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A New Bright Spot Opens In North Adams

By Amy Krzanik

If you’re looking for a poorly lit watering hole with a handful of blaring TVs, some stale pretzels for snacking and a surly bartender who acts like he’s doing you a favor when he takes your order, you’re really going to hate North Adams’ newest microbrewery and bar.

Bright Ideas Brewing, located on the campus of MASS MoCA, is the brainchild of Northern Berkshire County residents Orion Howard, an oncologist, and Eric Kerns, formerly of the Williamstown Theatre Festival and MASS MoCA. The two met just over a year ago and an idea became a reality very quickly. With the help of brewmaster Chris Post of Wandering Star in Pittsfield, the project went from “nothing to serving beer in about five months,” says Kerns.

The building where Bright Ideas is housed was fully leased when the two business partners inquired, but all tenants relocated within so that the brewery could take over the front space. Bright Ideas’ large wood bar came from the center beams of MASS MoCA’s Building 6, which the museum is renovating on schedule to open next year. Old flooring became tables, and rejected glass from Iñigo Manglano-Ovalle’s upside down house from 2009’s exhibit Gravity is a Force to be Reckoned With now serves as a wall between the brewery and the bar.

Although the taproom had a soft opening in March, and has kept steady Thursday through Sunday hours since then, a grand opening celebration is planned for this coming Sunday, June 19 from 2 to 7 p.m. There will be eight beers available, including an IPA, a brown, a red, ESB, wheat, a gose sour beer and a nonalcoholic root beer. If you don’t already have a favorite (mine’s the Stout with more-than-hints of espresso and chocolate), try the flight and choose four of them to taste.

The event, which will feature live performances by Freddy & Francine from Los Angeles, and Old Sky from Burlington, VT, has been dubbed by Kerns and Howard as an event “for dads, by dads.” “We’re both dads,” says Kerns, “and we thought ‘what would we want to do on Father’s Day?’”

But he hastens to add that Bright Ideas is not only for dads. Kerns says they intentionally created a space that is female-friendly and doesn’t feel like a sketchy bar. In fact, you’ll often find his wife, Molly, manning the taps. “There’s a myth that boyfriends and husbands introduce women to beer,” he says, “but women are the largest-growing population of beer enthusiasts.”
 
The goal, say Kerns and Howard, was to build a “camaraderific” community drinking space, where people could come in to play card games, or to grab dinner from Bon Tricycle, a food cart that takes up residence there during business hours. (Offerings include bahn mi, pulled pork, jerk chicken, cubano or brie sandwiches; 12-hour Cherrywood smoked chicken or brisket; cheese/charcuterie plates; fresh oysters; and pizzas from Williamstown’s Hot Tomatoes.)

Bright Ideas Brewery, Restaurant & Bar
Grand Opening Fest
Sunday, June 19 from 2-7 p.m.
111 Mass Moca Way, North Adams, MA
(413) 346-4460

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Posted by Amy Krzanik on 06/13/16 at 02:07 PM • Permalink

It’s Always Mocktail Time At Village Scoop

Lavender lemonade. And you can buy the jar.

By Jamie Larson

Village Scoop, in quaint Hillsdale, New York has been a destination for ice cream, coffee and sundry items for years. As if the well-designed parlor, with its high-quality offerings, beautiful back deck and landscaped garden weren’t enough reasons to stop by, owners Ken Davis and Kevin Draves have just added a list of signature nonalcoholic “mocktails” to the menu that they hope will give them the edge with visitors looking to relax with something new and different.

Despite the former tattoo parlor’s small size, Village Scoop offers an array of options aside from their much-loved ice cream, including an all-local cheese plate, chips and house-made mango salsa, coffees and more. But it’s the addition of these new drinks that’s garnering attention. From sweet citrusy mimosas and lavender lemonade to a blackberry mint mojito and a spicy Bloody Mary, these virgin versions of bar drinks, presented elegantly, are something new to the area. They also won’t set you back like their boozy counterparts. Even the specials are under five bucks.

“You’re fulfilling that social element; people sit and hang out longer,” says Draves, who, along with Davis, also runs Passiflora next door. “There’s a real difference between enjoying one of these and slamming back a soda. And not all of them are sweet. They pair well with a cheese plate.”

