Master distiller Chris Weld crafts gin, rum, and vodka at Berkshire Mountain Distillers

In the Spirit

by Tony Rosenfeld

In the Spirit

Courtesy of Berkshire Mountain Distillers

You don’t have to be a connoisseur of spirits to appreciate the smooth depth of flavor that marks Berkshire Mountain Distillers’ rum, vodka, and gin. As if to emphasize this point, Chris Weld, the company’s founder and master distiller, always has a couple of bottles of the competition—other premium brand-name spirits—on hand in his Sheffield, Mass., workspace, a rustic barn on the outside and shiny new distillery on the inside. He invites guests to a taste test in a manner less boastful than proud and passionate.

Though the craft beer movement has been gaining strength for over 20 years now, this artisanal approach to spirits is more recent. When Chris opened Berkshire Mountain Distillers in 2007, it became the first of its kind in western Massachusetts since Prohibition, and one of less than two hundred craft distillers in the United States. Berkshire Mountain follows the constructs of the local movement, sourcing local ingredients when possible and using traditional processes to produce their liquors. And it’s worked. The success of his labors has quickly allowed Chris to place Berkshire Mountain spirits in stores and bars throughout New England and New York.

Chris came to his present line of work by way of a hospital emergency room. Sixteen years as an E.R. physician’s assistant in Oakland, California, was stress enough to cause him to seek a more peaceful way of life. His love of spirits became the inspiration for a new career back home on the East Coast near his family. While farm hunting, Chris stumbled across a property on a hilly perch in the shadow of the Appalachian Trail, replete with its own natural spring and 500 apple trees. He quickly decided that this was the spot for his dream.

Since then, Chris’ hope of turning apples into brandy has been slow in developing (the trees need more work to get to the point of production), but in the meantime he has used his biochemistry background to create four distinct spirits with the property’s famed spring water, first recognized for its purity and medicinal qualities over 100 years ago. All have names that celebrate local western Massachusetts haunts and are prepared following traditional methods. There are two gins: The Greylock is a London-style dry—clean and simple—and the Ethereal is a wildly aromatic concoction flavored with 13 botanicals (as opposed to the Greylock’s eight). The gins’ distinct flavors are developed the old-fashioned way, by packing a gin head (a basket that functions something like a giant tea bag) with botanicals so they gently infuse the liquor with their essence. Aging in Kentucky bourbon oak barrels powers the easy drinking Ragged Mountain rum, while Ice Glen vodka owes its clean flavor to a charcoal filtering process. To best appreciate Berkshire Mountain’s spirits, you can drink them on the rocks or with tonic, though Chris likes mixing it up, too.

Chris is still working on growing his distribution, a complicated process in the competitive world of spirits. You can find a list of regional restaurants and liquor stores that carries his products on his website, berkshiremountaindistillers.com, or purchase them online at www.drinkupny.com (800-658-8149). Like the spirits themselves, this may take a little extra work, but it will be amply rewarded.