The most important thing you need to know about Esther Tetreault is this: All she wants to do is have a beer with you.
Esther is half of Trillium Brewing Company’s founding duo, alongside her husband, JC Tetreault, who together opened the brewery’s first facility in Fort Point in 2013. If you know the joint, and if your memory goes back far enough to remember that it was once the only joint where you could buy Trillium beer, then you know that for most of its lifespan Trillium Fort Point has only offered beer for purchase, not sampling. It’s not for lack of wanting but for lack of a liquor license. If you’ve ever wandered in to sip the latest addition to the Trillium family, then you’ve wandered out feeling bummed, too.
Take solace in this: Esther was bummed for you, which Hop Culture discovered in a sit-down with her earlier this month, as Trillium continues preparations on its forthcoming expansion in the Fort Point district and recovers from its first annual Field Trip last August.
Andy Crump: The first time running a festival is always difficult. You don’t really know how it’s going to turn out.
Esther Tetreault: We’ve been to events where we’re like: “This is amazing. Let’s definitely do this, let’s definitely not do that.” One of the things that we wanted to make sure that we did differently was to have it be more of a beer garden vibe and not just jumping from one line to the next, throw down your two-ounce pour, you know? We wanted it to be smaller and more intimate. It was all of our friends in beer. These are the people that we work with, these are the people we’ve gotten to know, these are people who we wanted to come and hang out with.
AC: I think that you definitely achieved that. I’ve covered the Vermont Brewer’s Fest twice and, it’s a great hangout vibe, too, but it’s also, like, go to this place, go to that place…
ET: …get your sample here and drink it while you’re walking to the next one.
AC: It’s brutal. I’m really curious about the Fort Point taproom expansion. There are not a lot of breweries I can think of that do the restaurant/taproom combination. What made you want to take the Fort Point location in that direction?
ET: Depending on how long you’ve been following us, you might know that we served samples for a brief period of time at Fort Point, but we were unable to get the license to continue to do so. So, we have our tiny little space there and we’re not able to share the brewery experience with people. Our only interactions there are, “Hey, let me tell you about this!” Every day we have a new beer, and I’m just trying to convince you that you’re going to like it. Now, we have a reputation where it’s like, “Alright Trillium, I trust you, you tell me I’m gonna like that, I’ll probably like it.” It’s all about the customer engagement. But still, five and a half years later, every single day people walk in there and say, “What do you mean, I can’t get a beer? Like, I can’t try it?” Every single day, multiple times a day.
AC: That’s painful.
ET: It’s so painful! We feel bad about that. I want to be able to share a beer with you, you know, and just hang out. So obviously that space isn’t even conducive to hanging out. It’s so tiny.
We’re sitting in Canton right here and this is great. People in the area were super receptive. Who would’ve thought people would drive to an industrial park kind of out of the way to come hang out at the brewery? People want to hang out and they want to share Trillium, and we want to have that experience. So the plan was always to be able to create an experience in Boston where we can share that.
So we did that with the beer garden, which we have on the Rose Kennedy Greenway. We’re in our second season now…
AC: It’s a great spot.
ET: It is a great spot! I love, love, love that partnership. I was just there yesterday, so that’s fun. But even still, it’s quick. You come in and you have a beer and hang out for a little bit.
We want to create a variety of experiences for people to share. Food and beer just go together, so hopefully you’re having some good food and you’re having several drinks. But we wanted to be able to create different experiences for people. Here in Canton, we’ve got the taproom, the patio, and we’ve got food trucks. On the Greenway, it’s just come, sit, and enjoy our beer. There’s a different vibe. We want to create a more all-encompassing experience.
But, moving into such a big building in Fort Point is a little bit overwhelming. When you have the ability–or the opportunity–to now add a patio, why wouldn’t you do that? And, oh wait, you’re telling me I can do a roof deck? Obviously, I’m going to do that! The first floor will be a taproom and retail, plus you can get food there. There’s going to be a patio, creating these separate spaces so it still feels cozy and intimate. The second floor will have seated dining and private dining. And then the roof deck is just–that’s just going to be amazing. That’s the space where you’re gonna want to be.
JC and I love food. We love sharing food with each other and with friends, so we wanted to create a menu that also reflected that communal experience. We want it to be able to accommodate all of those different experiences whether it’s your ninth anniversary [Laughs], or hanging out with your buddies after work, or you’re bringing your kids for lunch on the weekends after the Children’s Museum. Whatever it is, it’ll fit the experience that you’re looking for.
AC: That sounds great. I can’t wait.
