#FreeTreeHouse – Let my people brew!
“’Cause he knows that it’s me they’ve been coming to see/To forget about neighbors for awhile” sang Dean Rohan, one of the four owners of Tree House Brewing Co, while I waited for their retail shop to open. He couldn’t have been more right. When I heard about the Brimfield Zoning Board of Appeal’s decision, I knew that I had to get out to Tree House, a little over an hour away from Boston, as soon as possible. They are allowed to continue brewing while they appeal the decision, but no one is sure what will happen after that. Beyond the superficial “I must try their beers because people whose opinion’s I trust say they are phenomenal”, I needed to visit Tree House because people whose opinion’s I trust say that Dean, Damien, Jonathan, and Nate, the owners, are phenomenal people, and their brewery space is unlike anything else. Turns out, they couldn’t have been more right.
When I arrive a little early, the signage indicating that beer is sold there has not yet been posted. I decided to ask someone about it and was promptly assured that this was Tree House, and that I did get there a little early, but “we can just hang out.” I think that confirmed everything I had hoped Tree House would be. Beautiful and inconspicuous? Check. Awesome, welcoming folks? Check. How many breweries have you been to that weren’t obviously breweries from miles out? There are usually barrels and bottles everywhere, and brewing tanks—giant shiny cylinders—don’t hide easily. Instead, as you get close to Tree House, what first captures your eye is a beautiful koi pond. There’s an irony here: the Zoning Board’s argument is over whether breweries are allowed in “residential-agricultural” districts, and the people behind Tree House clearly take pride in treating the brewery as a home in which they host friends who just happen to also buy their beer. They even put out peanuts, chips, and salsa for their guests.
I park my car (near the actual tree house) and go hang out with the owners and other fans. There’s great, fun, “hanging out” music playing, everyone seems to be in a good mood, one of the owners is singing and joking around with everyone, and, for a second, I forget they just went through a really shitty week. That’s obviously on everyone’s mind, so it doesn’t take long until someone asks Dean about it. This will happen roughly 400 more times between the time I got there and when I left and he never seemed fazed.
The way growler fills are setup at Tree House promotes engaging other people and socializing. Instead of waiting in line and moving all your growlers six inches at a time, you fill out a little form with your order as soon as you get there and then you wait for your name to be called. In the meantime, you hang out and you get the chance to interact with the owners and see them interact with other people, which, in this case, means treat all customers as best friends and field questions about that week’s ZBA decision.
All I heard from him was unbridled, shining optimism as he reassured everyone “we’ll get better and stronger than ever”. I’m glad I got to hear this straight from his mouth. I wouldn’t have believed it if I had read it in some PR release or in a tweet, but hearing it from him leaves no doubt that this is a speed bump, not a wall. You should be very happy to hear this too, because the three beers I’ve tried from them are all excellent, and one of those, Sap, a “nearly exclusively” – and completely perfect – Chinook-hopped IPA, immediately earned itself a place in my “favorites” list.
One of the traits that amazed me about Sap is how it manages to be satisfyingly fruity without overpowering sweetness. From the nose to the middle notes, Sap takes you on a market basket tour of fresh fruit: Oranges and grapefruit upfront, eventually mellowing into delicious mangos. Suddenly, the fruitiness comes to a screeching halt and you realize why Tree House named this beer Sap. It’s hop time! Chinook hops are no joke and using them as your main hop is something that should be left to experts like the folks at Tree House, or you’ll end up with a liquid pine tree in your glass. Don’t get me wrong, Sap is still very piney. But it’s not piney in an overpowering, mouth numbing, enamel melting way, but rather in a way that elevates the more delicate and complex flavors around it. Thanks to that pine character, Sap has a very complex head and it finishes brilliantly dry. Do you know what complements that dryness? Fruits! This locks you into the delightful cycle of Sap, which might make you drink your way through your two-liter growler faster than you would have expected.
On my way home from the brewery, I stopped at the annual “biggest antique show in New England,” which was some ten minutes away from Tree House and made Brimfield feel very homey. It was just people walking around, getting along, checking out each other’s stands and appreciating cool “stuff.” For a long stretch of Brimfield’s main road, locals and tourists alike ate festival food and chatted with each other over salvaged antiques and handcrafted objects. If it seems like there’s a disconnect here, there is. I don’t see why a town that supports and appreciates this antiques show that, as interesting as it may be, clogs up traffic for miles, can’t find a way to support four guys earnestly brewing some of the finest beers in the state. Making beer is a “craft,” after all.