Tuesday, September 26, 2017

A Tale of Many Barrels: Zwanze Day 2017 at Trillium Brewing Company

Standing amongst a sea of barrels and giant oak foeders filled nearly to capacity inside Trillium’s Barrelhouse, I can’t help but feel incredibly fortunate to be celebrating Zwanze Day in such a special location. Only a short distance from their brewery and taproom in Canton, JC and Esther Tetreault invited 180 lucky individuals through a random ticket selection process into their Barrelhouse for a behind-the-scenes look at their barrel program. Having spent past Zwanze Days lining up to get into a packed bar for a taste of Cantillon, I can say that celebrating Zwanze Day at a brewery is the only way to go if you can do so. Trillium not only put on one of the best Zwanze Days I’ve been to, but one of the most well-run beer events I’ve ever attended.

I walked into the Barrelhouse with no idea of what to expect; this was the first time that it had been opened to the public, after all. As I entered I was given a tulip glass filled with Trillium’s Lineage Spelt, a barrel-aged saison that was fruity, acidic, and refreshing; a nice introduction to the type of beer that awaited us. Walking down a hallway filled with Trillium’s signature label artwork, I eventually entered the Barrelhouse, where a few pop-up bars had been set up amidst mountains of barrels along with some tables and chairs as well as a food stand. It was truly an awesome sight to behold. As I sipped my saison I decided to walk around and read which beers were aging in the barrels that surrounded us, many of which I’ve had before. Several of the fantastic Trillium beers featured at the event had come from these barrels. There’s something very special about drinking beer in the room where it’s made, even moreso when the owners are drinking it with you.

JC and Esther walked around during the event mingling with everyone, from myself to brewers like Paul Jones from Cloudwater or Matt Tarpey from The Veil. When I spoke to JC he expressed nothing but humility about this day. He never thought that someone like him, originally a homebrewer from Brookline, would be chosen to host Zwanze Day. He was honored to be able to pour some of Cantillon’s lambics for the second year in a row. I was just as humbled to be there drinking them with him.

As the worldwide toast approached, JC and Esther both spoke about how excited they were to have everyone there and thanked everyone for supporting them over the years. If it were not for that support, they said, they would have never been given an opportunity like this one. The two parents of two raised their unique glasses filled with a lambic dedicated to the youngest son of Cantillon’s owner and toasted to friends and family. In that moment I had never felt more personally connected to a brewery and the people behind it.

So what was the coolest part of Zwanze Day for me? It wasn’t getting to see Trillium’s Koelschip or drinking a wide selection of superb sour beers. For me it was sharing that experience with people that cared just as much about Trillium as they did about Cantillon. People that had a great deal of respect and reverence for both breweries, as I’m certain the two breweries have for one another. That is what made this Zwanze Day celebration unlike any I had been to before, and it is why I hope to be able to celebrate every Zwanze Day at Trillium in the future.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Make Good Liquids, Make Good Friends, Make Good Food

I’ve been a fan of Somerville Brewing Company since I moved to Boston back in 2012, when I first saw their nickname “Slumbrew” on bottles in stores. I drank Porter Square Porter before ever actually visiting Porter Square. I met many so-called “slumbassadors” and other members of the Slumbrew community over time, and remember wondering when they would have a brewery of their own for us all to gather and drink together. That’s why I was so excited when they opened their Boynton Brewery in 2015, and it’s why I’m even more excited for the next chapter in the Slumbrew story. I sat down with co-founders Caitlin Jewell and Jeff Leiter to talk about their plans over a beer. 

Somerville Brewing Company is set to open its new American Fresh Brewhouse at Assembly Row within the next month or two. Construction is ongoing, but Caitlin and Jeff told me that they are are devoting most of their time to ensuring that it gets up and running soon. That’s something they can commiserate with the crew behind Backlash Beer Company on, as they continue to build out a brewery in Roxbury after years of having their beers on shelves. Caitlin tells me that she sometimes calls Helder Pimentel of Backlash and they talk about the ups and downs of building a brewery. 

The American Fresh Brewhouse will be a great addition to Assembly Row and the Somerville Brewing Company brand. The location is ideal, being 35 feet away from the local T stop at Assembly, one of the nicest subway stations in Boston. On top of that, there will be plenty of parking with 200 free spaces available for those visiting the Brewhouse. There will be 126 seats along with some outdoor seating as well, much bigger than the American Fresh beer garden at Assembly Row. The Brewhouse will also have a 3.5 barrel brewing system for making those good liquids that Slumbrew has become known for. Overall, the American Fresh Brewhouse is another step forward for a company that has continued to grow and improve every year, creating a solid foundation for their future.

Slumbrew’s motto has always been “make good liquids, make good friends.” Their initial focus was on producing quality beer, and they did just that. I haven’t found a friend that doesn’t like Slumbrew’s Happy Sol, a hefeweizen brewed with local honey and fermented with juice from over 1,000 blood oranges. They then created physical spaces for fans of their beer to gather and enjoy it together. They started offering brewery tours at the Boynton Brewery, hosting all sorts of events, and perhaps most importantly serving food from their own kitchens. This was a natural progression for the Somerville Brewing Company, and one that has led them to where they are today.

The Boynton Brewery taproom offers a wide range of meal options, from charcuterie boards to pizzas (my personal favorite), while the beer garden has a somewhat smaller but similarly tasty menu. Both locations have flourished with the work that Jeff and Caitlin have put into them and no longer require as much of their guidance as they once did, allowing them to focus more on their latest project. The beer garden that opened in 2014 will remain open until the end of this month, when there will be a send-off celebration. I’ve had some good times there and will miss the space, but I am looking forward to enjoying the new Brewhouse even more.

There is something to be said for a brewing company choosing to close one of its locations in order to direct resources to a more ambitious project. There have been multiple instances of breweries moving too fast with opening new locations or expanding at such an unsustainably rapid pace that they are eventually forced to close or sell. This seems like a much more responsible move for Somerville Brewing Company, as a year-round beer garden in New England, even with heated tents, must be hard to maintain. The new Brewhouse should take some of the best things about the beer garden and make them even better.

The American Fresh Brewhouse at Assembly Row is an evolution for Somerville Brewing Company. Jeff has experience in the restaurant industry, and for some time now both he and Caitlin have wanted to offer an even greater experience to their fans in terms of both food and beer. The Brewhouse is designed as a “gastrobrewery,” not a brewpub. Whereas brewpubs are often primarily restaurants with beer brewed on premises, gastrobreweries are primarily producers of beer with an elevated food menu. Different from the typical fare of food trucks and pop-ups one often sees at their local taproom, Slumbrew’s new gastrobrewery will have its own chefs, a full kitchen, and an extensive menu featuring dishes ranging from steak to seafood. In a time and place (specifically Boston) in which local breweries are all basically making good liquids, how does one stand out among the rest? The key, Caitlin and Jeff believe, will be offering the full gastrobrewery experience to consumers. No longer having to bring or order food from outside or waiting for a food truck to show up. Not having to settle for bar snacks and instead being able to order a full, flavorful meal with the beer one goes there to drink. That is what a gastrobrewery is all about, and that is what the American Fresh Brewhouse at Assembly Row will offer. I, for one, cannot wait to experience it.