Would've paid more attention in high school science class if they taught about distilling!
During a day trip out to the Berkshires in southwestern Massachusetts, we took a break from visiting antique shops and museums to visit the Berkshire Mountain Distillers (BMD). Having read that was rated as having the best craft gin in the country, it seemed worth checking out.
A few years back, they grew and consolidated their operations to their current location. Their store is large, casual, with a diverse set of offerings between their large lineup of spirits, bitters, swag, and some added items from local businesses. The display’s theme of rustic wood and whiskey barrels remind you that this is a distillery in the mountains.
We found a decent-sized group sampling at the counter, along with other couples. We had signed up for a tour, and found that we were the only ones for that hour, so we headed out back with Michael to begin our personalized session.
Michael, one of the distillers, walked us through a progression of BMD’s spirits, from rum to vodka to gin to whiskey. He explained the science and terminology behind distilling. Since BMD also has an ever-evolving setoff infused gins, Michael discussed how they limit these to a single release and challenge themselves to constantly finding new options. Current examples include one with hibiscus, lime, and lavender; to one adding cubeb and allspice; to one aged over a year in whiskey barrels. The diversity of the ethereal gins allows any gin fan to find an unusual version for their own preference. Since these are routinely rotating, it further makes for a version to be savored and appreciated while it lasts.
Similarly, they use scotch barrels to diversify their rum and whiskey lineups as well. BMD’s bourbon also has several options using beer casks from craft brewers, to add an interesting twist on an already-high quality product.
After Michael had finished the tour, answering a number of our questions along the way about the science, the production process, and the growth of the business, we adjourned to the tasting room. This allowed us to consider which ethereal gin and which bourbon worked best for us. The woman helping us was as knowledgeable as Michael, and helpful in filling in some additional details; other than the rum that requires sugarcane from down south, they source all they can from local farmers and their own garden. We wound up choosing one of the ethereal gins along with their bourbon. Their regular bourbon was so deliciously smooth, with great vanilla, caramel, and rye notes, so we opted for it over their cask-flavored choices. Perhaps it was so great because it sources water from a protected granite spring that served as a health attraction to city dwellers a century ago. Or, maybe after a decade in business, they’ve perfected their craft. But we can honestly say that the combination of taste and cleanliness led to BMD’s bourbon passing a couple of other brands as our preferred bourbon. Coupled with their coffee bitters, we were walking out already looking forward to an Old Fashioned that night.
Berkshire Mountain Distillers is definitely a fun, interesting place to visit, and you’ll likely walk away with at least one souvenir. Some of their more standard products are available in larger liquor stores near us, so you may find an ability to re-stock, depending on what you’re looking for. Between the tour and sampling, our visit lasted about ninety minutes. So if you’re not local to that area, it may be best visited as part of a day filled with a few stops. However you choose to do it, you’ll undoubtedly enjoy your time there.
Berkshire Mountain Distillers
Hours: 12pm-5pm (Mondays close at 4pm, Saturdays open at 11am)
Tours: $10/person, plan for an hour
Appreciating the local coffee and community
Coffee shops of all kinds have exploded nationwide, now estimated at over 50,000. A trade association estimated that almost half of all coffee was consumed outside the home, and over half of that was specialty coffee. The increase in people working from home, with more gourmet coffee being consumed by people under 30 years old than by other age groups, and with specialty drinkers averaging three cups per day now, and you have all the statistics that reinforce the business opportunity. However, that doesn’t work if you can’t develop and execute a business plan that appeals to customers.
Bolton Bean has joined this fray, as a family-run business nestled in the central Massachusetts town of Bolton, with a slew of apple orchards in the surrounding towns. Driving there from almost anywhere can be scenic and coupled with other pit stops along the way. Aside of apple picking and homemade ice cream, some ideas include lunch at Battle Road Brewing, Tower Hill Botanic Garden in Boylston, intermittent activities at the Bolton Fairgrounds, and kayaking in Concord.
Bolton Bean sits in a newly renovated building, combining a new feeling with classic colonial style. It has a comfortable, fresh, and friendly feel. This is very much in keeping with the broader gourmet coffee movement.
We found the place happily packed when we entered on a rainy day. There were different zones, from leather seats to tables to pub seats lining the front windows, along with the expansive counter and an area with ready-to-go food and drinks. Despite the crowd size, the staff offered cheery smiles and kept the lines moving.
