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Breakout Brewer: Trillium Brewing

Boston’s tiny Trillium Brewing has brewed 125 beers in its first two and a half years—and many are among the most sought-after beers brewed in the Northeast.

Norman Miller 2 years ago

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On Saturday, in the Fort Point Channel neighborhood in Boston, it’s not unusual to see a line of people outside the Trillium Brewing Company. They’re waiting for their opportunity to get the latest release—an IPA, a pale ale, a sour, or a porter—from this tiny Congress Street brewery that does not distribute or even offer samples. It’s a sight that Cofounder and Brewmaster Jean-Claude Tetreault says he never imagined. “I’m still—I don’t know if surprised is right—but I’m amazed people show up and wait for any of the beers we make. [But] that’s why you make beer—so people enjoy it.”

Trillium is a brewery that seemed to be in planning forever. Tetreault and his wife and partner, Esther, found the location at 369 Congress Street, in 2010. But licensing issues kept pushing the opening of the brewery, first to 2011 then 2012, and finally, they opened the small brewery in 2013.

Even then, it wasn’t easy. The city of Boston would not let Trillium provide samples of their beers—a routine practice for breweries, including the other two breweries in Boston—the Harpoon Brewery and Boston Beer Company. But Trillium persevered, and except for a licensing snafu that forced their closure for about a month in 2014, they have been going strong. Tetreault and his team have brewed 125 beers in their first two and a half years. And, they’re not just quick, throw-them-together type beers. As of the writing of this article, Trillium had twenty-seven of the top 100 beers brewed in Massachusetts, according to Beeradvocate.com user reviews.

“A lot of those are variations on our core beers,” says Tetreault. “We notice by changing a seemingly small aspect of one beer, it makes for a very distinct final product.” For example, when brewing an established beer, such as the Fort Point Pale Ale, Tetreault says he likes to experiment with different hops to see how they change the beer. He says it’s more than just throwing hops into a beer all willy-nilly.

“There’s a lot of thought that goes into it,” says Tetreault. “It’s choosing when and how and the correct temperatures. It’s a relatively detailed process to decide when you choose to pull the trigger on when you dry hop. It’s based on the experience we’ve gained over time.” That experience comes from the fact that they brew many different beers because they brew such small batches of beer that it sells out right away. “We sort of take a homebrewing approach in that you’re almost making a different beer every time you brew,” he says.

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Many of Trillium’s beers are hazy, something that Tetrault says was not the original intention, but beer fans have really taken to it. “A combination of yeast and technique makes them appear the way they do,” he says.

Although Trillium (named for a flower that grows in temperate locations) brews many different styles, the brewery is best known for its IPAs, which are among the most sought-after beers brewed in the Northeast. They include a series of beers named for surrounding streets (e.g., Congress Street IPA, Sleeper Street IPA, and Melcher Street IPA) as well as the Uppercase IPA and Mettle double IPA. Many of these have various versions brewed with different hops. There is also the Fort Point Pale Ale that is hoppier than many packaged IPAs today.

Also popular is Artaic, a quick-selling double IPA. “Artaic has really taken off for us,” says Tetreault. “It’s hopped with 100 percent Mosaic hops and brewed with local wildflower honey, which really complements the Mosaic character.”

Trillium does brew other popular beers, including Night & Day, an imperial stout brewed with a wort that is mashed twice and brewed with locally roasted coffee, and its sister beer—Day & Night, a barleywine. Another popular beer is the Stonington, a saison brewed with 100 percent New England malt and fermented with wild yeast captured from grapes where Jean-Claude and Esther were married in 2009. The Pot & Kettle is a classic porter.

Given all of Trillium’s hoppy beers, some may be surprised by which breweries inspire Tetreault. “I always say Jolly Pumpkin [Michigan]. That’s a true American farmhouse brewery. Their entire portfolio is pretty incredible. Cantillon [Belgium]—I went there on a business trip. It’s a truly special place. I’d say Allagash Brewing [Maine] is a local example of something I want to do.”

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To achieve that vision, Trillium has undergone a major change. At the end of 2015, Trillium opened a second brewery at 110 Shawmut Road, Canton. The Fort Point brewery’s retail area is only 350 square feet. The new brewery has 4,000 square feet. At the Canton location, they will be able to brew more than three times as much beer in their first year than they can at the Fort Point location—going from 2,500 barrels to 10,000+ barrels in 2016. The new brewery has the potential to brew up to 35,000 barrels of beer a year.

The Canton location will brew all of the currently popular beers as well as other beers; that will free up Fort Point for something Tetreault is really excited about. “The Fort Point location is best geared to small batch, barrel-aged stuff. We’re going to make sure to invest in a barrel program and a wild program.”

The original Trillium will have hundreds of barrels to use to brew various wild and other barrel-aged beers, and they will have one of the larger barrel-aging programs in all of New England, Tetreault says. “It was impossible for us to do what we wanted—it’s such a tiny little spot,” he says. “Before, we’d put out a wild beer that took us two years to brew, and it would be gone in an hour and a half.”

The two locations have different feels. While the Boston brewery is tiny and tight with no samples and an in-and-out experience, the new location will have a large tasting room that has enough space for private events. “The tasting room is open to the brewery, so you really get to hear and smell what a brewery is like,” Tetreault says. There will also be samples and tours. The new location will also let them begin distributing beer for the first time—both bottles and draft.

Despite the attention drawn by the new Canton location, there are those who have adopted Trillium as their neighborhood brewery in Boston and enjoy going there every week to fill their growlers or get their hands on the latest brewery release. “We’re not phasing out the Fort Point location,” says Tetreault. “We will supply ourselves from Canton, and hopefully we’ll have more beer at Fort Point, and it’ll last longer. We’re going to continue to be a Boston brewery.”

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