It all started when...
The story of Bear and Bramble begins long before I ever started thinking about brewing. As a young boy growing up in rural western New England I learned early about the beauty of the outdoors and the bounty that it could deliver. In the early summer evenings, my mother would lead an expedition down the road and along the power lines where she, my brother and I would pick red and black raspberries growing wild or long forgotten at the edge of the forest. Reaching for the big berries that were almost out of reach often resulted in the brambles leaving scratches on my arms. The syrup that Mom whipped up from our little harvest is <still> the most amazing topping on vanilla ice cream or Sunday morning pancakes and certainly made the scratches and occasional case of poison ivy worth it. I helped my mom in the garden and learned the rhythm of the seasons, but the harvest that I looked forward to the most every year were those berries.
I had a couple of uncles who dabbled in home brewing, but I never had the chance to taste the beer they made. When I got a little older a friend let me taste a beer that his older brother had made. That night changed everything. I got my hands on Charlie Papazian’s “The Joy of Homebrewing,” and tore through that book reading about beer styles that I didn’t even know existed. When I arrived at the section on mead (honey wine). I saw a recipe for a raspberry melomel (berry mead), made the connection to my love for the black raspberries, and fireworks went off.
While I explored brewing different styles of ales, I loved the way that first black raspberry melomel came out, and I brewed that same recipe every year while I could get those berries. I even talked my parents into letting me plant a bunch of black raspberries in the back yard. It was a “career.” I put raspberries in lots of my recipes. I made a few red raspberry stouts, a black raspberry barleywine (I can’t wait to brew that on a larger scale), and at my mother’s request, I made a black raspberry cream ale. I loved them all.
Around that same time, I found myself at The Eastern States Exposition (The Big E) talking to some beekeepers in the Massachusetts building. The next thing I knew, my then girlfriend, now wife and I were taking a beekeeping class. That spring we bought bees, two hives, and won a third hive in a lottery held at the end of the beekeeping class. We placed those hives in the berry patch at my parents’ house. We had a little bit of success that first year and with the bees pollinating the brambles, we had more berries than ever before. We didn’t get enough honey to make more than a couple of batches of mead, but that fresh honey was fantastic.
As I continued to read and learn about the world of beer, I found myself increasingly interested in the traditions, practices, and styles of beer from Belgium. I remember my first sip of Chimay Red Label, the first time I tasted a lambic from Cantillon, and my first bottle of saison from Brewery Fantome. Each of the experiences tasted like magic. I was particularly enchanted by saisons, both for their flavors and the story of how they came to be. Traditionally speaking, saisons were beers brewed on French and Belgian farms during the quieter winter season. The beers were made from ingredients available on the farm or through local trade. The beers were then produced as a commodity for sale, payment, or in trade for services to the farm. The style was dependent on what was available locally and yet diverse in interpretation. In this way, I thought that it was the best way for beer to express terroir, an idea previously held only by vintners
One afternoon the second year of keeping bees, we encountered a bear while we were working the berry patch. I remember jumping around, yelling, and waving my hands like a madman trying to scare him away. The next day I was devastated when I found that my hives had been knocked over and torn apart by a black bear. Over the next couple of years we were heartbroken over and over when we would find our hives ravaged by black bears.We decided to rest our dreams of beekeeping and get back to the business of brewing beer,
John and I met at our day jobs, and found an instant camaraderie in our passion for American and Belgian craft beer. It wasn't long before we decided to start brewing together. We shared an interest in the locavore movement, community supported agriculture, and the natural progression to a farm to glass philosophy. We love the idea of using locally grown and malted grains and venturing to the Farmers Market to see what fresh local ingredients might inspire our brewing. Our ultimate vision is a farm where we can grow our own brewing ingredients. We imagine an orchard with cherries, peaches, apples and we will most certainly have a bramble yard where we grow red and black raspberries, blueberries, and strawberries. We will keep bees for our own honey and hope the bears stay away.
In the meantime, we are gentleman farmers practicing our brewing craft on weekends and nights while we support our families with our day jobs, build our business, and establish relationships with the valley's finest farms, restaurants, beer shops, and beer bars. We will not forget the muse that is the bramble, and we will always keep our eyes out for our nemesis, those pesky black bears. Please keep your eyes open looking for Bear and Bramble beers and ask for them at your favorite bars, bottle shops, and restaurants.