ET: I can’t wait either! [Laughs]
AC: It sounds to me almost like you’re talking about not changing Trillium’s identity, but maybe changing the perception of Trillium’s identity, or creating a new avenue for your identity.
ET: I don’t think it’s a changed identity. From the very beginning, we’ve always been about creating an experience. From our early days in Fort Point to right now, all you can do is buy beer and take it to go. That’s not what we want your experience with us to be. We’ve always been about more than just beer. We want to have relationships, and build community, and work with like-minded people to establish deep roots. So I think that all the projects that we’ve taken on are totally in line with our vision and values. We’ve never deviated from that. For customers and fans, it might look different, or like an evolution, but it’s always with the same intention. Now we just have the ability, and the time, and the space to be able to show it.
AC: This isn’t really about the next “phase” of Trillium. It’s about expanding on the idea of what you guys already do?
ET: Right! It’s really about how we can share this with more people in different ways–in new and unique ways.
AC: Beer is a naturally collaborative process. Yes, you can be a homebrewer and you can brew by yourself, but when you’re making beer on this level, on the scale, it’s definitely about collaboration. And you guys do a lot of collaborative work with other breweries…
ET: This is collab season! [Laughs]
AC: You guys make beers with other other breweries and it’s not like that’s unheard of, but it does seem to be one of your signifiers. People get particularly excited about your collaboration beers. It feels like its in keeping with what you guys like to do and what you’re all about.
ET: In terms of working with other breweries, we have no question started doing that more than we ever used to. But, in our first couple of years, we didn’t do it at all. We saw other people doing it, but I think that we didn’t really see the value in collaborating at first. It was partially because we were so focused, so heads down like, “Oh man, I just got to keep up, I just got to keep doing what I’m doing so I don’t lose it.” Our first few years were very intense: young kids, working full-time jobs, trying to build a brewery.
So we didn’t feel like we had time to travel and collaborate. We were struggling to keep up with our own demand, let alone somebody else’s demand. Then we went to GABF and we met so many amazing brewers. We had the time to actually hang out with people, and talk, and see that, you know what, we’re not the only people who have young kids and have just started a brewery. Talking to people there, we were like: “Yeah, we should get together again and not just wait until next year, how can we make that happen?” That’s when we started planning time to–JC calls it “brewer’s therapy”–to really hang out and get to know people. It was fun to try new styles and new techniques.
I think Massachusetts has a very competitive landscape, but the industry as a whole is very collaborative, and very open, and very communicative. So we were talking to people who were like: “Yeah man, this is what I learned, you should definitely try this, or get this piece of equipment, or try this technique.” Whatever it was, it was really great to have people to talk to about brewing and for us to talk about our challenges and struggles with the business. I think that’s what initially got us into it, and I think we’ve all elevated our games through the process.
AC: It sounds like you found camaraderie and validation. That must feel great.
ET: Yeah! It’s funny because JC and I are very open, very transparent people. We’re happy to talk and share.
One of the things that I equate it to–this is a totally unrelated area–but when we were getting married, we started a blog to document the process, and share it with our family and friends. We were keeping up with it fairly regularly, and I started to get contacted by other brides saying: “Hey, oh my god, what was your experience like with this vendor?” Or, “Do you mind me asking you this?” So after we got married and I wrapped everything up, I wrote this post and said, “I’ve been contacting other people out there, I only meant to share this with family and friends, but if I can save a bride to be or, you know, somebody getting married the three to four hours it took me to figure this out, put this research together, I’m happy to share it.” I got contacted by dozens of people getting married.
I’m happy to share and save somebody some trouble, you know? Obviously, there’s proprietary information and you want to keep a competitive edge, but honestly you learn so much through the process. I think that’s just our approach.
AC: Did you learn anything from that experience that went into expanding Fort Point?
ET: We’ve got friends in food, we’ve got friends who are chef-owners that were like: “Let me take a look at your kitchen design plan, I’m happy to give you my feedback.” Or, “You know, you gotta think about this execution of service.” We don’t know anything about restaurants. We’ve hired a professional team that’s going to do that for us. But, when we first started, we just knew what we liked, and so we needed guidance and we had friends that were happy to share that with us.
AC: I think that’s what beer is really all about. I always say that it’s about bringing people together and that’s really what the taproom, at the end of the day…
ET: …is supposed to be! I love when I walk through here, or I’m out sitting on the patio, and I hear conversation all around me, and nobody’s talking about the beer. They’re not analyzing it, they’re just living their lives, and they just happened to be enjoying beer in our space. Those are the moments that are really special to us, and that’s the type of place that we want to create, the type of space where people can be together.
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