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A Visit to Sheffield

A week ago, I went to the BLDG8 brewery and arrived a half-hour too late -- they had already sold out. Since BLDG8 came on the scene, there isn't much other local beer that seems worth drinking. That's crazy, of course, we have a wealth of very drinkable local IPAs -- Gone Postal, Lost Sailor, Satisfaction, Blue Boots, and several others, just between Amherst and Northampton. But there is something very special about BLDG8.

On the way home, I stopped at a package store to see if I could find something else worth drinking and saw something I hadn't seen before: an IPA by the Big Elm brewery in Sheffield. I bought a six pack and gave it a try: It's not bad. It doesn't have any off features and, although without some of the citrusy bright notes that I prefer, is very drinkable. I looked them up, saw that they have a a taproom you can visit, and suggested to Buzz (and Tom) that we take a road trip out that way.

On Saturday, I met up with Buzz and Goopeel at Buzz's house and we drove the backroads to Sheffield where we met up with Julian at the Big Elm Brewery. They were doing a thriving business with visitors sampling and purchasing beer. We tried the non-hoppy beers first: their farm house ale, an ESB, and a stout. They were fine, but not very interesting. (Well, except for the farmhouse ale which is contaminated with chamomile. Blech.) Then we tried their IPA and their double-IPA: Fat Boy. The IPA didn't disappoint, but the Fat Boy was even better. It isn't quite as clean as BLDG8 with a stronger maltier flavor, but its very bitter and very satisfying. We each purchased two four packs of tallboy cans.

While we were there, we also took a tour. They have a fairly large operation with 9 big fermenters. They led us through their ingredients and the process of brewing, from milling the grain, boiling, sparging, fermenting, and canning. It was one of the better tours I've seen with a lot of interesting questions and detailed, frank answers.

Just down the street from Big Elm is the Berkshire Mountain Distillers. I've seen their products for several years, although not bought any. They produce a rum, but it's pretty expensive and I couldn't believe it was as good as Cruzan rum. At the distillery they let try a bunch of their offerings. I tried the rum (OK, but nothing special) and some of their whiskies. I particularly liked a special whiskey they've made from Sam Adams beer -- they're selling it as a Shay's Rebellion Whiskey, but at a price I'm not willing spend. So I bought their basic Berkshire Bourbon whiskey which is very passable and more reasonably priced.

While we were in Sheffield, I wanted to visit Bartholomew's Cobble, which is one of my favorite places in the state. It's a trustees of reservations site that has a rocky promontory of quarzite mixed with limestone along a loop of the Housatonic River. The limestone creates a gradient of less acidic conditions and the promontory has a wet side, a dry side, a warm side (to the south) and a cool side (to the north) which produces a vast array of biological conditions for different kinds of plants to grow -- hence the site has the highest diversity of plants of any place in New England. It's a bit early in the spring: the only wildflowers we saw were of Hepatica. But its lovely to walk along mossy bluffs, draped with ferns and enjoy a lovely spring day.

After our ramble, we had lunch at the brewery in Great Barrington. Their speciality seems to be the Reuben. They have several variations and I got the Mixed New York Grill, which is a mix of corned beer and pastrami served open faced on rye with cole slaw and russian dressing. It was spectacular. They also have a very passable IPA.

All in all, it was a lovely day out and reminds me what a treasure it is to have friends.