Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Beer Inspiration In Our Backyard: Trillium Brewing

Tiny Trillium Brewing, located on Congress Street in Boston's Fort Point neighborhood has emerged as one of the region's most highly regarded craft brewers. When Trillium was forced to close due to a licensing SNAFU late last year it created a minor uproar in the local craft beer community. Thankfully Trillium has been able to not only reopen, they also have a new production brewery in the works.

Scaffolding sheltered the line-waiters.

Trillium sells the vast majority of their beer at the brewery in 22oz bombers and growler fills. The only retailer north of Boston to carry their products is Redstone Liquors in Stoneham. Until last weekend I hadn't made the time to drive into town, attempt to find parking, and visit the brewery. I was already in town to judge in the Boston Homebrew Competition making it as good a time as any to stop in.

I did previously have a few Trillium beers in the past. I bought the Trillium ale, a saison, and Pot & Kettle, an oatmeal stout at Redstone. Those were both very good beers, but it's Trillium's hop-forward pale ales and IPAs for which they are most known. I gave Fort Point Pale Ale, Galaxy Dry Hopped Fort Point Pale Ale, and Melcher Street IPA all 4.5 ratings on Untappd.

Since I'm not exactly in that neck of the woods everyday I decided to almost buy one of everything. Treecreeper was a 5.5% ABV hoppy American Wheat ale available in growlers only. The hop flavor and aroma hits you like a truck, but there is enough creamy wheat flavor to balance while not clashing with the hops. Double Dry Hopped Melcher Street was available in bottle and for growler fills. I went with a growler of that as well.

In addition to the two growlers and fills, I picked up three other bottles. With tip I spent over $90. Operating in Boston as opposed to a sketchy industrial park in Everett carries additional costs. Trillium is too small to scale like a larger brewer. Using as much hops as they do also drives up their ingredient costs. Their beer isn't cheap even compared to other craft beers, but like most things it is expensive because it is worth it.

The guy who helped me behind the bar asked it it was my first time there and if I needed new growlers. When I said it was and I did he told me that these were my growlers and gave me detailed instructions of how to clean them. I probably could have just told him I was a homebrewer and knew what I was doing. The impression I got was that when I go back they will refill my growlers which I am responsible to clean beforehand, instead of them just swapping them out for fresh ones, or returning them and getting my deposit back. I suppose it's one way to avoid washing growlers when running a small and very busy brewery.
I know how to clean this thing.

On our recent road trip most of the IPAs I had were balanced, "East Coast"-style IPAs. I found myself craving the type of hop forward, "West Coast" beers Trillium, Stoneface, and Bissell Brothers brew so well. As happy as I have been with my recent IPAs, I wish I could brew something that packs that kind of hop punch.

After fermentation oxygen is your beer's mortal enemy, especially when making a hop-forward beer. The volitale hop oils that provide that in-your-face aroma you and flavor will escape given the chance. The Alchemist's stated rationale for instructing people to drink Heady Topper out of the can is to contain the aromatics.

I overheard one brewer who I was judging with describe the lengths he goes to when brewing IPAs. He never racks to a secondary fermentation vessel; he purges his kegs, siphons and tubing with CO2. Another brewer I was speaking with said he planned to dry hop in a keg, hit it with some CO2 to insure there is no oxygen, and when the beer has been on the dry hops for long enough he wants to use the gas to push the beer into another keg ensuring no oxygen touches the beer after the dry hops are added.

My system at this time is just not conducive to eliminating oxygen to that degree. As soon as I rack the beer to a bottling bucket it is exposed. Then the beer sits in an open bucket while the bottles are filled. The two to three week bottle conditioning period cuts into an IPA's flavor peak. Hop flavor and aroma are the first things to go in a beer as it ages. Maine Beer Company tells you right on the bottle to drink the beer young. A crimp capped bottle is not impervious to oxygen like a keg, or canned commercial beer.

Until I have a fully operational kegging system at home, I won't be able to replicate the barrage of hop flavor and aroma that Trillium achieves in their beer. I can and will make very good IPAs, but there is a glass ceiling that probably prevents me from brewing an elite West Coast hop bomb of an IPA. These equipment limitations are less of an issue with other styles.

Finding parking late Saturday afternoon near Trillium on Boston Wharf Rd wasn't that bad at all. I may have to stop in with my growlers before my next Sunday brew day.

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