Honest Pint: Trillium Brewing at Greentown Labs

Originally appeared here

by Heather Vandenengel | December 1, 2011

Mad science up in here.

In the past few months, new, local breweries have been popping up like a cork on a highly carbonated bottle of Saison. And there’s no sign of the growth slowing down as even more are in the works, what’s known as a brewery-in-planning.

One of those BIPs is Trillium Brewing, started by Brookline residents JC and Esther Tetreault. Trillium will one day be a farmhouse-style brewery … just as soon as they get through (metaphorical) tons of paperwork and (literal) tons of rubble.

So, in the meantime, Tetreault is brewing test batches at a place called Greentown Labs and a few Sundays ago I tagged along with JC while he brewed his first, a very hoppy American pale ale called Fort Point.

When we arrive at Greentown, the sun is still rising over the Boston Convention Center and shining down onto the docks where the brewing takes place. Tetreault and his friend Mike Shultz, who has been homebrewing for 22 years, and I unload equipment from an office and onto the dock.

This is also Tetreault’s first time brewing on the new system, which falls somewhere between an ambitious homebrewing set-up and a nano-brewery. Every piece must be tested for leaks and faults, but luckily, Greentown functions as a brewer’s toolbox—it’s stocked with the wrenches, ropes and odds and ends Tetreault needs throughout the day.

Greentown houses clean technology start-up companies in a communal studio space—think of it as part office and part workshop.

After meeting through the Boston Redevelopment Authority and the Fort Point Neighborhood Association, Greentown and Trillium formed a symbiotic relationship: Greentown would provide space for Tetreault to store his equipment and to brew and in turn, Tetreault would provide them with samples of his beer.

“We make a good experimental brewery laboratory,”

says Jason Hanna, managing director of Greentown and president and founder of Coincident, an energy management technology company.

Besides providing all the last minute assorted tools that Tetreault needs on brew days, Greentown and Trillium have already collaborated on building a brewing gadget: a digital fermentation and temperature monitoring system. It was built with the help of Greentown residents Promethean Power Systems, who design and make solar-powered cold storage systems to help keep milk from spoiling in places like rural India.

The gadget they built for Trillium (in the course of a day or two using a chopped up cash register) “allows us to understand what’s happening in fermentation,” says Tetreault.

So if there’s an unusual spike in temperature during fermentation, Tetreault can find out about it from his computer at home and pinpoint exactly when it happened.

“It’s like having a canary in the coal mine,” says Tetreault. “It lets me sleep better at night.”

. . .

After the initial unload (and a quick trip to Home Depot), Tetreault and I walk over a block to pick up a bag of Valley Malt wheat from the site of Trillium’s future brewery.

The site, which he found after looking for 20 other places first, is down the street from Drink,Flour, Lucky’s and luxury condo complexes.

Trillium’s site, however, is not quite the same as the rest of the buildings on the block.

Chipped white paint is peeling off the cement, graffiti covers the side wall and the entrance is up a rusty ladder and through a garage door onto the dock.

“It’s the only shitty building on the block, and that’s what you want,” says Tetreault.

Inside is equally run-down. A pile of rubble and bricks stretches out along the wall. Stacks of salvaged wood lay piled up. But Tetreault sees much more: on a table in the center sits the blueprints for the brewery.

“This is where the 3-vessel brewhouse is going to be,” he says, motioning to a space in the back of the room coated in dust and dirt.

And this is just phases one of Tetreault’s plan: he and Esther also want to open a gastropub, and eventually, a brewery on a farm.

Today though, we still have to brew, so we grab a bag of the Valley Malt wheat and walk back to Greentown.

. . .

In addition to the Valley Malt, the beer has a malt base of Thomas Fawcett Maris Otter and Crystal 15 and has Citra and Columbus hops. After we mash in, the Greentown guys, and Chris Tkach from Idle Hands Craft Ales who also came to help, provide invaluable assistance in another area: they act as an unofficial tasting panel.

First up is what he calls the Extra Wild Trillium Saison. The wild comes from his special Trillium Bug Blend—a mix of all the funky yeast at the bottom of beers from Allagash, Cantillon, Drie Fonteinen, Russian River and Jolly Pumpkin.

“We mixed it up and allowed it to take its own course,” says Tetreault, later, of the beer.

The second bottle is even funkier—what he calls Cuvée de Tetreault. A sour quad aged on black currants and French oak, it is lip-puckering tart, with a coffee nose and slight grape aftertaste.

“I’ve never tasted anything like this before. Except for the other day,” says Hanna. The other day being when Tetreault brought over a few of his other beers.

I asked him how he developed these beers. “These are the beers that I really love, that I am really passionate about,” he said. “You just experiment a lot.”

The experiment he’s working on now–getting together a bunch of smart, creative, technology-inclined guys who are into beer–seems to be working out pretty well.

[Trillium Brewing Company. @trilliumbrewingtrilliumbrewing.blogspot.com]

[Greentown Labs. @GreentownLabsgreentownlabs.org.]