The indispensable tool for the Massachusetts adult beverage trade.

Single Blog Title

This is a single blog caption


There’s an old saying: When life gives you apples, make apple brandy. Ok, maybe that’s not exactly how it goes but for Chris Weld, there’s a certain irony to it. When Chris and his family moved from California to the Berkshires eighteen years ago, they bought a farm with an old apple orchard on it. Ready for a change of pace from his high-stress job as a physician’s assistant in a busy ER, Chris decided to capitalize on the abundance of apples and go into the distilling business making apple brandy. As it happens, that particular endeavor was a bit short-lived but Chris soon envisioned another niche, one he has been able to expand on with great success. In 2OO7 he launched Berkshire Mountain Distillers, becoming one of the earliest craft distillers in the state. But . . . as any small business owner knows, the idea is the easy part. The real work comes after the lightbulb moment.

Starting off with a vodka, a rum and a gin, Chris slowly established his brand focusing on small-batch, sustainably produced spirits. Over time the portfolio has grown, as has the company’s reputation. With Chris at the helm, Berkshire Mountain Distillers has been at the forefront of the New England craft distilling movement, one that has seen consistent growth over the past fifteen years. Today the multi-award-winning portfolio includes a diverse range of spirits, bitters and limited-release collaborations. Additionally, BMD has continued to evolve, constantly pushing the bounds of creativity and experimentation. The business is also firmly rooted in the Berkshires and very involved in the surrounding community. I caught up with Chris recently to find out what he’s been up to. From new releases to RTDs to an innovative cocktail program, “busy” is an understatement! Apple brandy may not have been Chris’s destiny, but you know, life has a funny way of coming full circle. Keep your eyes out . . .

MAIA GOSSELIN Craft distilling wasn’t your first career. How did you make the leap from working as a physician’s assistant to distilling craft spirits? What drew you to the Berkshires and inspired you to pursue a vocation in this business?
CHRIS WELD I think that shortly after arriving in the Berkshires I hit my expiration date in regard to working in the Emergency Department. It had been a solid 15 years, much of it in the inner city — the so-called” knife and gun club” departments. When my family and I moved to the Berkshires we ended up on a wonderful, albeit somewhat neglected, apple farm that fortunately for BMD’s spirits has a historic granite-based spring on it. I was ready for a career change, so I thought Distillery/Calvados (apple brandy), who wouldn’t? Setting up a distillery was a good amalgamation of many of my interests; science, farming, construction, drinking . . . besides, a nice cold G & T somehow seemed more appealing than more knife wounds, fractures and overdoses.

MG You began your endeavor 15 years ago by making apple brandy. How have you transitioned from that to your current lineup of spirits? Where do you see your current growth headed?
CW Truth be told, shortly after being granted my DSP (distilled spirits plant) by the federal government I realized that I would never make a living selling apple brandy, at least in this country. Not to mention that the apples that I had inherited were early-season apples that were a tad too sweet and did not produce the best quality cider from which to make the brandy. Over the last fifteen years, I have “top worked” (grafted) many of the trees, coaxing them to produce more traditional cider varietals. Hopefully, we will be putting out some great apple brandy soon. Since that first batch of brandy, we have produced Ice Glen Vodka, Greylock Gin, Ragged Mountain Rum, Ethereal Gin, Berkshire Bourbon, Ragged Mountain Rum, New England Corn Whiskey and over a dozen other unique whiskeys through our Craft Brewers Whiskey Project where we partnered with 12 brewers across the Northeast. Be sure to check ‘em out. In terms of future growth, I imagine that will come through the release of more great spirits — and some surprises that will soon be revealed.

MG You are the proverbial chief cook and bottlewasher at BMD…what does an average day for you entail?
CW I typically finish the bon bons by 1O am and then get a massage or two before brunch . . . well . . . emails usually by 6 am, monthly excise tax reports, sales, R&D, tasting products before they hit the market, working with distributors plus tackling countless other mundane tasks that go along with running a business – then typically the SHTF. I am truly fortunate to have a stellar team at the distillery — I definitely do not tell them that enough. They are the ones who keep the wheels on.

MG You have undertaken an ambitious Craft Brewers Whiskey Project doing whiskey collaborations with New England craft breweries. Can you elaborate on this experience . . . what was the genesis for it? Will it continue?
CW It’s funny, we released twelve new (five-year-old) whiskies in 12 calendar months — not sure that anyone has done that before — but I am constantly asked: “So what do you have coming out that is new?” There are some of the older whiskey makers who have only put out two whiskeys in over a hundred years. The project was a bit like herding chickens —  just in terms of getting all of the brewers (a great group of brewers, I might add) to commit to the project. The impetus was based on the fact that there is a good deal of cross-pollination between beer and whiskey drinkers, so why not take advantage of that. All of the whiskies in the series have an uncanny genetic resemblance to the beers from whence they came. Yes, we are continuing the project with many of the original brewers, as well as some yet-to-be-disclosed new ones.

