with optimal blends.

Caroline Cook, owner of Caroline's Scottish Shortbread, said she hoped to talk to buyers about expanding into the retail market.

She supplies mainly farmers markets and some weddings and private events with her grandmother's shortbread recipe.

She bakes mainly out of her home in Adams.

Born in Glasgow, Scotland, Cook grew up in Stockbridge.

She started the business after her husband died. She had previously worked for him in his business.

"I didn't want to be behind a desk anymore," she said of her transition into owning her own business.

Daniel and Sharon Bergeron, owners of Gray Raven Farm in Lanesborough, sell their goat's milk soap, lotions, vegetables and blueberries off their property and at events and markets.

Even so, they can't sell all that they produce.

They hope to expand into the wholesale market in the Berkshires.

"They have a need, we have a need," Daniel said of local buyers. "Everybody's happy."

Their farm started as part of a self-sufficient lifestyle for the couple, branching out into their farmstand, farmers markets, events and craft fairs.

"People want to buy local more," Sharon said. "I don't think people, years ago, really appreciated what farmers do. They're starting to now."

After about 30 years of owning and operating East Mountain Farm in Williamstown, Kim Wells has seen change in the prevailing Berkshires' philosophy around local food.

In the 1990s, people didn't care as much where their food came from, he said.

Since the early 2000s, people have become more concerned about the origin of their food and how it has been raised, in the case of meat.

"When you look and see a 39-cent turkey, you have to wonder — what did that turkey go through?" said Wells, referring to animals raised in inhumane conditions.

Wells raises pigs, beef and chicken.

Wells described the farming life at his table of samples from his farm, including a new offering — kielbasa.

"It's a long day," he said. "You definitely want to own a headlamp."

Patricia LeBoeuf can be reached at pleboeuf@berkshireeagle.com, at @BE_pleboeuf on Twitter and 413-496-6247.


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