Big Elm Brewing
If you are “fiercely local,” what is the best way to show it? By drinking local beer, of course! At Big Elm Brewing, Bill and Christine Heaton and their co-founders Jen and Russell Jaehnig have set out to make the task of showing your Berkshire pride both easy and delicious.
Founded in Sheffield in 2012, Big Elm beer has fast become a staple in bars, markets, and liquor stores throughout the region. After gaining a strong foothold here over their first three years, the company signed an agreement with the Craft Brewers Guild for statewide distribution in January, which has allowed them to gain, according to Heaton, “really good traction” in the lively Boston craft beer market. And on June 9th they filled their millionth can of beer!
The brewery itself may be young, but for Bill and Christine this is their second joint business venture. The couple owned and operated Pittsfield Brew Works, a brewpub, from 2005 to 2010. While Bill is what he calls a “bootstrap brewer” who learned by doing, Christine is a graduate of Chicago’s prestigious Siebel Institute of Technology. When her resume came across Bill’s desk while he was brew master at Victory Brewing Company he thought, “Wow this is really cool, someone who finally has a diploma. Back when we were starting out,” he explains, “someone with a diploma in brewing was really rare.”
“We make a good team,” Bill says. “Christine is the science and math, and I’m the art person. She’s creating all the recipes and brewing the beer. I come up with names, labels and logos; I get the beer in the cans and kegs, and our team and I get it on the shelves.”
The Heatons proudly identify their business with the craft brewing movement as well as with the local economy movement right here in the Berkshires, embodied by BerkShares. It’s only natural, Bill Heaton argues, that beer should have a special place in the “buy local” movement, since in brewing there is so much room to express local ingredients, reflect regional tastes, and create fresh, flavorful beverages that can blow industrial products out of the water. “There are 4,000 craft brewers in the U.S. now. People think that’s amazing, but it’s the same number as in 1876! These breweries are small, local producers who serve their community. That’s how it used to be – every neighborhood had a brew pub because it was the social hub of your town.”
Big Elm’s line includes their chamomile-infused 413 Belgian Saison, their “boss” IPA, the Gerry Dog Stout, and their summery American Lager, along with seasonal specials. Bill points to the American Lager as an illustration of how Christine’s strong technical training is their not-so-secret weapon. “If you’re making a light lager like that one you have to be technically precise because there is nowhere to hide flaws in your beverage. That’s where Christine is really amazing. When we do a lager, she’s letting her chops shine.”
Big Elm’s slogan, “get back to your roots,” seems to permeate company culture and inform the Heatons’ thinking. “There’s no right or wrong, but to build a really strong community, more often than not you have to make a local choice. BerkShares is a perfect example of keeping money at home. The more we invest in our community, the better future we’re all going to have.” There are still a lot of things we all need to figure out, he admits, but “the go-local movement isn’t going anywhere. We’re ground zero in the Berkshires.”