Hundreds Belly Up to Sample Franklin County Beers, Ciders, and More

The Recorder, July 17th, 2016, by David Rainville. Droves of people descended on Berkshire East Mountain Resort Saturday, and while some of them were there to ride the mountain coaster, careen through the air on the zip lines, or check out the new downhill mountain bike trails, the day’s big draw was inside the lodge.

It was the first Franklin County On Tap festival, bringing together the area’s eight breweries, four hard cider-makers, and one company that makes lesser-known mead (an honey wine) and alcoholic ginger beer.

For less than a night on the town, admission came with six free samples and a commemorative five-ounce tasting glass, and additional drink tickets were available for $3 each or $10 for four.

While it would take a lot of planning and driving to visit all of Franklin County’s fermenters, the festival brought them all under one roof — except for Lefty’s and Berkshire Brewing Co., which shared a sampling tent outdoors near the stage where Dave Houghton and Shokozoba played.

The festival brought together beer makers Berkshire Brewing, Brick and Feather, Element, Honest Weight, Lefty’s, People’s Pint, Stoneman Brewery and Hitchcock Brewing Co.; hard cider makers from Bear Swamp Orchard, Headwater Cider, West County Cider and Wheel-View Farm; and fermenters of mead, kombucha and alcoholic ginger beer from Artisan Beverage Coop.

Tiffany Williamson of North Adams was most interested in the festival’s hard ciders, but she had a tough time picking a favorite

“Bear Swamp is in the running with Wheel-View,” she said. “They’re both phenomenal.”

“It’s very exciting to see all the local brewers and orchards together,” she continued. “I love supporting local products, and this is a great way to do it.”

While she’s no stranger to Franklin County, she thought the festival’s setting was also a great introduction to those less familiar with the area. The pastoral path to Charlemont took people on the scenic route past other area attractions. Once they got to the festival, they saw what the mountain had to offer outside of ski season, including zip lines that took people whizzing right over the tasting.

Luke Toritto of Greenfield is certainly familiar with the area, but he’s just getting to know its alcoholic offerings. He just turned 21 a week ago, and found some new favorites at the festival.

“I really like the Ginger Libation; I’d never had it before,” he said. “My favorite today was the Dark Element. I was pleasantly surprised with the ciders. I also liked Stoneman Brewery. I’d never heard of them before this. I think the festival was a great way to make people aware of what’s being made right in their backyard.”

Louis Hardester of West Virginia, has been in the area working on the mountain’s new tree fort village. An outdoor enthusiast and white water rafter, he’s enjoyed exploring the county’s trails and waterways, and was glad to get to try so many of its local brews at one event.

There was one in particular that kept bringing him back for more — Artisan Beverage Coop’s Ginger Libation, an alcoholic ginger beer made with fruit.

“I’m not usually a fan of ginger or beer, but this stuff is great,” he said. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”

Upstairs in the lodge, Peter Mitchell poured his Headwater Cider from pony kegs, using a piece of applewood for a tap handle. While he loves watching people enjoy his cider, he finds that tastings are a great place to hear what’s not so great about one’s product.

“The people that are brutally honest are the most helpful,” he said. “They’ll tell you there’s too much of this, or not enough of that.”

That’s information he can use when he gets back to the orchard. Those more inclined to mind their manners and offer a token compliment aren’t doing brewers any favors, he said.

The festival was a team effort of Berkshire East, Ryan and Casey Liquors and The Recorder. As a first-year event, the lead-up was a bit of a nail-biter, as they weren’t sure how may people might show up.

“Pre-sales were stuck at 50 quite a while. It seemed like a very long time,” said Laura Dintino, event coordinator for The Recorder.

As festival weekend approached, though, those numbers climbed, topping out at 217. Tickets sold at the gate brought the final tally to about 400.

“The first time you do an event, there are so many unknowns,” said Dintino. “But I think it’s been a success. People are having a really good time, and this is a great place to hang out.”

Dintino said she hopes to make the festival an annual event.