Tree House Brewing plans more ‘lightning in a bottle’
For craft beer fanatics, Tree House Brewing’s maple syrup-tinged “Good Morning” stout is a kind of holy grail, a legendary brew that currently tops Beer Advocate’s respected ranking of the world’s best beers.
Unfortunately, Good Morning is almost as hard to get as the actual Holy Grail. It’s available only occasionally at the Tree House brewery in distant Monson, Mass., where thirsty hop-heads clutching empty growlers line up early in the morning in hopes of getting a taste.
Soon, however, our pint glasses may overflow: Tree House cofounder Nate Lanier announced this week that the company is set to open a new 45,000-square-foot facility in Charlton that will more than double its overall brewing capacity, and will include a tap room where patrons can linger over their favorite brews.
“The intent of the new brewery is to make our beer better than ever, vastly expand our range of offerings, make our core offerings more readily available, and to create a central gathering place of kinship and camaraderie for beer enthusiasts,” Lanier wrote in a blog post on Tree House’s website.
Lanier was not available for comment Wednesday, saying he was busy “brewing a double batch.”
Just a few years old, Tree House has achieved a cult-like status among beer aficionados. It does not distribute its beers through wholesalers, or even to local bars. Its menu of New England IPAs and other more unusual offerings are only available at the brewery during sporadic and limited hours a few days a week, hence long lines and waits that can stretch for hours.
Andy Crouch, a beer author and Beer Advocate columnist, said it’s hard to pin down exactly why Tree House is so revered. His best guess? The fun of tracking down a hard-to-get beer and comparing notes with like-minded seekers while standing in line — or at least the satisfaction checking off the Good Morning stout on one of several smartphone apps that help beer drinkers track their conquests.
“There are dozens of breweries in New England that make beer at least as good but don’t get anywhere near that kind of buzz,” Crouch said. “It probably has something to do with the experience, the exclusivity, the camaraderie of traveling to find a beer. It’s all about the rare and the new.”
“It’s hard to capture that lightning in a bottle,” Crouch added. “Whatever it is, Tree House seems to have it.”
Tree House shouldn’t worry that expanding its capacity will shatter the spell of scarcity, Crouch said, as the company is still small compared to regional craft powers such as Harpoon and Allagash.
“These guys are already 10 or 20 times bigger than they were a couple years ago, and that’s difficult to manage,” Crouch said. “They’re just trying to keep up with the growth they’ve got.”
Crouch predicted Tree House still has a huge untapped audience of beer fans anxious to see its beers at their local pubs. But it’s not clear whether the expansion means Tree House beers will appear on local taps and store shelves.
The new building will initially have cellar capacity for 30,000 barrels, expanding to 50,000 after the first year. Lanier said. Tree House will design the building to accommodate additional expansion as business warrants, with a “theoretical maximum” of 125,000 barrels a year.
Construction will begin this spring, and it should open in the first half of 2017, Lanier wrote. In addition to a larger brewery, the Charlton facility will house a retail shop where drinkers can pick up cans and bottles of Tree House beer five days a week.
The existing Monson brewery will remain in operation as a testing and recipe development facility, and for limited-edition production runs and occasional special events, Lanier said.
Besides Good Morning, two other Tree House beers rank among the top 10 in Beer Advocate’s list — an impressive accomplishment for a brewery with just 13 employees and no distribution.