Trillium Talks Expansion, Connecticut, Hazy IPAs

Austin Ray

THE GIST
Trillium Brewing opened nearly four years ago, cramped in a tiny space of Boston’s Fort Point neighborhood. It still operates there, but the majority of production has since been shifted to a second, much larger facility in nearby Canton. There, the company is better able meet the incessant demand for its highly sought after IPAs, which are considered by many to be among the best on the market.
 
Of course, none of this—the company’s reputation or the swiftness with which it outgrew its first home—is lost on co-founder Esther Tetreault. She concedes that she and her husband, JC, didn’t know what the company would become when they first started it in 2013, noting, “This is beyond our wildest dreams, what’s happened here.”
 
These days, things are only picking up. As we reported last week, Trillium has plans to relocate its diminutive Fort Point headquarters up the street to a considerably larger space, complete with a full-scale restaurant. Further down the road, the company also envisions opening a farmhouse brewery in Connecticut.
 
So, given the company’s expansion plans and its status as a leading purveyor of the increasingly popular New England-style IPA, we touched base with Esther to get her thoughts on the new brewery, Connecticut, the style trend, and more. The following Q&A was edited lightly for clarity.

ON THE RECORD

What can you tell us about the new Fort Point brewery?

It’s really sizable—over 15,000 square feet. In terms of production, we’re going to put in a 20-barrel brewhouse, but we don’t intend to max out production there. We’ll treat it as we’ve always intended, and do a lot more pilot brewing there. We’ll have some draft-only, restaurant-only beers on tap there.
 
You obviously had the room to continue growing into Canton. Why now was it the right time to open another big facility?

I think that we now have an opportunity to make our Boston home more of what we always hoped and envisioned it could be. And Canton is really what has enabled us to increase production and really has helped to make this project possible, because we were completely maxed out in Boston.
 
What new beers can people look forward to from Trillium in 2017?

What you’re not really seeing yet is the investment into the wild program that we’ve made in Canton, because obviously those beers take a while, and we’ve only been here for a year. So you’re going to start to see more of our wild and sour program soon. Part of the fun for JC, and our entire brewing team, is the ability to experiment and learn and try new things. So I think not everything will fit into a certain style, per se.
 
Regarding certain styles, though, Trillium is more known for its IPAs, namely those of the cloudy, hazy, New England variety. And this style is somewhat controversial, seemingly more so than your average beer style. What do you make of all that?

I don’t know why there needs to be so much conflict in general. I can certainly appreciate that there are purists who have dedicated their lives to beer and to education and to history. I certainly have an appreciation for that. But like, you know, it’s beer. It’s subjective. Taste and personal preference is just that: personal preference. And we like it. I can appreciate it’s not for everyone, and that’s okay. But I don’t know why people have to be so angry about it.
 
Where do you see the style going? For years, the West Coast IPA seemed to dominate. Is there an eastward shift coming? Has it happened already?

I guess since we’re talking about it, it sounds like it’s already happened. There are certainly West Coast IPA lovers still, absolutely. I like them. It’s about personal preference. I think we’ve tried to stay open and we’re doing something that we enjoy. And we’re always working on becoming better at it but at the same time we’re always learning and growing. I don’t know the direction IPAs are going in but I look forward to trying them.
 
As far as Connecticut goes, you’re still in the “looking and dreaming” phase, I understand. But what type of legwork have you put into moving that along?

We actually had architectural plans for a theoretical farmhouse before we even found our location on Congress Street. So this is something we’ve been talking about and dreaming about for years. We’ve been looking at properties for years, just to say, like, “Oh, how cool would this be?” and, “Oh, can you imagine a farmhouse on that hill?” Then the conversation evolves into, “I wonder if they have natural gas or sewer, or what kind of water treatment is possible here?” Those are some of the details that really go into the logistics of planning a project like that. With everything else that we’re doing, it’s certainly not our number one focus for expansion right now. But it’s something that we will actively work toward. We’re just taking our time to make sure we get it right.

Since Trillium is a Boston brewery, we’d be remiss if we didn’t ask you about the ongoing pay-to-play scandal in Massachusetts. You sell almost all of your beer directly to consumers and self-distribute everything that goes out to retail, so you’re not directly affected by it. Would the current environment impact your decision to sign with a wholesaler, though, or are the two things unrelated?
 
I don’t necessarily think that they’re unrelated. I think that we are fortunate that our business model is different. It has never been our intention specifically to be mass distributed, or to be widely distributed. So that was never really a goal for us, and we’ve never been out looking for a wholesaler. It certainly is a presence, of course; you can’t help to read about it and wonder, “What is that going to do to regulations moving forward?”

We’re fortunate that we were not a part of it, or not affected by it in a direct way. But it’s certainly a part of the landscape here and the regulations in Massachusetts. So I don’t think you can turn a blind eye to it. I’m just really happy that weren’t directly affected by it. We know some people who were very negatively affected by it, and we hope we can all move forward in kind of a clean and transparent way.

—Dave Eisenberg