The term hyper-local might get tossed around a lot these days. Difficult to obtain, hyper-local products are often sold directly to consumers and confined to a smaller distribution footprints.
By those measurements, Tree House Brewing epitomizes what it means to be hyper-local.
Want to buy some of the company’s top-rated Julius American IPA? You’ll have to drive to the brewery, wait in line for hours and you’ll still only be able to walk away with three 16 oz. cans at $3.75 each.
Tree House sells 99 percent of its beer out of its own retail shop and a limited amount of draft beer will occasionally find its way to a local beer festival or to Worcester’s craft-centric Armsby Abbey restaurant.
Over the years, the brewery has developed a cult-like following, and its beers — three of which rank in the top 10 on BeerAdvocate — are often traded amongst craft aficionados throughout New England and beyond.
The exclusivity is part of the allure, but Tree House co-founder Nate Lanier doesn’t like shorting customers.
“We work so hard to have beer available and having to limit people really bums us out,” he told Brewbound.
So in an effort to fill demand, the company will build a sizeable new brewery capable of eventually producing more than 125,000 barrels per year.
In a blog posted to the company’s website on Tuesday, Lanier detailed Tree House’s plans to build a 45,000 sq. ft. brewing facility in Charlton, Mass. Complete with a 50-barrel brewhouse and fermentation tanks as large as 240 barrels, the new brewery will initially be capable of producing 30,000 barrels annually, a significant increase from the 11,000 barrels Tree House will make in 2016.
And with an expanded 5,000 sq. ft. retail space, Lanier still thinks Tree House will still be able to sell most of that beer directly to drinkers.
“We don’t really intend to,” he said, when asked if the company plans to adjust how gets beer into consumers’ hands. “We still think we can sell at least 30,000 barrels to a hyper-local market — whether that’s all in house or limited distribution throughout Massachusetts.”
Whatever the company doesn’t sell by the case over its own bar, Lanier said, it will initially self-distribute to bars across the state.
Selling 30,000 barrels directly to drinkers doesn’t seem like a complete stretch, either. About 5,000 beer drinkers per week already visit Tree House, Lanier said, and most walk away wanting more beer.
“Ever since we opened our doors, we have been fighting demand week in and week out,” he said. “We can barely open four days per week and we have to limit what people can buy.”
The new brewery should help ease those problems, but Lanier was quick to point out that Tree House doesn’t intend to use the expanded production capabilities to make more beer simply for the sake of weighing down retailer shelves or tying up tap lines.
“We are designing this new brewery to be the last facility we build,” he said. “The quality of the beer we produce is most important and we want to ensure our beer is consumed as intended.”
“Beyond that scale (125,000 barrels), you end up distributing to markets that don’t have a vested interest in you. That’s scary to me,” he added.
Instead, Lanier would rather dive deeper into the “35-million person radius that we sit in right now,” he said, noting that other New England states as well as Pennsylvania and New York could someday see regular shipments of Tree House beer.
Lanier wouldn’t share the exact cost of building the new facility, saying only that the multi-million dollar project would be financed with a combination of debt and cash flow.
The brewery is being designed in conjunction with Austin Design, Inc., Lanier wrote in the blog, and the company will own the parcel of land upon which it is building. A groundbreaking is slated for the spring and Lanier said the company hopes to open the new brewery during the first half of 2017.
After shifting production to the new location, Tree House’s current facility in Monson will be used primarily for research & development, small-batch brews and barrel-aging, Lanier said.
Additional information about the expansion, as well as an early rendering, are available on the company’s blog.