Some Kind of Brew
Glass Bottom Brewery—an adventure in every swig of beer
Evan Williams samples one of Glass Bottom’s unusual brews.
Photos by Scott Barrow
Some beers are a personal adventure, a journey to unknown lands. For brewer Ezra Bloom and farmer/business manager Evan Williams, who combine local agriculture with craft beer-making, that journey means a heightened taste sensation—which is exactly what Glass Bottom Brewery in Lee is aiming for. From Parsnippity, which is brewed with parsnips, to its flagship beer, TeaSB, which features Earl Grey tea as a main ingredient, Glass Bottom offers a unique take on what a beer can be—even if it sounds a little crazy.
Partners Bloom and Williams went to school together in Belmont, Massachusetts, before heading off to different colleges. Williams, a psychology major, became part of the volunteer staff at Gould Farm in Monterey, a renowned residential community. But he soon found himself working in the agriculture program. It changed his life.
“That’s when I really started to fall in love with small farms, small business, small community ideas that the Berkshires perpetuates more than other places where I’ve spent time,” Williams says. He and Bloom reconnected and discovered they shared similar passions. The idea was to combine a farm and brewery and use local ingredients, particularly hops, whenever possible. The two opened the brewery in January 2012.
Glass Bottom Brewery, considered a nanobrewery, produces less than 100 gallons of beer at a time. Bloom and Williams operate the brewery as well as a tap room in Lee for weekend tastings, plus a farm in Great Barrington, home to a couple hundred pounds of hops harvested in late summer. American hops have been the most successful for him to grow in this Berkshire climate. He names Cascade, with a hint of grapefruit like that found in American Pale Ales, as his best crop, followed by the spicier Chinook. Both are in brews like Prairie Whale Cask Ale, a hybrid of American and English ale.
“All these American hops are IPA kind of hops,” Williams says. “They’re going to have a large bitterness. Alpha acids provide bitterness, so you’re going to use them earlier on in the boiling process to soak all the bitterness out of them. Or you’re going to use them very late in the process to provide that big floral nose.”
Glass Bottom is always searching for unusual flavors, not just so their beers stand out, but to reflect what Williams describes as the “eclectic palate” of the Berkshires. “Bitter or astringent flavors are going to be better for beer than sweet flavors,” he notes.
Finding intriguing bittering agents beyond hops is a big part of the experimentation. One such discovery came from dandelions, which is used in the brewery’s Lawnmower Ale, and nettles, which is used as part of the brewery’s Invasive Species special. And, of course, there’s Parsnippity. “The parsnips add a country-wine taste,” says Williams, “because of the fact that parsnip wine is a staple of old backwoods winemaking and brewing. Parsnippity is a weird one for sure. It’s not exactly what you’re expecting, but people really appreciate that.”
Not every experiment is successful. Garlic Porter, Williams recalls, was a brew he and Bloom liked a lot but didn’t see as marketable. With something like the Lawnmower Ale, Williams acknowledges people’s enlightened perception of the benefits of the lowly dandelion, and the ale is a way of recognizing that. Glass Bottom also pays tribute to the Appalachian Trail with its Trail Magic brown ale, which includes chocolate and nut flavors for an ersatz liquid trail-mix taste.
Sometimes a brew is a happy accident, as with the Limited Edition Lager. Typically, Glass Bottom doesn’t make lagers because of the longer fermentation time and, most important, the colder temperatures required. One February, the brewery’s landlord kept the heat in the warehouse at 48 degrees. Bloom and Williams recognized that the cold was a gift—48 degrees is the ideal temperature to brew lager. And this lager utilizes blue corn, a classic New England crop, in the brewing process.
“I do get emails, especially from people in the Berkshires, that ask, ‘Can you guys just make regular beer?’” Williams admits. “I’m not offended at all. I understand completely. But we can’t make a standard IPA. We have to make our IPA an interesting IPA.”