That trend about increasing coffee consumption and more people working from home means that these sorts of places become meaningful as interesting social hubs, part of the communities, or unique settings and producers of gourmet coffee. Bolton Bean certainly meets this need. The mix of couples, friends, and families, from high schoolers to senior citizens, created a diverse crowd. A woman played guitar and sang in the corner of the coffee shop, adding to the enjoyable ambiance.
Back to the foundation of Bolton Bean, they serve George Howell coffee, roasted locally in the nearby town of Acton. Whether drip, cappuccino, espresso, or however you wish to consume it, this small batch coffee will hit the spot. However, the selection of teas, chai, lemonade, iced tea, and smoothies round out their ability to meet the preferences of kids or others who seek to enjoy the vibe but with something aside of coffee.
The food creates further reason to linger: in addition to the baked goods and breakfast sandwiches to start your day, the lunch menu is nicely varied. We saw a variety of salads, such as creative kale or fall harvest options. A large array of paninis offered something for any palate (meatloaf with a jalapeno aioli is worth trying). Interestingly, you can also build your own poke bowl. These are traditional Hawaiian dishes served cold over brown and white rice and two examples include sweet chili chicken and raw Asian tuna along with other toppings such as sprouts, avocado, coconut, wasabi, pineapple, and more. Gluten free lunch options are appreciated, allowing those with dietary restrictions to still have choices.
The only critique is actually a compliment: it closes at 3:00 on Saturdays and isn’t open on Sundays. This precludes some afternoon or weekend opportunities to reinforce its community and social value, and, since I hadn’t looked ahead of time, is why it took a couple of attempts to visit.
That being said, the ambiance, gourmet coffee, quality food, and cheerful service are all reasons why Bolton Bean is establishing itself as a community hub. Those are all reasons for locals to frequent it, and others to visit when in the general area. As always, the disclaimer is that we aren’t getting paid or anything, so when saying that Bolton Bean will be worth your time and money, it’s solely because we very much felt that way from our own time there.
· Website: https://www.boltonbean.com/
· Free wifi
· Open Mon-Fri, 7:00-4:00, Sat 7:00-3:00
Enjoying the local revolution in craft brewing (see what I did there???)
Just based on the key ingredients, you almost don’t even need to keep reading to know Battle Road Brewpub (https://www.battleroadbeer.com/ ) is worth visiting: refurbished in an old mill, with a feeder pond abutting it; outdoor seating to enjoy the view, or indoors amongst old wood and exposed brick; comfort food and quality barbecue, and of course a quality beer lineup. But it’s worth reading on for the details.
Battle Road Brewing started off as a brewery in 2012 before expanding to add the brewpub along with a 15-barrel brewery in Maynard, a small mill city in central Massachusetts. The vibe is casual and fun, with different seating zones and some games such as darts and shuffleboard. It can be fun for an after-work drink, weekend fun, and can be enjoyable for both grown-ups and families.
The beers features a lineup of regulars, from the rich and malty 1775 Tavern Ale to the Stow’s Farms Session Ale, a light but flavorful and less alcoholic beer. Despite the proliferation of hops-intensive beers, the lineup is also nicely diverse. For example, the Sustenance Breakfast Stout features coffee from the local Hogan Brothers; the colonial era Midnight Porter includes molasses, maize, and hints of chocolate. But if it’s an IPA you’re after, the Lexington IPA features a mix of five hops, and the General Haze Double IPA is heavily hopped with Azacca, Calypso, Amarillo, and Columbus hops. With flights and growlers, any beer fan can certainly find something that will work for you.
The accompanying menu complements the beers. There’s classic pub fare such as chili, nachos, wings, burgers, and sandwiches. But Battle Road added unique offerings such as chicken fried pickles, street corn, and veggie burgers, as well as fantastic barbecued brisket, pulled pork, and dry ribs.
But along with the traditional beer and pub food, Battle Road is conscious of all potential customers. So those in your group who might prefer wine or cocktails have their own choices, and that extends to the menu with its salads, veggie burgers, flatbreads, and some vegetarian appetizers.
Given the success of Battle Road, along with being somewhat unique for the immediate area, it’s not a surprise that Battle Road is expanding to a second location at Patriot Place in 2019. Once again, it will fill a niche, despite Patriot Place’s already robust offerings. With the quality beers, food, and service, it’s well worth putting on your itinerary for either location and in any season.