Davis and Draves, along with manager D. Curto, say by creating the first nonalcoholic bar in Columbia County, they’re filling a niche and taking advantage of a growing market. Village Scoop’s drinks have even garnered the social media attention of the Torani company, whose (cane, not corn) syrups they use.

“People are becoming more open to the idea of alcohol-free bars,” says Curto. “We are not discouraging drinking. It’s just a nice alternative.”

Curto, Draves and Davis.

For all the business sense serving mocktails makes, the bottom line is that they’re really tasty. If you’re bringing the kids for some ice cream after dinner and you’re looking for something crisp and refreshing, the scotch (that’s butterscotch) and soda is a great way to end the night. If you’re a beer lover there’s a great shandy, made with nonalcoholic beer and blood orange syrup.

Draves and Davis are also passionate about local ingredients; their cheeses are all local as is as much of their produce, appearing on the menu as fruit salads and yogurt cups. The owners are also very cognizant of the ecosystem of an economy in a really small town like Hillsdale. They didn’t see a need to offer things that their neighbors are selling. If you’re looking for a stiffer drink, the Hillsdale House is just two doors down.

“We’re stronger together,” Draves says. “We support our friends and neighbors.”

With the variety of treats offered at Village Scoop, Davis, Draves and Curto have created a sweet little oasis worth stopping for each time you’re passing through. And since they’re mocktails, even if you’re driving, it’s okay to have two.

Village Scoop Artisanal Ice Cream and Alcohol-Free Bar
2640 State Route 23, Hillsdale, NY
(518) 325-6455
Open Fridays and Saturdays, 8 a.m.-9 p.m.; Sundays, 8 a.m.-8 p.m.

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Posted by Jamie Larson on 06/06/16 at 02:05 PM • Permalink

Drinks: The Solar-Powered Sundog Cider Carameltini

Ra took the glass. The smell of fresh cider rose to his nose, the light bubbles played across his lips, his tongue tasted the fresh crisp taste. He swallowed the sweet amber liquid and was pleased.

So goes the legend of Sundog Cider. If you’ll lift your suspension of disbelief for just a moment, we will tell you that Sundog Cider was founded in 2013 in Chatham, NY as a product of Sundog Solar, which installs solar electric and solar thermal systems. Many of Sundog Solar’s clients are local farms, and a lot of those are apple farms. You can put the rest together, but it’s more fun if you stick with the storybook legend so colorfully told and illustrated here.


We need some of that sun, and that Sun Ra, and we’ll be needing it right through Thanksgiving. So we asked Sundog Cider’s owner, Jody Rael, to bring us some apple-y sunshine with a cocktail made from aromatic hard cider fermented from a blend of Hudson Valley apples. (And it’s hand crafted in a 100% solar-powered mill, so you can drink responsibly in more ways than one.)

He and his staff whipped up this specialty cocktail to kick off Thanksgiving in a festive way. The crispness of Sundog Cider pairs perfectly with the buttery caramel vodka. 

As the legend concludes, From that day on, Anubis would meet Ra at the end of each day with a glass of hard cider and the sun would set and all was right with the world.

Sundog Cider Cocktail

Ingredients:
3 oz. Sundog Cider
2 oz. caramel vodka
Caramel candies
Apple (for garnish)

Instructions:
Put a few high-quality caramel candies in a shallow microwave-safe dish and use a microwave to warm the caramels until just melted (take care when melting caramels – they can burn easily). Dip the rims of the martini glasses into the melted caramel so the edges are coated (it will drip a little – that’s okay!). Pour 3 oz. of cold Sundog Cider into a 6 oz. martini glass, add 2 oz. of caramel vodka and stir gently with a swizzle stickto incorporate. Garnish glass with a slice of apple.

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Posted by Lisa Green on 11/17/14 at 04:00 PM • Permalink

Drinks: We’ve Got A Crush On This Lavender Libation

Our small but mighty Rural Intelligence staff may attend a lot of cocktail parties, but when we’re there, it’s no drinks for us — we’re working. Perhaps soon we’ll have our own little cocktail hour. So, given a tip that Terrapin in Rhinebeck is known for its specialty cocktails, we went right to the source and asked if the restaurant might share a particularly refreshing choice, which we’re happy to share with our readers.

Lavender Crush: the name alone is like a calming, cooling breeze. Credit for the recipe, a blend of fresh lavender and strawberries muddled with lemon and vodka, goes to one of Terrapin’s longtime servers, Caitie Mallory, a CIA-trained pastry chef.

