Tree House Brewing Talks Malt, the Black Market and Gateway Beers

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Tree House Brewing Talks Malt, the Black Market and Gateway Beers

It’s been four years since Tree House first opened the doors to the public. What started out as a simple business plan between friends to brew beers for a group of 50 people has quickly blossomed into one of the most popular breweries in the country. Two things make Tree House stand out among the rest: The first is their head brewer Nate Lanier who has developed a reputation for creating some of the most sought after hoppy beers in the country. The second is that Tree House has learned how to make customers feel at home whether they are locals or not; co-founder Dean Rohan works the register thanking “big tippahs,” Nate and small-batch brewer Brendan Prindiville offer samples to waiting customers, co-founder Damien Goudreau opens up the warm and welcoming earthscape he constructed, and the rest of the Tree House Gang get to know the clientele. It’s clear Tree House has found its sweet spot.

With a transition to a new brewing facility in the future, I caught up with Nate to discuss how he got into craft beer, and where he sees Tree House going in the next year.

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Paste: What beer or brewery first influenced you when you got into beer?

Nate Lanier: My a-ha beer was Rochefort 8. It blew my mind at the time, and I still love it today. Several others followed… Rodenbach, Supplication, Old Rasputin… dozens of other gateway beers.

My first Heady. Coming in gassed off of the slopes at Stowe and having a rip of Heady fresh at the pub is something I wish everyone could experience.

My first Hill Farmstead. I had a Harlan at Three Penny Taproom, served by the one and only Scott Kerner. It was transcendent.

Nostalgia is a powerful motivator for me. Around the same time I was developing my passion for beer, I fell in love with my now wife, Lauren. These events sent my life down a path with purpose and meaning. I found my passion for work, and I found my passion for love. These memories continue to motivate me with Tree House as an effort to honor my past while continuing down the road of the great unknown…

Paste: Have any of your homebrews made it into the tanks at Tree House?

NL: Nearly all of them. Green, Julius, That’s What She Said, Tornado, Sap, etc. were all homebrew recipes. A few of the original homebrew ideas haven’t been brewed in a while, and are long overdue for a comeback! Beers like Aftermath, Space & Time, Snowtober, etc. are all on my to-do list. . . I wish I had more time!

Paste: Until recently, it’s been some time since you released a mixed fermentation beer. Is there any reason for this gap?

NL: The main driver is capacity and time constraints. Our demand is so crushing for hoppy beers that we can’t afford to occupy a tank or too much space in the brewery with mixed fermentation projects. I can promise you this is a function of necessity, and not desire. This will change dramatically when the new brewery opens.

Paste: Can we expect an old favorite- Lucid (farmhouse ale) sometime soon or will you continue to focus on the Native series?

NL: There is a thread of Lucid in the Native series. When we brewed Lucid we left a pot full of wort in a field at the farm and that culture has been carried on to this day. It currently resides in our house culture, which will impart character in our country beers long into the future – we hope!

Paste: Can you tell us about the barrel program you are going to be instilling in Monson once the new facility is up and running?

NL: The idea, generally, will be to split the Monson brewery in half with one side as a clean barrel program and the other as a mixed fermentation barrel program. The existing 30 BBL brewhouse will stay in place and make wort for both projects. There is no master plan – essentially, it will be a space to follow our curiosities and flesh them out without constraints. I can’t tell you what that will mean a year from now… what I can tell you is that it will show off some brewing chops we haven’t shared with anyone yet.

Paste: With the Curiosity series, you have had the ability to continuously experiment with different recipes. Is the goal to continue this experimentation or to find recipes to add to your main line-up?

NL: The main goal is to learn about and better understand the interplay between certain hop varieties, malt bills, and yeast strains. This knowledge is then used to enhance and improve our existing recipes. Nearly every Curiosity beer has a different grist component. I hear about folks not paying much attention to the malt component of their hoppy beer recipes… In the course of the Curiosity series, I have discovered specialty malts that play well with, and accentuate certain hop varieties. In fact, I think this is a ‘secret’ in a lot of Tree House beers. They all have vastly different malt bills that have developed over time.

Paste: Have any of the beers in the Curiosity series become regular offerings?

NL: Curiosity Twenty is Bright, with a few minor changes. I think that’s the only one.

Paste: In a post from early last year, you mentioned bottles and variants of Good Morning. Is that something we will still likely see in the near future?

NL: I have changed my thinking there. Bottles of Good Morning are not likely to ever see the light of day.

Paste: It has been some time since the last batch of Good Morning. Is there any reason for the wait?

NL: I’d say the main reason is it’s 90 degrees outside and I’m not in the mood for a rich maple stout. It’s driven a lot by mood and seasonality. If we happened to have a cool dry streak this summer I might start thinking about brewing a batch. I can’t wait – This year’s extra dark syrup is insane. Another driver here is that the brew day is extremely mentally and physically taxing for a number of reasons. To drop a 16 hour brew day into the mix when I’m already cranking at 50+ hours on the deck a week is difficult, to put it mildly.

