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Soup Jazz Sunday Takes a Field Trip: Berkshire Brewing Company Tour!

Most weekends, Emily Eagan gets together with her loved ones to cook a big pot of soup and listen to music. Lucky for us, she shares the resulting recipe and playlist, Soup Jazz Sunday, with HOMEGROWN. Stay tuned for another helping!

Turning 21 last year was a significant milestone, in part because it threw open the doors of a magnificent local microbrewery to me. Finally! I had been wanting to visit Berkshire Brewing Company—just 15 minutes from my home in Hadley, Massachusetts—forever, and on a recent sunny Saturday, I got my wish. Along with my sister, Brenna, her boyfriend, Jake (the stars of Soup Jazz Sunday!), my boyfriend, Eric, and my mother (the co-owner of Judie’s Restaurant, where you’ll always find Steel Rail on tap), I headed to the brewery for a tour.

The bright idea for this Pioneer Valley institution was born back in 1992 (before I was!), from the brains of Chris Lalli and Gary Bogoff. With aspirations for the brewer life as their inspiration, the two craftsmen set out on a three-year timeline of planning, testing, and searching before settling down in an old cigar factory in historic South Deerfield, Massachusetts. Following renovations and securing the proper licenses, Berkshire Brewing Company began brewing the quality ales we know and love today.

Our tour began in the Dick Schatz Tap Room: a small, cozy bar outfitted with bright neon signs and a chalkboard menu of what was on tap to taste that day. Now, while locals and beyond can’t get enough of BBC’s Steel Rail Extra Pale Ale, I decided to branch out and try the seasonal Raspberry Barley Wine-Style Ale: a ruby-hued, luscious, sweet-tart ale, brewed with a generous heap of local raspberries from a farm just a couple of miles down the road.

We sipped our samples as we followed the tour throughout the brewery. Stop number 1: the grain room. BBC’s grain silo holds 65,000 pounds of pale malt. The grist case (pictured) holds enough milled grain for one batch of beer. We were able to taste the grain at various stages of toasting and we all enjoyed the flavor!


Next, on to the brew house. This room hosts a variety of complex-looking machines, each with a specific task in giving the beer its signature flavor. There’s the hydrator, which mixes the grain with hot water, and the mash tun, an insulated vessel outfitted with a rake that holds the mash (a grain and water mixture) at a specific temperature. All 775 gallons of wort boils for 75 minutes in a huge kettle; during this time, the hops are added and the wort is sterilized. This process is fired by a 475,000 BTU natural gas burner.

 

BBC’s ales ferment in the fermentation room tanks at 70 degrees for about six days; lagers ferment at 54 degrees for about two weeks. We learned that, at the top of a fermenting beer, you’ll find krausen, or yeast. Yeast converts the sugars in the wort into alcohol and carbon dioxide. (And yes, we tasted that, too!) After the fermentation process, the krausen is skimmed off the top to be used in another batch of beer.

 

One trip to the taproom later, and I had in hand what is possibly my favorite brew from BBC: the Nitro Coffeehouse Porter, uniquely “nitrogenated” and poured through a special faucet, making it incredibly smooth going down.


Then it was on to packaging and distribution: how all of these beautiful beers travel from warehouse to keg to glass. The automated keg line cleans and fills up to 60 kegs an hour before kegs are moved onto storage pallets for shipping, with help from a pneumatic lift. Kegs are fine and good (scratch that: great!), but what you’ll usually find in our family’s fridge is a 64-ounce growler. The growlers, we learned, are always reused. They’re cleaned in a machine called Charlie and refilled at a rate of about 360 growlers in 35 minutes. BBC brews also come in 22-ounce bottles, which are filled at a rate of 1,080 bottles in 25 minutes on the automatic bottling line. The same machine labels, rinses, fills, caps, and boxes the beer. Oh, yeah, and then there are the cans. The brewery’s recently added canning operation has been a huge success, enabling consumers to crack open easily portable Steel Rail.


Thanks to the folks at BBC for welcoming us on a tour of the brewery! I encourage you guys, my fellow HOMEGROWN types, to embrace your favorite local products—especially local beer. There’s nothing like seeing it get made right in your own backyard! You can locate craft breweries near you at craftbeer.com, and you can find all kinds of other local food, including bounty from family farms near you, on HOMEGROWN’s Find Good Food page. Cheers!

RECIPE: CHEDDAR BEER SOUP


And because you were expecting SOME soup, here’s a recipe for a quick and easy Cheddar Beer Soup that we can’t wait to try!

 

WHAT YOU’LL NEED

  • 2 medium leeks (white and pale green parts only), diced
  • 2 medium carrots, diced
  • 2 celery ribs, diced
  • 2 tsp garlic, minced
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter
  • 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups milk
  • 14 oz vegetable broth
  • 12 oz BBC Steel Rail Extra Pale Ale
  • 1 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tsp dry mustard
  • 1 lb extra-sharp Cheddar (4 cups), grated
  • salt and pepper to taste

WHAT TO DO

Give your leeks a good wash in cold water and drain them in a colander. Cook the leeks, carrots, celery, garlic, and bay leaf in the butter, giving the mixture the occasional stir. Once everything begins to soften, reduce the heat and sprinkle flour over the veggies, and cook for another 2-3 minutes. Add the milk, broth, and beer to the pot, giving it the occasional whisking while it simmers for about 5 minutes. Whisk in the Worcestershire, dry mustard, salt, and pepper. Lastly, add in the grated cheese by the handful, whisking as you go, and not letting the mixture boil. Get that pesky bay leaf out and serve yourself!

MORE EDIBLE GOODNESS

• Still hungry? Get more Soup Jazz Sunday recipe and playlist pairings!

• Check out Growing Hops 101.

• Join the home brew group here on HOMEGROWN!

ALL PHOTOS: EMILY

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