“She brought the idea for this drink to us last spring, and after a little tweaking by Bar Manager Matt Johnston and Beverage Director Dian Paunovic, it became a hit,” says Terrapin’s Marketing Coordinator, Christen Wagner. “We like to use locally produced vodka; our favorite in this drink is Catskill Distilling Company’s Peace Vodka.”

Care to join us?

Lavender Crush

Muddle 4 to 5 fresh lavender leaves with a slice of lemon, two (smaller) fresh strawberries, and just a touch of simple syrup (sugar dissolved in equal parts water). Add 1.75 oz. of vodka, serve over ice, top with soda water, and garnish with a lemon twist and strawberry.

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Posted by Lisa Green on 07/08/14 at 08:20 PM • Permalink

A Day Of Beer, Bourbon & Bacon In Rhinebeck

By Andrea Pyros

Just the words “Beer, Bourbon & Bacon Festival” is enough to have us plunking down our credit cards as we ask, “Where and when?” The answer to that, by the way, is Saturday, June 21 at the Dutchess County Fairgrounds in Rhinebeck. After all, is there anything else you need to know before you’re all in? 

Admittedly, the mouth-watering name is going to be tough to live up to, but this one-day event, presented by the Hudson Valley Craft Brew Festival, is shaping up to be as cool as it sounds. Attendees will have the opportunity to sample top-notch craft beers, both from local brewing companies as well as those further afield, along with bourbons and other spirits from independent distilleries. Food vendors interested in setting up shop for the day were only okay’d to do so if they worked bacon into their menus, so you’ll be able to seriously overdo it on snacks, main courses and desserts, all featuring the beloved meat.

Don’t worry if you’re not a “beer geek,” says Paul Lloyd, the festival’s event organizer. “This event is for anyone who is a beer enthusiast and wants to try something new in a different setting.” “It’s not a frat party,” he adds. “It’s for people of all ages interested in sampling and having a good time.”

Once you’re past the general admission gate, you’ll receive a tasting glass and beer and bourbon samples. It won’t be possible to sample it all, though. There are 90 breweries scheduled, and each brewery will offer at least two of their beers to visitors. Lloyd expects about 10 or so regional distilleries offering up their own spirits—bourbon, of course, but also whiskey, moonshine (!) and more. The beers and bourbons are included in the admission price, but plan to bring money for food, which isn’t included, as well as for crafts and other items from vendors.

Rhinebeck’s beloved Grand Cru Beer & Cheese Market is sponsoring the sold-out V.I.P. experience at the event. Grand Cru, co-owned by the husband and wife team of Rod Johnson and Alicia Lenhart, is excited to be a part of the day, says Lenhart, who adds that there’s been a great deal of thought put into selecting a range of beers and breweries, so that regardless of your experience with drinking craft beer, “everyone will find something they love” at the festival.

From the greater Rural Intelligence area, keep an eye out for beers and spirits from the popular Sloop Brewing (Poughkeepsie), Hyde Park Brewery (Hyde Park), Mill House Brewing Co. (Poughkeepsie), Rushing Duck Brewing Co. (Chester), Last Stop Brewing (Poughkeepsie), Keegan Ales (Kingston) and Onyx Moonshine (East Hartford), along with an array of beers from across America and a few all the way from Europe.

The event has been set up to make sure people have a good time without it turning in to a keg party, explains Lloyd. You’ll be given a card allowing you to sample a dozen beers (in 3-oz. pours). After that, you’re welcome to get another card for extra samples at no additional charge, but note that legally the organizers have to evaluate attendees to be sure no one is, as they delicately put it, “overserved.” There will also be plenty of non-alcoholic beverages and complimentary water stations set up. Not a drinker but want to go for the food, friends and live music? There’s a heavily discounted “designated driver” ticket for teetotalers. 

Though the months of planning for this first-time event have been intense, Lloyd is expecting a laid-back and enjoyable day. “People are coming for a good time. It’s not a snooty crowd at all. It’s just beer and good food.” 

Beer, Bourbon & Bacon Festival
Saturday, June 21 from 2—6 p.m.
Dutchess County Fairgrounds, Rhinebeck, NY
A 21+ event.
Purchase tickets here.