Paste: You’ve made some incredible hoppy beers, which are you been most proud of and why?

NL: Eureka is my proudest hoppy beer achievement. It’s a beautiful and delicate representation of hops, yet it still has balls. The wheaty, biscuity finish of it is super unique – I love that about it. It’s also the scariest beer for me to brew because any flaws in the process can so easily be exposed in such a delicate beer.

A beer brewed for my first wedding anniversary turned out really nice – In Perpetuity. I put a tremendous amount of pressure on myself with that one. It was the first time I brewed a double batch of a new recipe on our new 30 BBL brewhouse, and I did it to honor the love of my life. Great idea, right? Drinking it out of the tank I remember thinking, “well shit…that will work.”

More recently, the batch of Very Hazy from this past May. When I drank that beer out of the tank it honestly blew my mind.

Paste: When trying your hoppy offerings, most people mention the mouthfeel is like biting into a piece of fruit. What drew you to focusing on creating such a “fruit” forward mouth-feel in your beers?

NL: The main driver there is ease and enjoyment of consumption. When I brew a beer, drink it, and make notes on how to improve it, often the body and mouthfeel are the key focus points. I think where I get it wrong, sometimes, is with bitterness. If it’s too low it becomes difficult to drink too much of it. I don’t like a beer without bitterness, so when that component is lacking I am pretty hard on myself.

Regarding body, if you have too little it can become difficult to drink and if you have too much body you get the same result.

Paste: The secondary market has become big in beer today, what are your thoughts when you see people selling your cans at such a large mark-up?

NL: I think “Man, someone is going to pay a bunch of money for a can that has probably been treated terribly.”

Paste: Are there any breweries or brewers that you continue to follow or inspire you?

NL: Hundreds – I will preface this by saying it would be impossible to cite and acknowledge all of my brewing inspirations in this space so I will surely leave out dozens who have delighted and inspired me personally.

I’m a nerd at heart so I follow as many breweries as I reasonably can. . . I’m a Live Oak fan, I’m a Jester King fan, I’m a Toppling Goliath fan, I’m a Casey Brewing & Blending Fan, I’m a Side Project fan, I’m an Alchemist Fan, I’m a Heater Allen fan… I could go on and on.

When we were down at CBC, we paid a visit to the fine folks at Forest & Main Brewing in Ambler, PA. It was a spiritual experience for us. We saw more of us in them than any other brewery we have ever visited. The visit remains inspiring months later.

In general I am inspired by breweries led by founders or co-founders who are on the brew deck following a passion for the liquid – Shaun Hill, David Sakolsky, Dan Suarez…I’m inspired by Brendan Prindiville [Longtime assistant & current Tree House 5 BBL brewer], who has a greater passion for the liquid than anyone on the planet as far as I’m concerned.

Lately I have drawn inspiration from athletes who excel as a function of tremendous skill… Leo Messi, Steph Curry. They wouldn’t be where they are without insane dedication, practice, and patience. What’s not to love about that?

Paste: When you’re not drinking your own beer, what’s your go to?

NL: It varies. I love a well-made pilsner. Pivo Pils (Firestone Walker). I have probably consumed more Sierra Nevada Pale Ale than any other beer.

Paste: If you could change anything about craft beer today, what would it be and why?

NL: I don’t know – it seems there are more great options now than ever before. There has been a lot of pushback against line culture, and driving insane distances for hauls, and things like that. I think the excitement is a good thing. Life’s a grind, and getting by while staying reasonably sane is difficult, you know? My thought is – “Isn’t it great that we all have this common passion we can get excited about?! What’s so bad about that?” I wish I still had the time to travel around and be a beer consumer. I dream about it!

Paste: How can you describe the journey that has been the last four years for you and the Tree House Gang, and what can we expect to see from Tree House in the next year?

NL: The journey has been grueling and filled with a plethora of emotions, both good and bad. I liken it to running an ultramarathon. When you are in a 50-mile race, your body and your mind take you to a very dark place at several points. You swear that when it is over you will never run again. Your body begs you to stop, but your mind tells you that your body is weak, and you would regret stopping for the rest of your life. At other points, you swear you can run a thousand miles and there is an indescribable elation that comes with it.

Right now I am in the middle of that marathon. Day to day and week to week, there are tremendous highs and there are tremendous lows. I’m still running, so I haven’t had an adequate opportunity to stop and reflect on what this all means in the arc of my life, and in the arc of those around me.

We will get there, but for now our legs still feel good and the weather is nice.

In the next year, we will do a lot of refinement to our existing beers while folding in a few ideas of dozens that we have been working on. One of our core founding principles is, “if we can’t do it better, we won’t do it.” That’s a lofty goal, and a goal like that takes a methodical approach, and time! Once our new brewery in Charlton is open, and Monson becomes an incubator, the real fun will start 🙂

To anyone reading, thank you for drinking our beer. Your support has enabled us to sustain a place of joy for many people, both in work and in life.

Jason Stein is a New York-based beer nerd. You can find more of his writing on NYC Beer Society.