Thursday, September 12, 2013

Wild Thing!

On September 14, Lord Hobo in Cambridge, Massachusetts will be one of the twenty-two bars in the United States lucky enough to host Zwanze Day: the international release date of one of Cantillon's more popular wild ales. This will actually be my first year participating in the international phenomenon that is Zwanze Day, and as a big fan of Jean van Roy (brewmaster of Cantillon), I am significantly excited.

And yet, the beer event I am most eagerly anticipating this weekend is not actually tasting Cantillon's celebrated beer, but rather the wild ales of local brewer Jean-Claude Tetreault, brewmaster of one of Boston's newest nanobreweries, Trillium Brewing Company. Not even yet open for a year (Trillium opened their retail shop on March 21 of 2013), Tetreault has been impressing Boston's beer community with beers like Fort Point Pale Ale (a perfectly balanced hoppy Pale Ale full of tropical fruits and a mineral crispness I have only otherwise found in Hill Farmstead) and Sunshower (a tremendous saison dry-hopped with Amarillo and Falconer's Flight and so drinkable, one would never believe that it clocks in at 8.5%). But as much as Tetreault enjoys brewing these beers, his biggest passion might just lie with Wild Ales.

I was first introduced to Trillium's Wild Ales at the American Craft Beer Festival in June. It was there that Tetreault released "Bug Valley:" a Wild Ale fermented in Petite Syrah American Oak barrels and inoculated with a wild house yeast culture. This beer was, in my opinion, the runaway for best beer at the fest. (And trust me, the competition was stiff!) It also made me realize that Boston might just have one of the best breweries on the Eastern seaboard.

Pitching 5 gallons of Bug Blend
Photo courtesy of Trillium Brewing
Despite maintaining a retail shop for only six months, Tetreault is no newcomer to Wild Ales. As a home brewer, he has been brewing Wild Ales for three years, and over that span has cultured a unique yeast strain he calls the "Trillium Bug Blend." This blend is a constantly evolving culture that he began propagating during his homebrew days. As Tetreault explained, the culture is a mixture of "some commercial microbes (Sacch, Brett, Lacto, Pedio) as well as microbes that I propagated from the dregs of some of my favorite beers/breweries around the world (ie. Jolly Pumpkin, Fantome, Drie Fonteinen, Cantillon, Russian River, etc.)." This unique house strain features prominently in many of Trillium's Wild Ales (Bug Valley included).

Trillium's physical brew space is not large, and unlike Fort Point or Sunshower, Wild Ales take years to ferment and age. Their earliest Wild Ales were brewed in only 1.5 bbl batches in temperature controlled enclosed stainless steel, carboys, or barrels. Their current 10 bbl setup uses a modified open stainless milk tank that is used exclusively for their Wild Ales. While using open tanks is a traditional brewing method, it introduces several obstacles. Explains Tetreault: "[Because] it is not a pressure vessel, we need to rack out of it into barrels after initial fermentation has slowed… and stops producing a protective blanket of CO2." [For those non-brewing readers: Racking a beer is the process of transferring the beer from one vessel to the next. The timing of this transfer becomes critical when brewing in open tanks; when yeast eats the sugars present in unfermented beer (aka "wort"), they release a CO2 as a byproduct. This CO2 acts as a buffer to protect the beer from the outer elements. However, once primary fermentation is finished and the yeast is no longer producing vast quantities of CO2, the beer loses it's natural force field and becomes subject to millions of random microbes.]

Though they are among Tetreault's favorite beers to brew ("I am always trying to find ways to sneak in wild beers into the production schedule."), due to the time and space required to brew Wild Ales, Trillium rarely releases them. That Trillium is releasing not one, but three different Wild Ales this weekend… well, that is an event to be celebrated!

The cellar.
Photo courtesy of Trillium Brewing
I asked Tetreault about the three beers he will be releasing, and my anticipation to sample his newest experiments rose with each description. The first beer is "Culture Club," a 6.7% abv Farmhouse Ale that he describes as "the result of a study in wild fermentation microbes." In an effort to learn about the unique characteristics of different commercial and house yeasts, Tetreault brewed a simple rustic saison, which he then split into five gallon carboys, each inoculated with a different yeast strain. "We began blending some together," he explains, "and, unlike beers with a myriad of hops which can muddle the flavor/aroma profile, we found the samples with the most variety seemed to have a beautifully complex depth of flavor." Thus, all of the test batches went into the Culture Club blend, and he and his partners are trying to work out a way to scale this process up to their 10bbl system.

The biggest beer of the weekend is "Cuvee de Tetreault," an 11% American Wild Ale fermented with their Trillium Bug Blend. "Cuvee is a bit of a hybrid, in that the base recipe is a sort of a cross between a Belgian Quad and Imperial Porter. Dark candi syrup and black currants add a depth of character and back up the malt and fermentation character." The beer was then aged on both American and French Oak, and locals can expect to see later vintages of this beer further aged on wine grapes and released in bottles.

Also being released on Friday is "Lineage Wheat," a Wild Farmhouse Ale brewed with grain from local malter Valley Malt and fermented with a yeast he cultured off the skins of grapes taken from Saltwater Farm Vineyard in Stonington, Connecticut. "The culture has evolved and matured over the past three years into... something intimate and personal, but [also] true New England wild ales. I think fans of wild beers will pick up both a lot of similarities to other wild fermented beers they enjoy, but hopefully will also be able to recognize a distinctness that's best experienced instead of described in a few short sentences."  This particular yeast culture has a special sentimental aspect for Tetreault, as he and his wife Esther were married at Saltwater Farm. (Tetreault describes his process of culturing this unique yeast blend on his blog.)

Trillium Taproom
Photo courtesy of Trillium Brewing
All three beers will be released as a part of Beer Advocate's annual "Night of the Funk" festival this Friday. For the lucky ones with tickets, I urge you to beeline to the Trillium booth to sample these three beers. They will also have a limited supply of these beers available at the brewery starting Friday, 4pm. Trillium currently does not have a bottling line (something they hope to change in the upcoming months), so all beers will be for growler fills only. Due to Massachusetts law, Trillium can only pour their beer into a Trillium branded growler: the empty growlers are for sale for $5 and are available in 32 or 64 oz sizes. Please note that Trillium is unable to pour samples at the brewery at this time. (This is by law, not by choice!)

Trillium is located at 369 Congress Street in the Fort Point neighborhood of Boston. You can follow Trillium on Twitter, @trilliumbrewing


  1. Thanks for the heads up on Trillium, Keith. I'm definitely hitting up Hobo and Trillium tomorrow.

  2. So what did you think? What time did you finally get into Hobo?

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