High-alcohol seasonal ales are also a hit at Barrington Brewery in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, where the limited-edition, 9 to 12 percent ABV Yule Fuel is available the day after Thanksgiving and gone by New Year’s Eve, even with a similar limit at the bar. “I actually think two pints is too much,” admits co-owner Gary Happ, who founded the popular downtown Great Barrington watering hole 20 Railroad Street in 1977, before opening the region’s first brewpub. “We’ve educated people about the Yule Fuel, and people have come to respect it. People come from all over to buy it.”
Education seems to be part of the brew-pub business; both Brew Works and Barrington Brewery have faced customers put off by the absence of their regular pour. “They’d come for dinner and leave because they couldn’t have a Bud Light,” recounts Christine, who now courts the discontent by letting them taste-test brews. “We learned to automatically offer samples.” Adds Bill, “As long as people don’t have to commit to it financially, they’ll give it a try. It gets people to expand their horizons.” Happ’s business partner and brewmeister Andrew Mankin describes similar resistance when Barrington Brewery first opened, noting that his Blond Ale “… usually satisfies the Budweiser drinkers. We’ve converted a lot of people over the years.”
Mankin was a regular at 20 Railroad Street during Happ’s tenure. When Happ sold it in 1993, therestaurateur thought he would get “a regular job,” but he was still figuring out what that might be when a friend told him he should open a brewpub. He remembered hearing the same thing from Mankin, an avid home-brewer. “That was in the late eighties,” recalls Happ. “I didn’t know what a brewpub was.” But in the mid-1990s, the idea seemed right, so Happ tracked down Mankin’s phone number and paid him a visit. “I went to his house on a Sunday afternoon,” recounts Happ, who was stunned to find Mankin’s kitchen overrun with brewing equipment. “He poured me a pale ale, and it was the best pale ale I’d ever tasted. Then he poured me a brown ale, which was the best brown ale I’d ever tasted. We ended the night with a ten-ounce stout.”
Mankin remembers. “We really didn’t know each other that well,” he recalls, but that evening, “… he realized that I did know what I was talking about.” Justifiably so: after Mankin’s sister gave him a home-brewing kit while he was in college, he further honed his skills in 1988 during a five-month apprenticeship at Vaux, a major brewery in northeastern England. “That sent me over the edge,” Mankin says.
That evening, the pair realized they had a winning recipe. “Andrew made great beer, and I had run a restaurant,” says Happ. “We started to put together the idea of opening a brewpub.” They opened Barrington Brewery in May 1995, with several of Happ’s former employees from 20 Railroad Street on staff. During the warm months, guests dine in either the rustic, barnlike interior or in the beer garden, a pleasant outdoor courtyard, where vines of hops lace the brewery’s exterior walls. In September, the homegrown hops are harvested and used in Mankin’s English Ale, one of about twenty different styles of beer on tap throughout the year.
Happ and Mankin have gone greener than just using local ingredients; Barrington Brewery boasts the largest solar hot water system in western Massachusetts, powered by thirty solar panels on the roof. Thus far, harnessing the sun to heat water for brewing, cooking, and cleaning saves about $350 per month, which translates to a financial payback of about twelve more years, at today’s energy prices. Regardless, “It was the right thing to do,” Happ says. “If we’re going to talk the talk, we’re going to walk the walk.” Adds Mankin, “You have to look at the big picture. At some point you have to put your money where your mouth is. So now we have solar-brewed beer.”