Killing four birds with one stone (history, exercise, food, and scenery)
The Fort Hill historic district in the Cape Cod town of Eastham is a small attraction. But it has several activities that can easily evolve into a full afternoon of enjoyment.
The area was originally settled by English colonists in 1644 amidst worries against an invasion by the Dutch. Over time, it developed an agricultural focus. Soon, the natural resources were over-consumed and scarce, leaving a largely barren landscape. Life was challenging, and drove many young men to the sea for work.
Now, the Fort Hill district offers one of its best attractions right from one of the two small parking lots. It’s perched on a rise, overlooking Nauset Marsh. The amazing, panoramic view includes inlets, marshes, the beach, and the ocean beyond, as well as fields of flowers sloping towards the water. Plenty of boats can be seen on the main waterways, with kayakers weaving through the marshes. Whether taking in the view at sunrise without even leaving your car, or picnicking with family in the small field next to the parking lot, the scenery is spectacular and easily accessible.
Fort Hill’s parking lot is also a trailhead. A sandy trail gently works its way down from the rise and weaves along the edge of the marsh. Views constantly change, giving a feeling of variety despite the easy hike. Several routes exist, allowing for shorter or longer walks. Despite choosing one of the lengthier routes, our walk was still under two miles, lasted about an hour, and was easily managed even by the younger children in our group. Markers and a brochure educated on some of the plant life and historical significance of the area. Also, the Red Maple Swamp Trail includes a long, meandering boardwalk through the swamp that created further diversity to the hike.
The district’s last attraction is the Edward Penniman House. Penniman, like many young men, was driven to the sea. He returned in 1868, a successful 35-year-old, and built an impressive house. He raised the land several feet to afford views of the ocean and bay. The house itself featured hot and cold water and an indoor bathroom – both rarities for the day, and was decadently furnished.
The house is routinely open to the public and the ranger and volunteer during our visit were very knowledgeable about the house, family, and time period during our visit. The barn behind the house is currently undergoing renovations. Once open, it will offer even more antiques and places to explore.
The combination of the views, hikes, and tour offer something for everyone: they can capture the imagination of children or the interest of a history buff or environmentalist; they can deliver a unique trail run for the athlete, a casual walk for a family, or a bench for those looking to sit and relax.
While easily overlooked in favor of the beaches or the hustle and bustle of some other activities, Fort Hill in Eastham is a great alternative for people looking to explore a quieter corner of New England.
Start Line Brewery in Hopkinton, Massachusetts, is one of a number of fairly new craft breweries, with a group of friends hoping to turn their passion for quality beers into a sustainable and fun way to make a living. Judging from our visit, they’ll probably do just fine.
Start Line, named for the Boston Marathon’s route which begins in town, will celebrate its one-year anniversary at the beginning of November. It appears they’ve solidly established themselves with six year-round beers and other seasonal or short run beers as well. Their tasting room is small but was adequate for our time there. The layout is good as well, with views of the production facilities, outside, and the Water Fresh farm connected to it.
The beers represented a good mix, from pretty hoppy choices such as Hop Load Citra, to the deep red, caramel-flavored Craic Irish Red Ale, to the Hazelnut Cold Brewed Stout that’s a great alternative to your weekend afternoon coffee run. A flight includes four five-ounce samples for $10.
Start Line is located at Water Fresh Farm, which is a great spot in its own right. It has food ranging from vegetables grown in their hydroponic greenhouse; great snacks and candy; and fresh, hot meals. Start Line uses them as well for a limited menu. The farm also has a good wine selection with a chilling machine in case you get a bottle of white on a way to a friend’s and need it quickly cooled. The ice cream shop also means that parents can bring their kids and everyone can find something on the premises to enjoy.
We really enjoyed both the quality and the variety of the beers. Start Line’s friendly staff, picturesque setting, and mutually beneficial store and tasting room make it absolutely worth a visit. With their one-year anniversary approaching, they seem well-settled and ready to start another year of producing a great product. Not a bad outcome from some friends who started out dreaming big over some pints!
The Good Life...
can't exist alone. Places form the setting for your memories. People around us allow experiences to be shared, enriched, and leave us feeling connected and loved.