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Gov. Baker Experiences Craft Industry At Berkshire Mountain Distillers

Craft is finding its way into many beverage industries nowadays…and also into some bottles. And a Berkshire business is looking to drink up the benefits.Whiskey, gin and bourbon fill hundreds of bottles at Berkshire Mountain Distillers in Sheffield, Massachusetts, destined for liquor store shelves in some 20 states. On this day, the company’s eight employees got a hand bottling from a fan who just happens to be the state’s governor.

“I had literally been at a friend’s house a few months ago and they had the vodka and gin at their house,” Baker said. “I said “Jeez, I’ve never heard of those guys I’ll have to make a note that if I’m out in the area to go pay them a visit.’”

Governor Charlie Baker recently toured the distillery during a trip to western Massachusetts. The visit came on the heels of a new law allowing craft brewers and distillers to have open tables and serve cocktails or beer on site.

“This industry is already growing quite well in Massachusetts,” Baker said. “We have an extraordinary number of craft wineries, distillers and breweries. We also had two of the originals in Sam Adams and Harpoon. They are literally dotted all of over Massachusetts. What I love about them is it’s local grow, local employment and local consumer for the most part. It’s a wonderful example of creating value in product that sort of never leaves the neighborhood. And in some cases the reach associated with some of these companies has gotten pretty big.”

Berkshire Mountain Distillers CEO Chris Weld says the new law allows him to better compete with larger distillers that dominate the market.

“So for us the biggest problem is finding a way to get our product out for people to try,” Weld said. “So for them to have the opportunity to come in and have a cocktail with it and try it then the idea is they say ‘Wow this is really something special’ and they bring home a bottle, tell their friends or when they’re back at their house in New York or wherever they end up buying our spirits the next time.”

With the new license, Baker became the first customer to enjoy a cocktail with Weld.

“Starting the week after Labor Day on Thursday and Friday nights we’re going to be open from 5 to 7ish selling cocktails here,” Weld said. “So it’s going to be short window. People are going to come in and be able to buy a cocktail with our spirits. Then we’ll farm them off to local restaurants to eat.”

With a biochemistry background, Weld spent about 20 years working in emergency rooms. Living in California and having grown up in Westchester, New York, he moved to the Berkshires about 12 years ago.

“We bought an apple farm,” he said. “It had a historic spring. The waters were touted as being the best in the world. So we had this spring and this fruit. It seemed like a natural transition to make booze.”

In 2007 Weld opened Berkshire Mountain Distillers on his Sheffield farm. Two years ago, it reopened with a tasting room and retail space on Route 7. That led to more exposure, like being ranked the No. 1 craft gin by the New York Times.

“When we first started we were farm distiller number 4,” Weld said. “When I reupped two years ago we were farm distiller number 21 so it’s a growing industry.” 

With a greenhouse and gardens on site, Berkshire Mountain Distillers grows many of the botanicals for its cocktails. Weld says the company’s products sell regionally, as well as in California, Georgia and Florida.

“We are mid way through what’s called the ‘craft brewers whiskey project’ where we’re making whiskey from beer from 15 different brewers, six of them in Massachusetts, one from Maine, one from Vermont, one from New Hampshire, one from Connecticut and three from New York,” he explained. “So we’re doing a lot of interesting stuff.”

Weld says supporting one’s backyard while maintaining an open mindset is part of Berkshire Mountain Distillers’ purpose – conveyed by the saying “Think globally, drink locally” on the back of the company shirt. He says the business helps keep dollars local without sacrificing product quality.

“It’s a big picture viewpoint of the world with a little local tenderness,” said Weld.

Jim is WAMC’s Associate News Director and hosts WAMC's flagship news programs: Midday Magazine, Northeast Report and Northeast Report Late Edition. Email: jlevulis@wamc.org
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