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Posted by Lisa Green on 06/09/14 at 10:43 AM • Permalink

Drinks: A Spring Green Margarita

If patio furniture is popping up in all the stores now, can cocktails al fresco (or at least inside with the windows open) be far behind?  Looking for a libation to welcome in spring, we went to Paula Boyajian, bar manager at The Gateways Inn in Lenox, who seems always to be concocting delightful seasonal drinks that complement the jazz in the piano bar. With the Gateways Inn just reopening after a short winter hibernation, Paula had been mixing up her magic, and was ready to share her latest creation, Michele’s Margarita, named in honor of the inn’s chef and owner, Michele Gazit. A blend of tequila, Hypnotiq, lime juice, pineapple juice and a splash of dry vermouth, its seafoam green hints of green grass and fresh breezes. And not a moment too soon.

 


Michele’s Margarita

1 part white tequila
2 parts Hypnotiq Liqueur
½ part Rose’s Lime Juice
½ part pineapple juice
Splash of dry vermouth

Fill shaker with ice and pour in all ingredients. Shake well until cold and pour into a martini glass. Garnish with a fresh pineapple spear.

 

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Posted by Lisa Green on 04/02/14 at 10:49 PM • Permalink

New Hudson Business Mixes Up A Better Brand Of Bitters

By Jamie Larson

thsposedAbove the Hudson Wine Merchants, co-owner Marianne Courville stands behind a heavy farmhouse table topped with an assortment of bottles and jars, a serious mortar and pestle beside her, and a container of juniper berries and vinegar. She pours a splash of recently brewed pear, honey and ginger mixture called a shrub into a glass of seltzer. After that revelation is sipped, she offers a thimbleful of her hand-crafted ginger bitters.

Strong, flavorful, clean and correct, her new brand of regionally sourced bitters and shrubs, The Hudson Standard, is set to officially launch in the spring, and each offering tastes like the beginning of something big.

“Isn’t that nice?” Courville says, with a knowing smile. “We want our flavors to be as pure as possible, but there’s a complexity to it when you use such good ingredients.”

ths bottle1But let’s back up. Any barfly knows the versatile bite of bitters, whether the paper-wrapped standby or a trendy new infusion, but shrubs? Dating back to American Colonial times, a shrub is a blend of vinegar, fruit, herbs and a sweetener. The Hudson Standard’s shrub makes for an ethereal and versatile mixer for cocktails and stands alone boldly in seltzer as a sophisticated non-alcoholic beverage with significantly less sugar than soda.

“A lot of bars are making their own shrubs right now,” Courville says. “I tend to go for a little more vinegar flavor in ours. It’s really great with gin but without alcohol it’s a very adult soda. I’ve gotten so much positive feedback from pregnant women who can’t drink but still want to have something sophisticated.” 

ths shelvesThe Hudson Standard debuted late last year at Basilica Hudson’s Farm and Flea event, and sold small amounts at Olde Hudson and Rubiner’s. Everything sold out quickly and received nothing but raves. Ironically, due to the capriciousness of New York’s alcohol distribution laws, Hudson Wine Merchants can’t sell The Hudson Standard bitters (around $22 per 100 ml. bottle) or the shrub (around $14 per 250 ml. bottle) but they’ll be more than happy to tell you all about it and how to get your eager hands on it. Courville says she’s aiming for a release date in May, when her concoctions will once again be available at Olde Hudson, Rubiners and online at thehudsonstandard.com. She’s currently scouting for more shops that want to sell the brand and intends on visiting farmers’ markets throughout the season.

This first year, with greatly appreciated business assistance from the Hudson Valley Agribusiness Development Corporation, and a Kickstarter coming soon, Courville anticipates they’ll be able to deliver 4,000 to 5,000 bottles total, staggered throughout the summer as the ingredients come in from local farms.

With everything sourced as close to home as possible, the first full line of The Hudson Standard’s offerings will be dictated by the seasons. While that is in part a function of still being in development mode, it’s also how Courville and her partners, husband Michael Albin and journalist Michael Maness, want it.

ths bottle 2For the roll-out in the spring, she’s planning a spruce or pine shoot bitters, with the ginger bitters and pear-honey-ginger shrub available, as well. Next will be a strawberry-rhubarb shrub with the potential for an apple and maple syrup shrub in the fall.

“We want to be a complement to all the great distilleries that have been popping up all around us,” Courville says, noting how well the shrub goes with Harvest Spirits’ Applejack.

