Beer and Pavement

The Cult of Tree House

Posted in Beer, Massachusetts by SM on July 20, 2017
Zac Early (@sm_jenkins) - Instagram photos and videos.clipular (1)

Lining up for that Kool-Aid.

Tree House Brewing Company is maybe the hottest brewery in craft beer right now. And they specialize in what is the hottest trend: the ultra-murky, extra-juicy New England IPA[1]. They recently made news by opening a new facility that welcomed some 4000 craft beer enthusiasts despite little-to-no advertisement.

And the beer is good. I’ve been lucky enough to either have folks deliver me some cans or twice have had the honor of standing in line for about 20-30 minutes for my allotment of ~8 cans of the hazy stuff. Kids all over are going cucko for these Cocoa Puffs.

The people of Tree House are pretty rad as well. They run a tight ship and are really easy-going despite the opportunity to go all Soup Nazi on their fans. They keep folks updated through their Twitter feed and can often be found answering questions on public Facebook groups obsessing over their canned goods.

The problem I have is not with Tree House, their people, nor their beer. The issue I have is with the Cult of Tree House. By this I mean that the endless number of Tree House worshipers and sycophants have made it hard to enjoy the hazy goodness from Monson Charlton.

Now, I’ve been around long enough to know that anything that’s hot has its annoyingly mindless followers. However, the Tree House devotees are another breed entirely. They reveal a side of craft beer I thought had died out over the years.

To find these followers, I joined a Facebook group of Tree House enthusiasts. This particular group does not allow trading which would be completely intolerable[2]. However, posts in this group revolve around how awesome Tree House is, how much better the Xth batch of a particular beer is than the latest version, complaints of some using mules[3] in order to increase their allotment, complaints about people who complain about mules, how every other beer on the market compares to Tree House, and endless pictures of fridges filled with Tree House brews[4], Tree House cans stacked like PBR’s in a frat house[5], or obligatory empty can next to favorite Tree House glassware with something akin to an Orange Julius[6].

How awesome is Tree House? Pretty awesome[7]. Did they reinvent beer and all other beer is really just derivative and equally inferior to Tree House? No, not even close. But don’t tell that to their fans.

This has all happened before. I remember when it was Pliny and dudes made the trek to Russian River while tricking their spouses with trips to wine country[8]. The annual rite of passage in attending Three Floyds’ Dark Lord Day was something on every beer nerd’s bucket ale pail list[9]. Or how about those of us checking off stops at one of Mikkeller’s seemingly endless bars around the globe[10]? And there’s many others.

The worst I’ve seen prior to moving to Western Mass was the annual mad dash for Bell’s Hopslam[11], an imperial IPA reeking of so much cattiness that some have sworn to have seen tiny hairballs floating among the carbon dioxide and yeast cells[12]. I wasn’t living in Michigan where I assume there’s enough Hopslam for every man, woman, and child to each have a case or two[13]. Instead, I was living in Missouri, a state still starving for a world-class IPA[14]. Every January or February, the rumors would start all over social media as to just when the Hopslam would arrive, who had it in bottles or on tap, and what the allotment would be. This was inevitably followed by complaints there wasn’t enough beer to go around, it wasn’t as good as last year’s[15], or people stockpiling the stuff.

Still, none of that compares to the bellyaching and simultaneous one-upmanship of the Tree House fans. According to these beer enthusiasts, Tree House makes the perfect beer which is the New England IPA[15]. All other beers are either “juicy” or not, but they all fail to achieve Tree House levels of juiciness[16]. Also, mules are great if it means I get more beer cans to collect but awful if I didn’t get my allotment of trade bait.

Zac Early (@sm_jenkins) - Instagram photos and videos.clipular (2)

Tree House makes truly fantastic beer, but there is beer beyond Monson Charlton[17]. In fact, just a few miles away in Ludlow, MA, there’s a tiny brewery by the name of Vanished Valley making NEIPA’s as juicy as anything Tree House, Trillium, or Other Half are brewing these days[18]. Oh, and there are other styles out there as well. The market is flooded with nearly as many high-quality Saisons as IPA’s. Oh, and one can’t forget the inexplicable abundance of imperial stouts in the middle of summer[19].

And what about when the hype dies? What about when the next great style of beer reaches our taste buds? What about when the next garage-based, nano-brewery brews said beer style in such tiny quantities that beer nerds line up for miles[20] just to sample a taste or be told “NO BEER FOR YOU”?

I’ll tell you. There will be a new group of acolytes full of hyperbole and tunnel vision who will state their preferences as fact and obsess over one beer or brewery to the extent their spouses will leave them and their children will swear off beer forever[21]. Then what? It will all happen again.

