A spirited collaboration more than five years in the making, Berkshire Mountain Distillers‘ Craft Brewers Whiskey Project finds the acclaimed artisanal alcohol producer releasing a trio of whiskeys every quarter in 2021. Each of the 12 small-batch whiskeys has been distilled by the Sheffield, Massachusetts-based brand from a different beer produced by a Northeast craft brewer that Berkshire Mountain Distillers cherishes. Collaborators range from Smuttynose Brewing to Samuel Adams and Mass Bay Brewing Co, and the dozen diverse whiskeys carry forward something special from their source brew.
“It’s all spent the last five years aging in barrels,” Chris Weld, Berkshire Mountain Distillers’ founder, owner and distiller, explains to us. “I’ve always had a fondness for craft beer. Growing up, beer options were Moosehead or Heineken; then all of a sudden, there was a huge groundswell in the craft brewing world and all of these types of beers that had not been readily available before in the States were around.”
Weld explains that whiskey is made from a distiller’s wash, which in many ways is similar to beer. Roughly 10 years ago, they embarked upon a collaboration with Samuel Adams, where they distilled an American whiskey from their flagship Boston Lager. It was a success and laid the foundation further exploration.
“It’s when things go awry, that’s when it gets exciting. For me, to stay relevant, it comes down to these new developments, like our Ethereal Gin, or to enter new categories like with our rye whiskey, or to embark upon collaborations like this,” he continues. “This project is different.”
Weld, who has a biochemistry background, loves to talk with enthusiasm about their distillation process and the science of distillation in general, but it’s the distinct tinkering with these whiskeys that enlivens him even more so. “We played a little bit with the hops level, to control bitterness” he says, “but many of these beers had botanicals and herbs in them, like chamomile and orange, where (much like with gin) flavor distilled over into the final product. It’s like a science experiment and it’s uncanny to taste.” This is particularly pronounced in the UFO White American Whiskey, where the citrus from the Belgian White Witbier-style beer shine through.
“We picked out the best combination of recognizable beers from the brewer that would also make the best whiskey,” Weld continues. “All of the brewers were ones that we liked the beers of and liked working with. Each beer has been triple-distilled and aged for five years.” Flavors from compounds in the woods lend their own flavors to the liquids. Weld says he began tasting them three years in and they intended to release them last year, aged four years (like bourbon), but COVID struck. Another year in, the barrels only brought out more deliciousness.
Weld worked with each brewery on the label, to guarantee the character and brand recognition of their partners. Being in the Berkshires, six of the distiller’s brewery collaborators are Massachusetts based. The others hail from New England and New York, and bottle output for each iteration ranges from 300 to the low thousands. Perhaps unsurprising to people familiar with distillation, each truly is noticeably different than the others—and that’s part of the reason they’re all worth seeking out.
Images courtesy of Angela Cardinali