Brew Biz: Werts and All
By Ken Carman
Partners in Brewing: Pittsfield, MA
(Unless otherwise attributed, images and photos from Pittsfieldbrewworks.com)
Small city nestled in the rolling hills of the Berkshire region of Massachusetts.
(Image from wikimedia.org)
I came here for the first time in the early 90s and eventually found Pittsfield Brew Works. I didn’t go back for quite a while.
Last year for the first time in at least ten years I stopped and was pleasantly surprised at how much the brew had improved. I even bought a shirt. I promised to return and do a review when I returned the next year.
This is that review.
But hopefully you figured that out already, or were you been having too good of a time at Pittsfield Brew Works before you read this?
The first stop I sampled the beer and food. The second I interviewed one of two brewers. I will start with the food. Be patient. I will get to the beer, I promise!
Last year I had their chili. A pretty big bowl, meaty, a little spicy… but not too much unless your not really a chili fan… and a nice load of chips.
Tap Handle Chili — $9.00
Braised beef and ale chili; slightly smoky with kidney beans and house-smoked beef, all served with nacho chips and jack cheese.
This year I bought what the menu called “Yaba Daba Do.”
“16oz of slowly braised beef.”
“Mashed potatoes with seasoned vegetables…” (String beans, if I remember right: nice and al dente.) “…and a stout demi-glaze sauce.”
Check and check.
They only forgot to add to the menu, for less careful customers like me is: “melts in you mouth and on your hand” and… YUM!!!
Had nothing to do with the beer. Nothing. Do you believe me? I wouldn’t.
Yabba Dabba Doo — $16.00
A slow braised 16oz beef short rib, served with mashed potatoes, seasonal vegetables, and a stout demi glaze sauce.
The guy next to me had a nice big bowl of salsa and chips. I had decided to purchase one of the more expensive items and it was a little over $16. A great deal, especially at the price.
The dining area looks out over the back of western Pittsfield… if only the buildings didn’t block the scenery!
Let’s start with a minor criticism: too little carbonation. I actually prefer it that way, but as I told one of the brewers, if I were judging the Hefe and the Kolsch I would have to mark the against them. McKenna’s Irish Red was so flat I might have to lower the score there too. But… as I mentioned, I prefer it that way.
Wait, didn’t I claim I liked the beer?
Why, I did. Because there was so much more “like” than bother in all these brews, and 99.9% of “bother” was imply “that’s not right for the style.” But I’ve never been a style Nazi. Sometimes I find them very annoying. But as a judge I encouraged one of the brewers to put just a little more carbonation in their Elwood Brown and then enter it for competition. It’s that superb. Named for one of two dogs.
Oh, I forgot to mention. These two dogs are owned by the two restaurateurs/brewers. That’s right, and the major brewer; who also designs the beer recipes, is Christine Bump: wife to Bill Heaton.
How unusual is that?
About as unusual as a Massachusetts Moose in the Sahara.
Oh, that makes me thirsty. On to more beer…
Other than almost flat, McKenna’s Irish Red was a perfect ale to pit against Killians which has that lager taste I’ve never been fond of. An Irish Red can actually be lager or ale according to standard guidelines used in competition. But I’ll bet this beer might out score the Elwood Brown in competition in their respective styles: if they brought the carbonation up. It does add to the taste some, folks.
Once again the Raspberry Wheat; an “American Wheat” just seemed too low on the carb for style… but to my palate more drinkable. Too many mediocre’ versions I’ve had attempt to compete with champagne.
The Berkshire Weiss had that nice; yeast-driven, banana ester going and their Rauch… very good for a regular “lite” version. I would love to have these brewers take this more to the extreme for an occasional seasonal in addition to the regular recipe. The Beechwood smoke was that good; as was the mix of malts. I found Gerry Dog (…yes, the other pet-named beer.) Oatmeal Stout had a nice deep malt nose. The carb just about right. Odd… it seemed a bit dry for a style which often seems just a bit sweet to me. No lactose? It was a nice alternative version in that sense. And the ESB was just a bit off malt-wise for an ESB: just a bit to much roast taste to the malt.
We’re talking judging here. But I liked it.
Their Legacy IPA was on tap and hand pulled. I preferred the tap version in the samples, but once put in pints they both had the usual advantages of doing it either way, and either a worth quaffer. Cascade up front in the nose. Bill told me they also use Centennial and Columbus.
Bill Heaton. Looks like he’s in his mid to late 30s, closely cropped black hair, black beard. His voice over the phone when I made the appointment sounded like he was a serious, no nonsense, 50-something… but quite affable and easy going visually. He said they use a lot of Vienna malt and many of their malts were German: Weyerman, Best and Durst. They did about 400 barrels last year on their Pugsley system. That’s as in “Alan Pugsley;” who is pretty much the grandfather of New England brewing and brewpub scene: as in Shipyard… and their brewpub Federal Jack’s in Kennebunkport: for those readers who remember that review I did about 10 years ago or more. There’s a brick boiler and wood sides on other equipment. It’s actually made by Peter Austin and Partners.
He recommends changing yeast after 10-15 generations.
“I know many pubs and such reuse their yeast but every time a new ‘bud’ breaks off there’s scarring. By 10 or 15 generations it’s a different yeast.”
He recommends all homebrewers step up to all grain and “leave the dry yeast for making bread.”
“All I have here, really, is a big homebrew system, single infusion. Remember, brewing is a lot like cooking.”
I could smell the mash on the way in to do the interview. But I had to leave and make my way back to Becket so I’d be ready for work in the morning. They’ve been working on that damn road over the hill for almost two years so I had getting around that to contend with too. I was sorry that I had to get away from that sweet mash smell. So, parting was mash-sweet sorrow.
Couldn’t resist a little cliche’ play for a moment.
My major recommend, other than a little work on carbonation just for those who are more style-focused, is that Pittsfield Brew Works keep one extreme on tap. But I’m sure they know their customers better than I do. And I’m finally glad I have a good beer stop in Pittsfield when I return every year.
The Brew Biz: Werts and All, is a column dedicated to review, discuss and comment on all things beer including, but not limited to: marketing, homebrewing and homebrew/beer related events, how society perceives all things beer, reviews of beer related businesses, opinions about trends in the beer business, and all the various homebrew, judging and organizations related to beer.