It’s evident from the way Courville talks about her creations, and the infusion jars all over the spacious test kitchen (in Hudson Wine Merchants’ elegant third-floor tasting room and gallery), that this not just a serious business venture but also a whole lot of fun for her and her two friends, Dan Scarnecchia and Dave Paynter—who are helping with research and development just for the thrill of it.

ths glassCourville loves meeting farmers and thinking up new flavor combinations for a new batch. Behind a curtain, she has shelves of jars where she’s testing everything from a surprisingly soothing juniper and rose hip bitters to a curry leaf bitters that is the darkest and most mesmerizing shade of green one can imagine but admittedly needs some tweaking before the flavor is right.

“It needs a little sweetness to bring out the curry flavor I think, and, actually, I was thinking a pinch of salt,” Courville says. “I’m excited about this one.”

Courville’s enthusiasm for the process of making shrubs and bitters, from the farm to the bottle, foretells that this is the seed of a future local legacy. And, as if we didn’t already yearn for spring, The Hudson Standard’s debut will have us crossing off the days until shrub season is here. 

Cocktail Recipe:
The Root and Branch by Darren Norris
1¾ oz. Ransom Gin
¾ oz. Hudson Standard Pear Honey Ginger Shrub
¼ oz. Dolin Dry Vermouth
2 dashes Orange Bitters
Shake vigorously over ice, then pour into a chilled coupe. Serve with a lemon twist.

Hudson Wine Merchants
341-1/2 Warren Street, Hudson
(518) 828-6411

 

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Posted by Jamie Larson on 02/17/14 at 04:48 PM • Permalink

Summer Wines in the Berkshires

by Timothy Eustis

summer winesSummer is a time to relax, and the Berkshires is the place to do it, both with culture and style. And what better way to complement a night on the lawn at Tanglewood, say, than with a charming bottle of wine? The job of The Wine Tasting Panel of the Berkshires is to help you select a great wine for just such an occasion.

The Tasting Panel was convened by Kollin Kozlowski CSW, wine director at Kelly’s Package Store in Dalton, Mass, as a way of culling from the literally hundreds of good wines in the marketplace to find the best summer white and red wine (for less than $20) in the region. Kozlowski had the idea of finding the perfect summer wines to showcase at his store as well as at local restaurants around the county. So he brought in a few of his compatriots in the wine business to help him select from the 160+ wines. And from the two blind tastings, held at the Red Lion Inn and Blantyre last month, we selected a “Best Of” white and red wine.

Kozlowski asked Massachusetts distributors to provide a number of their best suggestions for this category, as well as wines that will be readily available. “We are searching for wines that have authenticity, and are seeking to show some terroir, that is to say, a sense of place and vision,” he told us. What they aren’t searching for is an ordinary wine, one with too much fruit, or too much oak, or too little flavor. Additionally, “it has to reflect the season:  on the lawn and on a picnic cloth… That’s the image this wine should give you. And why we went with a $20 maximum bottle price; for a night on the lawn, maybe you will splurge a little.”

tasting panelJoining Kozlowski was Dan Thomas, the sommelier at The Red Lion Inn; Christelle Cotar, wine director at Blantyre; Caitlin Harrison, sommelier at Mezze in Williamstown; and yours truly, the wine director at The Stagecoach Tavern, in Sheffield. (Pic, left to right, Kollin Kozlowski, Christelle Cotar, Dan Thomas, and Caitlin Harrison.) “We were all quite impressed with the quality of wines that went into our glasses,” said Thomas. The distributors took their work seriously, providing us with such good wines, that it was surprising that we could even agree on a best-in-show.

Our panel spoke about their favorite wines, and it was interesting to note how many (actually, all save for one) came from Spain. Harrison found one of her preferred white wines, a 2011 Albariño from Licia in Rias Baixas, Spain, to be full of a “limey citrus quality, balanced with smoky minerality and an overall freshness and balance that demands a hot afternoon at Tanglewood. Drink it now and drink it often,” she said.

Cotar chose another white, the 2011 Godello

from Bodegas Rafael Palacios in Valdeorras, Spain. She noted that it had “complex notes of pear, quince and spice. Light on its feet, but it has rich flavors of pear, crisp apple. For me this wine showed all the terroir of a Grand Cru white Burgundy!”

panel2Moving to the reds, Thomas chose a 2010 Garnacha (the Spanish name for the Grenache grape) by Castillo de Monseran from Carinena, Spain. He described its “light strawberry and kirsch notes with pepper and earth notes. A light (12.5% alcohol content) red wine with no apparent oak to mask the fruit. I can see enjoying this with a lot of grilled foods this summer.”

