Executive Spotlight: Chris Post, owner, Wandering Star Craft Brewery
PITTSFIELD — Chris Post was looking to upgrade his home-brewing equipment while living in New York City 17 years ago when he found the contents of a since-expired brewpub in Michigan for sale on eBay. On a lark, Post decided to bid on the material. Three days later, he learned to his "surprise" and "horror" that he had won the equipment.
"So, I went home and had that somewhat awkward 'How was your day, honey? I just bought a brewery' conversation," Post said.
It worked out for the best. That equipment eventually became the foundation for Wandering Star Craft Brewery, which the native of the United Kingdom established in 2011 in Pittsfield.
We spoke with Post recently about his experiences in home brewing, how he came to acquire his equipment, why he moved to the Berkshires, and his take on the state of the craft beer movement in the Berkshires and Western Massachusetts.
Q: How did you get involved making beer?
A: I basically started home brewing way back in 2002, I guess it was.
I got a kit from an old home-brew store in Northampton. I had just recently bought a house up here (in Becket). I was working in New York City and coming up here on the weekends. I got a home-brew kit for Christmas, and I tried it out and it was appallingly bad.
Q: So, why did you continue?
A: It was an injured pride thing. I think if it had been OK, I probably would have done it, dumped it and not tried it again. But, it was so appalling that I was completely determined to do it right. ... It was kind of a passion that was actually started by me being so irritated at myself for [screwing] it up so badly the first time.
Q: How did you come to the United States?
A: I was working for an accounting firm in London (Post is from southern England). They sent me to New York for a year. As soon as I landed in New York I thought to myself, "I'm not going back."
Q: Why did you go to the Berkshires?
A: Someone gave me tickets to Tanglewood, and I'd never heard of James Taylor, for goodness sake. But, I got the tickets, and it was delightful, so, I kind of went along and kind of fell in love with the countryside around here.
Q: What did you like about New York?
A: At the time (1996), London was, strangely enough, a very sleepy city and New York had a sense of energy and vibrancy that London just couldn't match.
I was mostly home brewing from my apartment in Manhattan, so, I joined the New York Home Brewer's Club. Me and Chris, the other guy who helped me start the brewery, were the most active in the bunch and pretty soon they elected us to head it, which got us into contact with an awful lot of professional brewers ... it all mushroomed from there.
Q: So, what happened next?
A: I started working at a bank (in New York in 1998) and my boss was in London. ... I started hanging around, being a nuisance at a local brewpub in Chelsea. ...
The time that I was on eBay, I was sitting on the trading floor, completely bored, looking to upgrade my home-brewing equipment, and someone had listed the entire contents of a brewpub in Michigan that had gone belly up. They had listed it, basically, for the price of an OK car, a decently fitted Subaru.
Even with my limited knowledge of everything, it seemed ridiculously inexpensive, and I was just hung over enough at the time that a kind of wandering instinct kicked in and I pressed the bid button.
To my total surprise and, frankly, my horror, I found out three days later that I'd won it.
Q: What did you do?
A: I flew into Chicago, then drove around the lake to inspect this equipment. I quickly found out why it was so inexpensive — because someone had basically hacked it out of its location. It was in a lot of pieces. ... I left it in storage there for a number of years. ...
But, I flew back over there to check it out and noticed that some of the dispensing equipment had disappeared. ... So, I shifted it to storage in North Adams. ... Then I began actively looking for a location here in the Berkshires. After quite awhile, I saw the building on Gifford Street (in Pittsfield) for sale that we still occupy.
Q: Why did you call the brewery Wandering Star?
A: It's a song by a British group, Portishead, that I like, but it seemed very apt, given that we were just kind of wandering around, kind of clueless, about where on Earth we were going to set up.
Q: You've also given the beers you've made interesting names, like Dizzy Blonde, Catcher in the Rye and Loopy Juice. Where do these come from?
A: You just keep an ear out, you know. Something strikes you as a good name, then you check around to see if anyone used it. ...
Loopy Juice, which is our biggest-selling beer ... when I was kid growing up in England, that was a name for a basically too-high-strength beer. ... When I was thinking of something to call a double IPA, that name just popped into my head. ...
The flavor that comes from enjoying IPAs comes from a compound called lupulin. ... I really like the additional level of meaning that it gave that phrase.
Q: How does the craft beer movement in Berkshire County and Western Massachusetts compare with the rest of the country?
A: We were incredibly lucky here in Western Massachusetts to have these pioneers of craft brewing. Berkshire Brewing (in South Deerfield) has been around for an awfully long time, and I think that has turned the entire Pioneer Valley into a magnet for breweries. It's been a bit slower in Berkshire County.
Q: How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected the craft beer industry?
A: It basically depends on how your brewery operated, what its business model was and how quickly you might be able to pivot to a different business model.
Brewpubs [that] derive much of their revenue from on-site consumption and tend to have considerably higher fixed costs due to the locations that they're in, they've seen their income just disappear. Regional breweries that rely predominately on sales to bars and restaurants ... that side of the business has completely disappeared. Whereas the packaging side, sending cans and bottles to package stores or distributors that send them to package stores, is looking a lot healthier because people are — guess what? — continuing to drink through all of this.
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