Dining during COVID-19

Prost! Berkshire biergartens filled to the brim with beer, atmosphere and food

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PITTSFIELD — Biergartens are typically communal outdoor places, where you can share a beer, local food and catch up with friends over long tables. Even during a pandemic, that relaxed, community feeling (at a distance) isn't lost.

"People like to eat outside," said Don Sommer, owner of The Haflinger Haus in Adams. The once cozy Austrian restaurant recently updated it's outdoor space, transforming it's Commercial Street property into an outdoor Biergarten with live music.

"We already had an outdoor space," Sommer said. "We got all new furniture, tables and umbrellas. We spaced it out and it will now seat 40." He added the full restaurant menu and beer, wine and spirits are being offered in the Biergarten.

While traditional Biergartens don't always serve food, Biergartens in the Berkshires — and anywhere in Massachusetts right now — have to by law. According to the commonwealth's COVID-19 reopening plan, "Beer gardens/breweries/wineries/distilleries" can only be open in the current Phase 2 "if providing seated food service under retail food permits issued by municipal authorities." If they are not, they cannot reopen until we enter Phase 4.

To accommodate this restriction, Chris Post, founder and brewer at Wandering Star Craft Brewery in Pittsfield, has opened the Hop Yard and Patio at the 11 Gifford St. brewery and has contracted with Biggins Diggins restaurant in Lanesborough to have its food truck at the property to be served with his beers.

"People are enjoying being outdoors and eating food from Biggins Diggins' food truck," Post said. "It's the first time people have been able to have fresh draught beer since the pandemic started."

Post said Wandering Star has just finished brewing its summer beers: Crushable Blonde, which he said is an easy-drinking European-style pilsner; Tangerine Cream, an American wheat beer that is fermented on top of 80 pounds of pureed tangerines; and Shed Head, which "is a nod to Tanglewood. We first brewed it for Tanglewood last year. Since there is no Tanglewood this year, there was no reason not to serve it," Post said, adding it was 7.6 percent alcohol by volume.

The Biggins Diggins food truck offers food items ranging in price from $3 to $20, including brats, kielbasa, hamburgers, barbecue offerings, lobster rolls and more.

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In preparing to open the Hop Yard and Patio, Post said the space previously was "just scrubland. We had it landscaped, and filled boxes and planted flowers." In addition to the raised flower beds, Post said the Hop Yard is enclosed by hops the brewery grows on two trellises to the north and east. The Hop Yard has tables and umbrellas and can seat up to 70 people.

"The hops have gone absolutely crazy this year, so people can see what is in our beer," Post said.

Bright Ideas Brewing, located on the campus of the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art in North Adams, spent the first few months of the pandemic offering curbside pickup and delivery, before adding a beer garden. The beer garden, located under a large tent in the center of Courtyard A opened in unison with the reopening of the museum at the beginning of July. Visitors can choose to order from A-OK Berkshire BBQ or nosh on warm pretzels during their socially-distanced visit.

Brewer Danny Sump and his assistants continue to brew a wide selection of beers, including Bright Ideas' latest offering, Bear Hatchet — a 7.3-percent ABV IPA with a light tropical and berry taste — a reference to the viral 2015 Facebook post "Chasing bears through the woods drunk with a dull hatchet is strongly not advised" by the North Adams Police Department. Other offerings include Black is Beautiful, a 7-percent ABV chocolately, roasty American stout made as part of the worldwide collaboration with Weathered Souls Brewing Company - a Black-owned brewery in San Antonio; Lil' Bling, a 4.8-percent ABV gluten-reduced session beer; Sour Splash: Tangerine, a kettle sour beer flavored with tangerine; Blackinton Best Bitter, a low-alcohol British bitter beer; Undercast IPA, a New England IPA; Crew Beer, a red ale and Mack Attack, a soft, lightly tropical New England IPA.

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Patrons are asked to pick up a menu at the barrel outside the brewery door before choosing from one of the available clean tables in the courtyard, where a server will take and deliver orders.. The tables, spaced 6-feet apart, are limited to six people and have a two-hour time limit.

Not ready to drink in a socially-distanced space? Don't worry, Bright Ideas is still providing curbside pick up.

Barrington Brewery & Restaurant in Great Barrington is using the same outdoor Biergarten space it has for the past 25 years, according to owner Gary Happ.

"It has hops growing up a wall and flowers, and is in a courtyard between three barns," he said.

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Happ said he believes a good Biergarten has food and beer in a nice tented area.

"We have a nice selection of food and beer brewed on the property," he said. "It's a nice outdoor dining space."

Barrington Brewery's Biergarten offers 10 beers on tap (all brewed on-site), table service and "a nice menu that people enjoy," Happ said. "Home-crafted beer and some food to go with it.

"We had 30 tables inside before [the pandemic], we have 12 now," he said. "The biergarten is extremely popular this year. Everybody wants to eat outside, no matter what."

While having a biergarten isn't a huge change for Barrington Brewery, many other things are. The restaurant's menu is smaller, and a take-out menu and take-out window has been added to a business that once discouraged take-out orders, pre-pandemic. According to Happ, the brewery is doing about 60 percent of its pre-COVID business.

"Nothing's the same since the pandemic began," he said. "We've pared our menu down; it's a third of what we used to have."

For Sommer, the outdoor option has also proved to be successful in this time of uncertainty

"The Biergarten and take-out service saved us," Sommer said. "People are enjoying the Biergarten and it's helped us out a lot."


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