In just 40 months, popular Boston-based craft brewery Trillium has gone from a hard to obtain brand to one that is currently producing at a run rate of about 20,000 barrels. But the uptick in production hasn’t made the company’s beer any easier to find around town.
The brewery, which celebrated its third anniversary in March, expects to produce about 12,000 barrels in 2015. That’s up from just 2,500 barrels one year ago. It opened a much larger secondary production facility in Canton, Mass., located about 18 miles from its original location in downtown Boston, last December.
Trillium still sells most of its beer directly to consumers, however, and only self-distributes to about 30 retailers in the Boston area, co-founder Jean-Claude Tetreault told Brewbound.
Along with the increased production, a packaging switch from large format glass bottles to 16 oz. aluminum cans — an increasingly popular vessel for craft brewers — could make Trillium’s highly acclaimed beers a bit more accessible, however.
Beginning today, Trillium will officially package all of its hop-forward beers, starting with Congress Street IPA, in 16 oz. cans, a move that Tetreault said drinkers had long requested.
“Our fans have been incredibly vocal about us packaging beers into the 16 oz. can format,” he told Brewbound. “We knew we were going to go to this format a while ago. It was just about making sure we had the team and resources in place and making sure that we felt comfortable getting the quality we wanted to get.”
The company’s wild, sour and barrel-aged beers will continue to be bottled, he added.
Congress Street is the first core Trillium product to get the can treatment, but the company actually launched its first canned packages last week. Trillikini, a sessionable 3.3 percent IPA brewed in collaboration with Evil Twin Brewing, debuted last Monday.
The response from consumers was overwhelmingly positive, Tetreault said. 760 cases of a beer nearly one full percent lower than most light beers — priced at $13 per 4-pack — sold out in a matter days.
Trillium then followed up that release with a second canned collaboration, Hundred Thousand Trillion, brewed alongside Brooklyn’s Other Half Brewing. 4-packs of the IPA, which was aged on mango, apricot and peaches, fetched $20 each last Friday.
To get his beer into aluminum a bit faster than originally planned, Tetreault tapped the services of Iron Heart Canning Co., a mobile canning provider that works with dozens of craft brewers and cider makers throughout New England and New Jersey.
Unlike its traditional arrangements with smaller breweries, where the company will set up and break down a canning line assembly in the same day, Iron Heart will permanently leave one of its eight Wild Goose canning lines at Trillium in an effort to more efficiently meet the brewery’s volume demands.
The deal with Iron Heart is not a permanent canning solution, however, as Trillium plans to install its own counter pressure rotary canning line within the next nine months. That machine will be capable of filling about 180 barrels per day, more than double what Iron Heart is currently capable of providing, Tetreault said.
Along with the canning line, Trillium also plans to secure additional warehouse space for dry goods storage and overflow parking spots for visitors to its Canton facility. Those moves will free up space in the brewery and eventually allow the company to install the canning line and add more fermentation tanks; though Tetreault admits they aren’t in any immediate rush to expand.
“We’re largely funding our growth with cash flow,” he said. “We’re not in a race to reach certain volumes and take on unnecessary, burdensome debt to achieve that.”
And while the company has grown significantly over the last six months, it’s not the 380 percent growth that’s surprised Tetreault the most; it’s how they’re doing it: Trillium will sell approximately 80 percent of its beer (nearly 10,000 barrels in 2016) directly to consumers at its locations in Canton and Boston.
“Beer tourism is still something that people are increasingly excited about,” he said. “Nobody could have written this into the business plan.”
And they’re doing it with some of the most expensive beer on the market, too. A single 16 oz. can of hoppy Trillium beer will range between $3.75 and $5.50 each, which is actually more affordable than the glass bottles they were previously sold in, Tetreault said.
Indeed, the company’s Heavy Mettle double IPA sold for about 51 cents per oz. in glass bottles and, going forward, will now be priced between 25 and 34 cents per oz., in cans.
By comparison, fellow Massachusetts-based Treehouse Brewing, which is also widely recognized as a premier producer of hoppy beer and sells 99 percent of its offerings directly to consumers, currently sells 16 oz. cans of its “Green” and “Alter Ego” IPAs at $3.75 each, according to its website.
Nevertheless, there might be an initial sticker shock for some customers — a $22 four-pack can be hard to swallow, after all. But Tetreault believes his pricing accurately reflects the quality of the beer his company is churning out.
“If you think that beer is a commodity, you are probably looking for a different beer than what we make,” he said, noting that more price-sensitive consumers will still be able to purchase single cans.