Kollin’s red choice was the 2011 Malbec Classico by Durigutti from Mendoza Argentina. Malbecs, especially those from Argentina, are known to be full-bodied, perhaps more for autumnal or winter fare, but, he said, “this red wine is so impeccably balanced it doesn’t matter how rich and textured it is. It has refined black cherry fruit with a hint of blueberry, spicy oak and vanilla notes that highlight but don’t overpower. BBQ…whether you’re serving teriyaki tuna or New York strip steak this Malbec will suit it all.”

The top white vote-getter is the 2012 Getariako Txakolina from Ameztoi in Gipuzkos, Spain. (Yes, we know there is no way to pronounce this correctly. But it sure tastes good!) In the north of Spain, at the foot of the Pyrenees, is the Basque Country, a cool, windy, and sparse region that produces an obscure white wine, Txakoli. This low alcohol white is super intense with crisp acidity and pure lime. We thought the thirst-quenching, spritzy quality to this wine would match best with lightly grilled fresh oysters and it would cut through fatty charred red meats.

Finally, our number one red is the 2009 Cannonau (another name for Grenache) Riserva from Sella & Mosca in Sardinia, Italy. This wine shows all the expected flavors of raspberry and kirsch with a solid acidic structure, with a bit more complexity than we were expecting. This Cannonau epitomizes a summer red because of its versatility: soft and light enough to match with cedar-planked salmon but with structure to stand up to a richer grilled tenderloin.

You can find these wines at Kelly’s. As well, The Red Lion Inn and Mezze will be showcasing their particular selections. And you should be able to find any of the above wines at your local retailer.

Whites
2011 Albariño from Licia; Rias Baixas, Spain
2011 Godello

,  Bodegas Rafael Palacios; Valdeorras, Spain
* 2012 Getariako Txakolina,  Ameztoi; Gipuzkos, Spain

Reds
2010 Garnacha, Castillo de Monseran; Carinena, Spain
2011 Malbec Classico, Durigutti; Mendoza, Argentina
* 2009 Cannonau Riserva, Sella & Mosca; Sardinia, Italy

* denotes “Best of” Tasting

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Posted by Scott Baldinger on 05/20/13 at 11:48 AM • Permalink

The Berkshire Wine Hunt

Rural Intelligence Food The wine-buying landscape in Berkshire, Columbia, Dutchess, and Litchfield counties is growing and evolving, with an ever- increasing number of well-edited wine stores with passionate proprietors making the search for that perfect bottle both an adventure and a pleasure. For this, the first of a series on the area’s vino venues, we focus on Berkshire County, with the spotlight on two well-known stores with solid reputations, as well as one promising newcomer to the scene.

We started at Domaney’s Liquors & Fine Wines, located in Great Barrington just before the bridge over the Housatonic River. The Domaney family has owned the store since the 1930s, when it was a country market supplying groceries, dry goods, and sundries. When Eddie Domaney’s father bought it from his uncle in 1973, he realized that, with the increase in weekend crowds coming in from Boston and New York, he needed to specialize.  The Berkshires, he says, were being populated by “actors, musicians, artists, historians, and retired world travelers. As all that was happening, we realized we needed to change the product line.”  And the transformation into a wine and spirits haven began.

Domaney’s is a welcoming store with a democratic selection that takes the stress out of wine buying. Customer service, too, is paramount. Eddie has since passed the buying to his son, Joe, and another employee, Andy. “They attend all the tastings, read all the wine literature,” says Eddie. But, he says, “everybody knows wine: We have to make sure our employees are versatile and can talk intelligently. I’ll help the customer find the right bottle. If I can’t get that wine, I’ll know what the wine is, I can research it, and I can find a wine that works for them, at a lower price.”