MG Summer is right around the corner! Last year you launched a Cultural Cocktails program in the Berkshires. What did this entail and will you be running it again this summer?
CW Cultural Cocktails was a marketing idea thought up by my marketing team (Angela Cardinali). It pays homage to the cultural institutions of the Berkshires, of which there are many. In the spirit of “a rising tide floats all boats,” the program utilizes the synergy between the world-class cultural institutions and local bars and restaurants to draw attention to the region (and beyond). Each cultural organization partner, of which there were 15 (to celebrate BMD’s 15th anniversary), had a drink named after it and the drinks were then featured at local venues and events, bars and restaurants. All participants were our marketing partners in promoting the campaign through various communication channels including social media. The audience reach in year one was really quite staggering. This year, we are hoping for a few more cultural organization partners as well as a significant increase in hospitality partner participation to keep the momentum going.

MG At 15 going on 16 you are a well-established and respected brand in the craft industry when many others have not stood the test of time. To what do you credit your longevity and success?
CW Stubbornness and working too much. Well, some of that . . . and I feel we try incredibly hard to build and cultivate positive relationships in our community and the industry at large. Our goal is to not to burn any bridges — whether with accounts, distributors or suppliers. And, especially, by putting out spirits that we are very proud to have our name on. Back to the apple brandy from the first question — we are still sitting on a pallet of seven-year-old brandy that we are not selling because it is just not up to snuff. I do feel fortunate to have had such wonderful support along the way, and to have made it these soon-to-be 16 years in business in the Berkshires.

MG However, the market is certainly more crowded today than it was back in 2OO7. How has BMD adapted to stay so successful (aside from producing a top-tier portfolio of course!)?
CW Again, quality is paramount. It is truly difficult staying relevant as a craft distiller. We do not have the marketing resources to drive our brands forward in a way that the bigger brands do, so we get creative in our campaigns and marketing efforts to reach a new audience and build on our success to keep BMD fans coming back for more. We rely on good juice in the bottle — and getting people to taste it. A huge thank you to all BMD fans and accounts who have supported us along the way!

MG How has craft distilling changed, for better or for worse, since you got into the game? What’s your take on the current state of the New England (and beyond) industry?
CW Well, for starters in 2OO7, there were approximately 5O craft distillers in the country. There are now well over 2,OOO. I believe the craft industry has matured nicely, with distillers across the country producing an incredibly wide array of spirits — pushing the envelope in terms of production techniques as well as the sourcing of some exceptional raw materials. Certainly not every new spirit is a winner, but I am constantly and pleasantly surprised with the diversity and quality of spirits that my co-evils are putting out.

MG Any fun or interesting trends you are seeing at the moment?
CW Yep, I am trying to get out fishing a bit more. (Sorry, I read that as, am I having any fun . . .) I would have to say that tweaks in manufacturing processes, specifically those that are driven by a desire to be more sustainable, are the ones that interest me the most. Recycling hot water (BMD does this for the next mash and to heat our buildings), composting, solar and sourcing sustainable/organic base materials. RTDs are obviously doing well and we are excited to be jumping back into that market after a premature launch about a decade ago.

MG I always like to hear how companies pivoted during Covid. Were there any innovations you implemented and if so, have you stuck with them? Any that didn’t work?
CW As soon as the Feds gave the green light, we pivoted to producing hand sanitizer and, thankfully, we were able to sell it through the distillery. We were fortunate to give a great deal of it away to agencies supporting our communities as well — the entire EMS/PD community of the Berkshires and the FBI. (For real, they drove out from Boston.) This production shift also allowed us to hire a few folks from the restaurant industry until their places of work reopened. Many people left the cities to move to the Berkshires full-time so we had a nice increase in visitors to our distillery. This growth spurt motivated us to get our outdoor spaces finished — we added a shaded pavilion, a shed for musicians to perform, more outside seating and an outdoor cocktail bar — all great customer experience additions to our tasting room, production facility and retail shop. Sheffield has become quite the destination for visitors. In addition to the distillery, we are home to a local brewery and winery — both with tasting rooms, a ukulele factory and store, and a dispensary where they grow local craft cannabis on-site.

MG What do you love most about your job?
CW It keeps me out of trouble, for the most part. Also, I love being able to wear many hats and work in an industry that blends my most favorite interests — science, farming, cocktails and community.

MG And finally, if you can pick just one…what’s your favorite drink to enjoy at the end of your day?
CW Unless I come up with a drink with tooooo many spirits in it, that question is akin to asking me which is my favorite kid. But, since you twisted my arm…when the leaves are on the trees, a G&T with one of BMD’s Ethereal Gins, and when they are off, whiskey on the rocks (lately one of our Craft Brewers whiskies.)