In the town of Dalton, the building known as The Stationery Factory has a history that dates back to a time when industrial factories ruled the day and could be found up and down the Housatonic River.
With those days of industry now a thing of the past, the building currently houses over 20 individual businesses, including one that could be looked at as something of a modern-day assembly line.
Connecting Point’s Brian Sullivan paid a visit to the Shire Breu-Hous – a craft brewery, restaurant, and taproom located in the building – and brings us the story.
Watch a feature on the workers of the Shire Breu-Hous.
This story originally aired on January 20, 2022.
Read the full transcript:
Tony Dunne, Connecting Point: In the Berkshire county town of Dalton, the building, known as the Stationery Factory, has a history that dates back to a time when industrial mills could be found up and down the Housatonic River and ruled the day.
Like so many other mill buildings, it’s been repurposed now and houses over 20 individual businesses, including a craft brewery and restaurant that could be looked at as a modern day assembly line of a different kind.
Connecting Point’s Brian Sullivan paid a visit to the Shire Breu-Hous and brings us the story.
Brian Sullivan, Connecting Point: The central Berkshires town of Dalton, Massachusetts, is a place that roughly 6,500 people call home. It’s where one kid grew up to win a World Series, make the All-Stars for his hometown Boston Red Sox, and have a sports complex named after him.
Like many towns out this way, the Housatonic River lives here, too, carving through the landscape past old mill buildings like this one. It’s also where the United States gets its currency paper from. And not too long ago, Crane and Co. had a stationery division here at 63 Flansburg Ave.
It may not be the paper factory it once was, but the building now houses over 20 businesses, some of them miniature factories in their own right. Here at the Shire Breu-Hous, there’s a brew underway before the sun has made its first appearance of the day, and that’s par for the course in the life of a beer maker.
Nick Whalen, Shire Breu-Hous: A typical brew day is eight to ten hours, all told, from start to finish. So, depending on how much cellar work we do afterwards, typically we’ll mash in early in the morning around 6, 6:30.
And then we’ll typically finish around one o’clock in the afternoon. And then we then we cleaned the brewhouse after that. And then there’s other things that we might be doing during the day.
Brian Sullivan: Shire Breu-Hous is the brainchild of co-owners Nick Whalen and childhood friend Andrew Crane, who opened the doors to this 8,000-square-foot basement brewery restaurant in the summer of 2017.
The place certainly looks to be in tip top condition now. That’s thanks in no small part to brew team member Mark Geibel, who was tasked with the carpentry work to make it look this way, before it became the brewhouse and before he was one of the brewers.
Mark Geibel, Shire Breu-Hous: The first time I saw this space, it was full of heavy equipment, industrial machinery, forklifts, old pumps, and it was basically a general storage area. So, my first tasks down here were to clean up the space to maybe attract a tenant such as ourselves now.
Brian Sullivan: The team here may be small, but it’s a solid, hardworking unit and they seem to really enjoy what they do.
Mark Geibel: It’s fun. We like to come to come to work. We know we have each other’s backs and…it’s fun to learn every day as well. We take taking everything we get from each other and other brewers.
And you know, it’s it’s a culinary and science experiment on a daily basis, and we have fun with it.
Brian Sullivan: It even looks like a giant science experiment. And they use language to describe what they’re doing that’s not often heard in the outside world. But the one part that an outsider like me can understand is, when they get rid of these spent grains.
This happens when most of the sugars, proteins and nutrients have been extracted from the malt during the mash. And the circle of life continues as the spent grains are then placed in these barrels and left upstairs for the local farmers to pick up and reuse.
Now, these guys might be done with this portion of the brewing process, but today is really considered day zero. Next up is the fermentation process, and that will probably take about two weeks before they can start putting it into barrels and cans. Luckily, they’ve got plenty of those barrels in stock, so they can have 12 on tap here at the bar.
But those taps wouldn’t start pouring until at least 4:30 in the afternoon when the restaurant opens. Prior to Covid, the brew crew also ran the restaurant end of things. The closures of 2020 gave them some time to rethink how to operate both ends of the business.
Enter Berkshire Culinary Group and chef Matt Motter with a solution.
Matt Motter, Berkshire Culinary Group: Restaurants and breweries are both twenty four hour jobs. You can’t really do both. It’s just — there’s just not enough hours in a day, not enough personnel to be focused on one thing or the other.
The Shire Brue-Hous seemed like a good opportunity to come in and say, “Guys, let me be your chef so that you can concentrate on making amazing beer, and I’m going to use that beer to compliment the food and cook with it.”
Brian Sullivan: Unlike other reclamation projects like this one, this operation isn’t being run by some out-of-state absentee landlord investor. Everyone involved is from within a three town radius. Chef Motter’s parents used to work in this building in the 1980s and 90s. Coming from Pittsfield, Nick Whalen is the proverbial local-boy-makes-good.
But to speak with him, it’s almost as if he hasn’t taken the time to realize what he’s accomplished so far.
Nick Whalen: It’s been go, go, go for five — four or five years now, and then, you know, it’s you don’t really have a lot of time to reflect on it. We worked really hard to get to this point where we’re still in business and making better beer than we’ve ever made.
So, I really just want people to have a nice beer and some nice food with a good company. And that’s really it. It’s very simple: good food, good drink, and good friends.