Rural Intelligence FoodDomaney’s selection has something for every palate and budget. Small bottles of affordable Merlot are available, as well as a solid selection from across the world, such as obscure finds like a pop-top liter of Zweigelt from Austria. “People love it once they try it,” Eddie says. For a good winter red, he steers us to the Breca Breca 2010, an all-Garnacha (or Grenache) Spanish wine about which critic Robert Parker, giving it 94 points, said, “It may be the most amazing wine I have ever tasted at this price in over three decades.” One of the more elegant and thoughtful collections in the area can be found in Domaney’s cold room, where the higher end selections are kept. Some of the stars that caught our eye: A Ridge Monte Bello Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 for $165; a Groffier, Chambertin Clos de Beze, 2004 for $200; and the latest release of Muga’s Prado Enea ‘05, an excellent, traditionally made Rioja for $65.

The Nejaime family opened their first eponymous store on Elm Street in Stockbridge in 1970, followed by the Lenox location in 1982. An amicable splitting up of stores between the brothers gave the recently renamed moniker Spirited to Jim Nejaime for the Pittsfield branch, with Joe keeping the Stockbridge and Lenox locations. French wine is a specialty of Nejaime’s, Lenox, not surprisingly, given that their wine buyers are both French; Franck Seguin and Xavier Letteron. We spoke to Letteron, who brings that continental perspective to the shop, with the appropriately charming French accent. Xavier, who moved to the Berkshires with his wife, Elena, in 1998, says, “When a customer comes in looking for a bottle for a dinner party, I will ask,” he says, “’What do you want to bring? [The wine you bring] is part of your personality, even if you don’t know wine.’”

Rural Intelligence FoodIt has often been noted, while party-going in Manhattan, that it seems as if everyone arrives with a bottle of Veuve Cliquot. But Xavier prefers the Champagne Ployez-Jacquemart ($49.99). “It has such a great expression,” he tells us. Xavier tells us that it’s important for their regular customers to find what they’re looking for. So they have well-known brands, but it’s fun to show them new things. He says he likes to “expand their horizons…Customers ask us to show them some French wine, because French wine has an aura of being intimidating. When you have friendly French people in the store, this is a perfect way to be introduced to that country. Customers then feel taken care of.” While Nejaime’s has a diverse and thorough selection that spans the globe, if you wish to stay in France, Xavier recommends the J.L. Chave, Mon Coeur, a Côtes du Rhône ($24.99). He described it as a step up from a basic Côtes du Rhône. “It has a nice balance and some spiciness. A beautiful red wine. If you appreciate a Rhône wine, this is a special treat,” he tells us.

The final stop on our local tour takes us to Queensboro Wines & Spirits in West Stockbridge. Steve Dixon, formerly the regional salesman for the well-known distributor MS Walker, took over this shop two years ago. Before that, he’d been the wine director and sommelier at Wheatleigh. Although his true love is for Burgundy wines, he says that his “palate doesn’t matter. I try to identify the customer and find the best example of what it is they’re looking for. That’s the first half of my job; second half is to get them to explore new things.”

Rural Intelligence FoodHe works hard to provide the right service and the right recommendations for his customers. Recounting his time at Wheatleigh, Dixon says “There’s always that ‘aha’ moment for the customers when you hook them up with the correct wine. And they say ‘Wow, that really worked, I get that.’ “That’s the rush, that’s the adrenaline, that’s what makes you go home and think ‘I did my job.’”

It’s clear from the well-edited selection at Queensboro and Steve’s passion for the wines that this is a store for a true wine lover. His winter red recommendation is the Rio Madre Rioja, 2011, made entirely from the grape Graciano. (Most Rioja comes from Tempranillo.) It has a beautiful nose, and is a well-structured wine that would go well with dinner or as an aperitif. At $12, this is a lovely wine for the season.

For a broad selection with great service, you can’t go wrong at either Domaney’s or Nejaime’s. For the carefully edited selection that will always succeed, take yourself to Queensboro. All the stores provide tastings frequently: Check their websites for the latest information, and remember, to learn about wines, you have to pull corks! —Tim Eustis

Domaney’s Liquors and Fine Wines
66 Main Street
Great Barrington, MA 01230
(413) 528-0024    

Nejaime’s Wine Cellars
60 Main Street
Lenox, MA 01240
(413) 637-2221    

Queensboro Wine & Spirits

26 Main Street


West Stockbridge, MA 01266
(413) 232-8522

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Posted by Scott Baldinger on 01/28/13 at 08:29 AM • Permalink

In Sheffield, Big Elm Brewing Branches Out

Rural Intelligence Food

Christine and Bill Heaton

For hundreds of years, Sheffield’s festivals and town meetings were held at an elm tree so large that 300 people could fit beneath its boughs. Now there’s a new gathering spot where the tree once thrived. Big Elm Brewing, which opened in October on the corner of Route 7 and Silver Street, aims to bring beer enthusiasts together.

