Great Barrington, MA
When I call Chris Weld to interview him about his distillery, Berkshire Mountain Distillers in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, he tells me that he’s out hiking the Appalachian Trail. His farm and distillery, he says, are at the base of the trail.
Also at the base of the trail is a historic spring from which he uses spring water to make his gin, vodka, corn whiskey, bourbon, bitters and rum.
In the early 1900s, Weld says, many people sold spring water from the region as a kind of cure-all. A lot of people did the same thing with craft spirits, I respond. It seems like he chose the perfect place to start the first legal distillery in the state.
Weld grew up in upstate New York where he studied chemistry in college. “I then spent 20 years working in the ER,” he says, “which drove me to drinking.”
When Weld and his wife purchased the property, it was a dilapidated apple farm. The couple renovated the farm and surrounding land, and thought to themselves that their apples could make some quality brandy. Weld had traveled Europe when he was younger and gotten a taste for the brandies and eau de vies being produced abroad. His travels to the Caribbean also peaked his interest in rum. The rest is history.
Berkshire’s Ragged Mountain Rum has received mentions in major media outlets (including GQ magazine), and it won a Double Gold Medal at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition. However, Weld admits that Ragged Mountain Rum doesn’t account for a significant percentage of the distillery’s sales. He attributes this to the fact that more people turn to whiskey as a sipping spirit than rum.
“There is a craving [in the United States] for whiskey right now,” he says. He goes on to explain that most of the rums out there are ultra-sweet, and perhaps whiskey might be more popular because, although it is a sweet spirit, it also takes on more complexities from grains and the aging barrels. “Our rum drinks like a whiskey,” he adds. “It’s not super sweet. It’s a sipping rum.”
Gin and Whiskey
Berkshire has also received attention for their gin and whiskey. Earlier this year, the New York Times assembled a panel of spirits experts to taste 20 gins from American craft distillers, and Berkshire’s Greylock Gin came out on top. Their Ethereal Gin series is snapped up as fast as Weld can make it. Each seasonal bottling has a slightly different recipe to match the time of year. Last year, the cold-weather batch was laced with cozy cardamom flavors. Batch 7, out now, has a bright punches of lemon, coriander and black pepper.
Their bourbon is also turning a few heads. The Whisky Guild quoted Jeffrey Karlovitch, editor-in-chief of Whisky Life and Spirits Magazine as saying, “Berkshire’s Bourbon Whiskey is, without a doubt, a truly world-class micro-distillery bourbon. It honestly sets the standard by which all other micro-distilled bourbon should be judged.” High praise from someone who tastes whiskey for a living.
And speaking from personal experience, I can tell you their Corn Whiskey makes one heck of a Whiskey Sour.
Working with Other Small Businesses
Like many small business owners, Weld sees value in working with other entrepreneurs to co-create and co-promote their products. One day, a guy from Brooklyn called him and asked if it would be possible to get a used bourbon barrel from the distillery. It turns out the guy was from Raaka Chocolate, and wanted to age his cocoa beans in the barrel to make Bourbon Chocolate. When asked what the price of the barrel would be, Weld said, “Pay me in chocolate!” He now keeps his stash of chocolate bars in a closet in his office.
Another of the companies Weld collaborates with is called Ripe Bar Juice, a company that makes all-natural cocktail mixers out of Connecticut. You’ll find recipe cards from Ripe that all feature Berkshire Mountain spirits because, as Weld says, the guys at Ripe found that Berkshire Mountain spirits really complement the flavors of their cocktail mixers. The two companies co-promote each other’s products to help spread the word. Without dedicated marketing teams, Berkshire and Ripe seem to benefit from the extra word-of-mouth.
Spirits from Berkshire Mountain:
Ethereal Gin, Limited Edition
Ice Glen Vodka
Ragged Mountain Rum
New England Corn Whiskey