All that said, I will continue to drink Tree House beers, but I won’t drink their Kool-Aid[22].

Notes:
1 I don’t know about the “juicy” part, but friends used to bump up the mouthfeel of their beers with some oatmeal in the mash. One side effect was that lighter-colored beers had a haze not unlike today’s NEIPA. I like the color, but it’s getting old seeing all these pictures of new IPA’s that look like glasses of Tang.
2 I find sporadic trading to be fun, but those “professional” traders out there who buy cases of beer only to trade most of them for whales and whatnot to be kinda boring. Plus, who has the time and resources to constantly trade beer? When does one find time to drink these beers.
3 No. No one is shoving cans of beer up their ass in order to smuggle beer across a border. The term “mule” in this instance refers to the significant others, domestic workers, and others who are asked to “purchase” another allotment of beers so that one person can double or triple their inventory.
4 I never understood the beer porn of endless shelves and fridges filled with so much beer one human could never consume it all without their liver failing instantly. Great. You have three cases of beer from one brewery of basically one style that coincidentally does not age well no matter how tight that can is or how cold you keep your refrigerator.
5 Really? Really. Grown adults are collecting beer cans and either stacking them like they did blocks as a toddler or lining them along the top of their kitchen cabinets. I helped build one beer can pyramid in college and promptly dropped that skill from my repertoire.
6 Yes, this was done on purpose. Julius is one of TH’s most popular brews. I actually don’t like it as much as their others, but it’s good. The reference also refers to the orangey/milky appearance of the beers as well as their fruit juicy flavors and smooth, creamy mouthfeel.
7 Not gonna front. This is the most inspiring brewery I’ve encountered in years and they happen to be on the forefront of a subgenre that’s overtaking the market.
8 I’ve never done this, but I mention it every time a trip to wine country is suggested. Honestly, I would try whatever IPA’s RR has on tap, but I would linger over and enjoy their sour beers even more obsessively.
9 Another thing I haven’t done, but its moment is in the past. I’ve stood in line for beer at 3T’s and I love what they do. I still have the bottle from the lone Dark Lord I’ve had, but that was enough for me.
10 I’ve been to two of Mikkeller’s Copenhagen bars and they were totally worth it. I’ve vowed to visit all of their locations whenever I visit a city where they have a bar. That said, I long for the day I dine and imbibe at their BBQ joint effort with Three Floyds, AKA War Pigs.
11 I don’t remember why I footnoted this one.
12 This is an exaggeration because hyperbole and essentialism are the most important tools when talking about craft beer.
13 Yes, craft beer everywhere, but no one can figure out how to supply Flint with clean water.
14 To be fair, there is tons of great beer in Missouri. Some of the IPA’s are even good, but that’s not what Missouri does best. Breweries in Missouri do everything well, not just one style. Nothing really stands out aside from Saisons and sours here and there, but that’s okay as a lot of good beer is happening there.
15 The New England IPA is a cloudy, orange-colored, fruity, somewhat not bitter version of the IPA that is all the rage. Check any brewery’s social media feed and they’re probably posting milky-orange beers with virtually no head and using terms like “juicy” or “hazy” to describe these concoctions. Also expect limited runs and long lines as no one seems to have figured out how to make this style in large quantities that have a shelf life beyond a few days. Still, when fresh, the NEIPA is an exceptional offshoot of the IPA.
16 The term “juicy” needs to die. I’m so over it and feel it’s overused. I recently noticed members of the aforementioned Tree House FB group describing every beer on a scale of juiciness when these beers do not feature the fruit juice qualities of the typical NEIPA.
17 Tree House has moved its main operation to Charlton from Monson. Google it.
18 Trillium is a Boston-area brewery doing what Tree House will be doing in a few years and Other Half is a Brooklyn brewery doing what Tree House was doing just a couple of years ago. Both are pretty amazing. I feel lucky to have somewhat regular access to all three if I want it.
19 Why is this? There are never imperial stouts on the shelves when I want them in the dead of winter. No. Most have been hitting the shelves this summer. Time to stock up, I guess.
20 And they will. Despite so many great beers on tap or occupying store shelves, craft beer enthusiasts only want what they can’t have.
21 Yes, I realize the hypocrisy of obsessing over a band (Pavement) in which I compare them to pretty much every other band and sometimes beers while calling out Tree House fanbois for the same thing. I’m just taking the piss.
22 Even then, I bet a Tree House Kool-Aid would be a hazy-ass hop bomb to end all hop bombs. In fact, I bet it would even be…dare I say juicy?

Tagged with: , , ,