Each Saturday from noon to 4 p.m., owners Christine and Bill Heaton and their partners Jen and Russell Jaehnig open the airy warehouse to the public, offering free tastings and tours. On a recent afternoon, a steady stream of passersby sallied up to a small wooden bar to purchase growlers and sample more than a half-dozen microbrews. Among the day’s offerings were hickory-smoked Route 7 Rauschbier and the springy 413 Farmhouse Ale, flavored with lemon zest, chamomile, Bear Meadow Apiary’s honey, and pink peppercorns from Himala Salt.

When the assembly reached a critical mass, Russell led the crowd to the 30-barrel metal vats in the back room, detailing the process that transforms humble grains of barley into hearty ales. Barrels of recently brewed Gerry Dog Stout, currently soaking up flavors of oak and bourbon, drew plenty of yearning looks.

Rural Intelligence Food All this is just the beginning of the community-oriented endeavor that the Big Elm crew envisions for their brewery. “I’d love to have a vegetable garden,” Christine says, her eyes gleaming with enthusiasm. “We could grow our own hops, and have rows of carrots by some picnic tables.” She imagines clearing out the brewery’s three acres of land to host beer festivals, town gatherings, and private parties. And when Big Elm starts running its canning machinery next month, they’ll be able to expand their reach even further.

Christine’s excitement is contagious. That’s because Big Elm’s story is about people following their passion — and figuring out where their passions lay in the first place.

Neither Christine nor Bill planned on a career in beer. After graduating from Millersville University with a degree in chemistry, Christine tried out life in laboratories and in Niger as a Peace Corps volunteer. When she returned stateside, she set her sights on working at a brewpub. But it wasn’t until she got a scholarship to train at the Siebel Institute of Technology in Chicago and Doemens Academy in Munich that she got her big break. “As a female brewer it’s sometimes harder,” she says. “It’s a very male-dominated industry, although that’s changing now.”

The scholarship helped her score a position with Victory Brewing Company in Pennsylvania. There, she met the man she would marry. Bill was a former photographer who’d grown tired of wedding and advertising shoots. Ready for a change, he penned a heartfelt letter about his desire to make beer and sent it out to 16 breweries.  “He started out cleaning kegs and worked his way up to head brewer at Victory,” Christine says. “It’s the quintessential home brewer’s dream.”

Rural Intelligence Food

Russell and Jen Jaehnig

In 2005, the couple moved to the Berkshires and opened the brewpub Pittsfield Brew Works. But the stressful restaurant racket showed them that their hearts were really in brewing. They closed Brew Works in 2010 — and found partners for their new business in friends Jen, a history teacher at Pittsfield’s Herbert Middle School, and Russell, an executive chef at the catering company A Taste of Nantucket.

With four young children between the two couples, it’s no surprise that Big Elm is a family affair. Toy cars are scattered throughout the warehouse, and small children play peekaboo behind metal kegs. Other family members are getting in on the act, too. Jen’s father gathers fallen branches on his hikes, then sands them into one-of-a-kind tap handles. Even Christine and Bill’s beagle mix has a role to play: His furry mug graces the label of Gerry Dog Stout.

Rural Intelligence Food While Big Elm has only been open for a few months, it’s already making big waves in the local culinary scene. Their beers are available at more than 30 distributors, from retail stores like Domaney’s to the Red Lion Inn. They’ve collaborated extensively with Route 7 Grill, using the restaurant’s smoker to create its namesake beer and teaming up for a December dinner menu that offered delicacies like Big Elm stout-braised beef short ribs. And on Saturday, January 26, Elm Street Market in Stockbridge is hosting a tasting from 4:30 to 6 pm.

In the midst of all that hubbub, Christine says the Big Elm team is riding high. “On brew days,” she says, “I’m back to my old self.” It’s a feeling that bears out the mandate emblazoned on each of Big Elm’s bottles: Get back to your roots. —Sarah Todd

Big Elm Brewing
65 Silver Street
Sheffield, MA 01257
(413) 229-2348
Free tastings and tours each Saturday, noon to 4 p.m.

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Posted by Sarah Todd on 01/22/13 at 10:48 AM • Permalink