Thursday October 11, 2012

PITTSFIELD -- Fall is one of my favorite seasons for many reasons, including the beer.

I love tasting pumpkin brews, Oktoberfests and other autumn-inspired flavors.

Over the past month's time, I've found myself trying a few at Thistle & Mirth on West Street.

Housed in the former Café Roots and Berkshire Bistro & Coffee House space (the window above the storefront still reads "café"), Thistle & Mirth opened back in March with wine and beer expert Joad Bowman at the helm.

Bowman's idea was to create a cozy, inexpensive beer hall in Pittsfield's downtown, adjacent to the other restaurant he ran, Brix Wine Bar.

Brix, by the way, has been reinvented as Phineas Gage's Moral High Ground (Phin's for short), which opened last Saturday.

I've only been to Thistle & Mirth a handful of times since it opened, but each time I visit I like it a little more. It is the kind of place that is what you make of it.

Many patrons have literally left their mark on the storefront windows using the cornucopia of colorful markers located in a cup by the window seats. I'm happy to report my Alice in Wonderland-inspired message "Drink Me" is still there.

This is the area of the bar I love the most. With window benches and comfy couches, it's great to fill with a bunch of friends, who can all face each other and just talk.


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There's usually some soft, random mix of music playing in the background, but all in all, Thistle & Mirth is a speak-easy, where no television sets or flashy lights can distract you.

If you need a little more entertainment, there are some card and board games stocked there, but this is a people place where can you talk -- often about beer -- and drink.

The rest of the ambiance is simple. There's a long bar with seating and, across from it, some booths and benches. The lights are low, but there's just enough to illuminate the graffiti and manga-inspired art on the walls by local artist Mike Carty and also the giant chalkboard mural of beers listed behind the bar.

"Most Beer $5" is written on the bar wall, and that's true, which is nice.

There are drafts and bottles available, ranging from regional Berkshire Brewing Com pany taps to imports like Tetley's English Ale on nitro. The selections rotate on a regular basis. On my most recent visit last week, I tried the Southern Tier Pumking Ale (yum).

Bowman is also experimenting by stocking a "spendy" more complex beer or two. He introduced me to the Cuvée des Jacobins Rouge ($9 a pint), which somewhat smells like well-worn gym socks because it's a longer fermented red Flemish sour ale. If you have an adventurous palate, it's worth the tang it leaves in the middle of the tongue.

For those of you who aren't beer fans, there's a shortlist of red, white and sparkling wines available as well as soft drinks. There's also a small food and snack menu which seems to vary on availability each time I'm there.

Another aspect that changes is the crowd. It's mostly people between their 20s and 40s. Some nights it's packed. Some nights it's dead.

Also wavering is the speed of service. But the staff members are always friendly and most are quite knowledgeable of the beverages they serve.

As I said before, Thistle & Mirth is what you make of it. It's less action and attitude and more come as you are and chill for a while. If you like good beer and an intimate, relaxed, casual atmosphere, then this is your place.

To reach Jenn Smith:
jsmith@berkshireeagle.com,
or (413) 496-6239
On Twitter: @JennSmith_Ink