Great Barrington — Could there possibly be two things more meant for each other?
Even on a cloudy day in the Berkshires, beer and solar power were nonetheless joined in holy matrimony at the Barrington Brewery Restaurant Monday night. And it certainly looks like they’ll be living happily ever after.
As brewery co-owners Gary Happ and Andrew Mankin are quick to point out, the early spring sun that usually shines in the Berkshires is powering more than crocuses and forsythia.
That’s because a spanking new photovoltaic solar power system with 480 panels is supplying a huge chunk of the electricity needs of the brewery and the adjacent Crissey Farm banquet facility.
At an intimate gathering of invited guests and friends Monday at Crissey Farm, the environmentally conscious Happ touted the photovoltaic array, which can be seen on the north side of the restaurant parking lot, as the “crown jewel of our greenness.”
“For a relatively small, local brewery, this installation is a huge investment,” added brewer and co-owner Mankin.
Happ told The Edge the new system cost about $480,000. He guesses, through energy savings, it will pay for itself in roughly five years.
Solar-powered beer has been the order of the day since 2007, when Happ and Mankin put 30 solar panels on a rooftop at the rear of Crissey Farm. Those units help boil water to heat the building and supply the approximately 1,000 gallons of hot water per day that the two buildings use. Those panels also cut the business’ natural gas bills in half.
The new 144-KW solar-electric system will produce 168,000 kilowatt hours annually, providing 85 percent of the business’ electricity needs. According to November 2016 data from the trade association Solar Plaza, this output places Barrington Brewery on the list of the top 20 solar beer breweries in the world, Happ said.
“We are on the front lines of environmental stewardship and forefront of sustainable brewery initiatives,” Mankin boasted.
Barrington has joined other breweries in the U.S. and Europe in signing the Brewery Climate Declaration — “a business call to action that urges policymakers to seize the economic opportunity of tackling climate change,” according to Ceres, the sponsoring organization.
The two men have also employed recycling initiatives, used repurposed materials in their buildings, and fed spent brewing grain to local beef cattle, but this latest project turns their environmental stewardship up a notch.
The Brewery solar array is the latest in a series of projects that have sprung up in Great Barrington alone. There have been several solar projects completed or under construction at various locations, including the former Barrington Fairgrounds, Guido’s Fresh Marketplace, a large lot next to the former Rising Paper mill in Housatonic, and two others in the Vandeusenville section of town.
All of Barrington Brewery’s beer is produced on site, and most is sold at the restaurant, with limited distribution as Berkshire Mountain Brewers in Berkshire County and in western Connecticut.
Happ said he wanted the project to “a truly local effort.” So the photovoltaic system was designed and installed by area businesses, including Grenergy Solar Store, Torrico Electric and Chris Vreeland of Precision Decisions Engineering.
Happ has been in the hospitality industry in the Berkshires since 1977. Before opening the Brewery, he was best known as the founder and longtime owner of 20 Railroad Street, the popular downtown bar and grill.
Happ sold his interest in 20 Railroad in the early 1990s but Mankin had been a regular customer of his and had developed an interest in brewing beer. He even traveled to Europe to learn the craft in a five-month apprenticeship at Vaux, a major brewery in the north of England.
Eventually, the two reconnected and combined Happ’s business savvy with Mankin’s expertise in brewing to open the Brewery in May 1995, expanding to add the 200-seat Crissey Farm in 2008.
At the conclusion of the event, Happ and Mankin staged a “cord-cutting,” during which the two men used bolt cutters to snip an electric cable attached to utility meter. The line was dead so no one was hurt, though the room did erupt in spontaneous applause.