Glass Bottom Brewery: See the Farm in Every Bottle
You would not be the only one perplexed over the 25-foot-tall logs supported by cables sticking from the ground on Route 41 in between Great Barrington and Housatonic. When I first drove past, I thought it could be an art installation, a frame for a building or even a model of an ancient calendar.
The last thing I would have suspected was the growing of hops, an ingredient for beer. The hop yard is at an early stage for Evan Williams and Ezra Bloom, who started Glass Bottom Brewery with a mission to grow and work with local ingredients to inspire their traditional and creative beers.
Evan and Ezra started Glass Bottom Brewery around 2008, fueled by their mutual admiration for craft beer. In the early days, Ezra experimented with brewing his own beer using a meager aluminum pot and a few gadgets over his kitchen stove while Evan passionately pursued learning about sustainable agriculture. Starting their own business perfectly suited Evan’s desire to create a value-added product from an agricultural product and Ezra’s desire to craft a beer using locally grown ingredients. Humulus lupulus, better known as hops, is a plant in the cannabis family. While hops do not produce the mindaltering effects of their cannabis cousin marijuana, they are considered to offer health benefits such as antioxidants, anti-inflammatory properties and natural sedative aids. The most common use of hops is, undoubtedly, to flavor beer. Considered an herb, hops are added in the brewing process to impart a characteristic bitter flavor to an otherwise malty or less complex fermented beverage. This is why some beers that portray excessive bitter qualities are referred to as being “hoppy.”
It only made sense to Evan to grow hops and turn them into beer. Although hops do not commonly grow in the Northeast, there was a period during the time of Colonial America when hops were grown widely in our region. During Prohibition, all hop plants were uprooted since they no longer were thought to be of any value or purpose.
In Tyringham there is a Hop Brook Road, which is said to have once hosted several hop farms. Once factory farming was introduced some 20 years later, large flat areas in the western United States, most notably Oregon and Washington, were more desirable for mass production. Interest in hop farms in the East is increasing due to market interest and growing desire to use locally grown ingredients. While Evan and Ezra have no immediate plans to produce massive amounts of beer, a small hop farm or yard is all they need to adhere to their sustainable, more economical and local need.
Hops are climbing plants, which means they need a structure or apparatus to support them such as a wall, trellis or beam. Once the hops grow as tall as they can, they start to flower—starting from the top of the plant and moving downward. The small cones or flower buds are picked, dried and used in the beer.
Evan chose the structure of beams and cables based on a model he saw while visiting a farm in the Pioneer Valley, Massachusetts. Wires string across the poles almost like telephone poles. The vines will grow up twine to the wires, where they then will hang to grow the buds or cones. Once the buds or cones grow they will need to be cut down (not an easy task, seeing how each vine can weigh 40 or so pounds) and picked off the cones. Picking the small hops off 20-foot vines can be extremely tedious and laborious, so Evan hopes to get some of the community together for an event to really share the fruits of the labor (and hopefully share some beer). The hops will then be dried, packaged and stored.
The name Glass Bottom Brewery plays significantly in Evan and Ezra’s passion for stories and meaning behind the ingredients and labor. Ezra explains the name derived from the notion of a glass-bottomed boat. From the surface the boat sits on the flat plane of the ocean with not a lot going on but the glass bottom reveals vast life. “I wanted the name to capture what’s going on inside the brewery and all the way back to the ingredients,” Ezra says. Evan simplifies that thought: “See the farm in every bottle.”
Note: Although Glass Bottom Brewery has yet to work out legal issues and licenses required to sell their beer, they are on their way. Edible Berkshires will follow their progress.
Austin Banach, a native of Great Barrington, has cooked at several restaurants in the Berkshires, and draws on this experience to flavor his freelance writing. AustinBanach.com