The governor bellies up to the bar to become the first customer to purchase a cocktail from the distillery — thanks to new legislation making that possible.
SHEFFIELD, Mass. — Twelve years ago Chris Weld had grown tired of his work in emergency rooms. So, he moved back to Massachusetts and bought an apple farm.
With all of the products he needed right on site, Weld started to distill. He makes whiskeys, gins, vodkas and other spirits. In 2007, he turned it into a business — Berkshire Mountain Disillers. The company began to grow and two years ago he opened a tasting room and store along with a new distillery. He now employs eight people and ships his products to some 19 states.
"It is a small mom and pop business and we are growing organically. It's taken us this long to get our feet underneath us but we're getting a lot of recognition for the work we do," Weld said.
One of those bottles found its way to Gov. Charlie Baker. Just a month or so ago he was at a friend's house when he discovered the bottle and decided he wanted to visit.
"I had literally been at a friend's house a few months ago and they had the vodka and gin at their house. I said jeeze, I haven't heard of those guys so I'll have to make a note that if I am out in the area, I'd pay them a visit. I figured I was in Springfield and I was going to Taconic, I could just swing by and check out how these folks are doing," Baker said. "It also happens to be coming on the heels of the legislation we signed to make it possible for craft distillers and brewers and others to have open tables."
On Thursday, he made that visit and toured the facility with Weld, who showed him the ins and outs of how to distill the spirits and even put Baker to work bottling.
"The most interesting part about this is the mixing and measuring of a whole variety of ingredients to make the projects. There is a lot of thought that goes into how he builds his products and how he thinks about it," Baker said.
Baker became the first customer of Weld to have a full cocktail at the distillery. Previously, the company's license only allowed for tastings and retail and didn't allow for table service. But that changed with the passing of the economic development bill Baker signed just two weeks ago.
"Recently, Massachusetts passed a law that is a farm distillers pouring license that allows you to actually sell cocktails," Weld said. "Starting the week after Labor Day, on Thursday and Friday nights we will be open from 5 to 7ish selling cocktails. It is going to be a short window, people are going to come in and can buy a cocktail with their spirits and then we'll farm them off to local restaurants to eat."
Being able to pour cocktails on site may seem like a small thing but for Weld it gives him an opportunity to tackle his biggest competitive disadvantage.
"For us, the industry is still dominated by the larger distillers. The Diageos of the world. It is very tough to compete in that arena. We don't have the marketing dollars they do. What we do have is a wonderful product. For us, the biggest problem we have is getting our product out for people to try. So for them to have the opportunity to come in and actually have a cocktail with it and try it, then they will see it is something special and bring home a bottle or tell their friends," Weld said.
Craft distillery, wineries, and breweries have been a growing industry in Massachusetts. Weld said when he first received the farm distillery license he was just the fourth in the state. When he moved locations to Route 7, he reapplied and was the 21st. All across the state craft companies are popping up and Baker said part of his visit Thursday was to highlight and celebrate that industry.
Chris Weld, on the right, led Baker on a tour through the distillery.
"We have an extraordinary number of craft brewers of all kind of things. We have craft wineries. We have craft distilleries. We have craft breweries, we have two of the originals in Sam Adams and Harpoon. They are literally dotted all over Massachusetts and what I love about them is that it is local grown, local employment, local consumers for the most part. It is a wonderful example of creating value and product that never leaves the neighborhood," Baker said.
Baker said places like Berkshire Mountain Distillers help nearby companies as well by being an attraction. Customers will stop in at the distillery and them are leave to eat a local restaurants or shop elsewhere.
Weld referred to that local influx of business the "local multiplier effect."
"There is something to be said about looking after your own back yard. But supporting local and buying locally and regionally it helps take advantage of what's called the local multiplier effect, which dictates that for every dollar you spend in your community, you would have to spend $3 at a business that wasn't owned locally in terms of infusing the same amount of revenue into the local stream," Weld said.
Weld added that it isn't simply shopping locally, but also providing a quality product. And he prides himself on the craft work he's doing — included being ranked by The New York Times has having the best craft gin.
Prior to touring Berkshire Mountain Distillers, Baker participated in the topping off ceremony of the rail car manufacturing plant in Springfield and afterward the tour went to Taconic High School to meet with county educational leaders.
What Baker didn't realized ahead of time was that Chris Weld and he have something in common — William Weld. Chris Weld is the nephew of the former governor whom Baker had worked under.
"I didn't even know it was owned by a guy who is related to my former boss, Gov. Weld. I found that out by accident," Baker said.
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