Thoughts on Tree House: Vol. I

I could write volumes about Tree House Brewing. In fact, I think I will…this will be the first of, I’m sure, many thoughts on my favorite brewery. Here goes…

There’s an episode of Everybody Loves Raymond where Ray’s parents are planning on moving and Ray describes the perfect distance for them to be. Too close and they’ll be over all the time and drop in without notice, too far and they won’t be able to come by to visit at all. In many ways, this is how I’d describe my feelings on Tree House. At about 2 hours away, it’s too far to just drop by but it’s close enough that I could go on any given weekend. But let’s apply this analogy to other aspects of TH.

When I do make the trip, I usually load up on beer to make it worth the drive, and at $3-$5 per can I’m spending a solid $125 for a case and a half. Again, too much to make a habit of it, but not so much that I feel buyers remorse.

Trail Magic German Pils

Similarly, the variety of beers that Tree House brews is right in the sweet spot. They’re obviously known for their New England IPAs double IPA’s and, to a lesser extent, their stouts. But they also regularly release Pale Ales, an Extra Special Bitter, a German Pilsner, an Amber, mixed fermentation ales, porters, and a Blonde Ale to name a few, and they do them all extremely well. For my taste buds, this gives them an advantage of breweries like Other Half that seems to just pump out IPA after IPA. Tree House has enough of a focus on juicy, hop forward ales that define their taste while maintaining enough diversity in their offerings to keep things exciting without diluting the brand. They haven’t yet released any sours, they don’t regular seasonals (Oktoberfest) or followed some of the other trends in the industry (Gose.) I’d be less excited about visiting if I knew I’d only walk away with IPAs. I want these – I really want these – but I think I was almost more excited to try Old Man (their ESB) than the Very Green that’s sitting in my fridge right now. Almost.

The comparison extends to their flavor profiles, too. Tree House has a “Tree House flavor” that, I think, is attributable to their proprietary yeast blend, and is most easily recognized in their hop-forward ales. It’s always exciting for me when trying a non-IPA beer from Tree House to taste whether it has this signature taste. Trail Magic, their German Pils, does not have this profile (probably due to being a lager, supporting my yeast theory), but Eureka (Blonde Ale) and Ma (Amber Ale) do exhibit the Tree House flavor. (I’ve never crossed paths with TH stouts have never crossed paths, but I’m excited to evaluate whether they have the TH flavor.) While I love the signature taste, the fact that it isn’t in all of their beers keeps things exciting.

And one last example of Tree House landing right in the sweet spot is the rotation of their offerings. They have a core lineup that’s on the regular rotation: Julius, Green, Haze, Bright, Sap, Eureka, Alter Ego to name a few. But they have a long list of other beers that pop up every few weeks (Old Man, Trail Magic), months (That’s What She Said, Very Green), or only on the rarest of occasions (Juice Machine, King Julius.) They also keep the regulars exciting by using different hop combos (Bright w/ Galaxy, Bright w/ Citra.) So these days you’re guaranteed to have a nice selection of 4-7 beers to chose from, but you’re also likely to hit on at least one of the more limited releases (this week brought us Very Green and Very Hazy on the same silent release) and, if you’re really lucky, one of the Tree House whales.

I could list another half dozen ways in which Tree House perfectly walks the line between everyday common and extremely special, from their branding to their PR to the brewery and taproom. They’re giving the fans what they come for while always keeping things fresh and exciting. I just love this brewery and am really lucky to have it right in my back yard…well, maybe a few houses down is OK.


Case Study: Two Roads Brewing Company

Case Study: Two Roads Brewing Company

Two Roads is one of those breweries that I would love to love. They’re right in my back yard, they have a great facility and taproom, and are very involved in the beer community.

But I don’t love their beer. Everything they brew is good, but Two Roads has no direction…no shtick. They brew a solid Pilsner, a good Saison, decent IPA’s, stouts, seasonals, and even some sours (that leave a lot to be desired…for now.) Their strength is that they can brew any type of beer well, but their weekness is that they don’t brew any beers (under the Two Roads brand) that are amazing. Two Juicy was their first time coming close to breaking into the “trade-worthy” category of beers, but I think the shine has worn off on this one and they have nothing else that is very buzzworthy.

Two Roads is like the Sierra Nevada of the East Coast…available everywhere and no shame in ordering one, but you don’t get too excited about it. Maybe this is a symptom of being  a contract brewer first and a brewery under its own name second – it’s run like a business and without the passion or excitement of the smaller breweries.

Don’t get me wrong, they’re a great brewery, solid beer, amazing place, and all around good people. I’m excited about their expansion and hope that it breathes a little bit of the excitement into their brand and their beers.

A Few of My Favorites: Instagram Edition

I have a lot of favorites when it comes to all things beer: can art, breweries, photographers, and of course the beer itself. In this first post in a series I’m calling “A Few of My Favorites,” I’m going to start with a few of my favorite Instagrammers. Off the top of my head, I can list a dozen that I really love, but I’ll start with just a few. Hat’s off to these photographers! Really amazing and inspiring work, each in their own way. Plenty more to come, so stay tuned for the next edition of A Few of My Favorites.

@bkbeerguy – Cory Smith is easily one of the most talented beer photographers on Instagram. His photography style ranges from super light and airy to dark and gritty, from soft and warm to raw and rugged, yet still manages to tie together as a single portfolio when viewed as a whole. And as if that weren’t enough to make me angry with jealousy, he is also an amazing journalist. His write up (and photography) on Bissell Brothers that appeared on Good Beer Hunting is well worth the read. I hear he’s a nice guy, too.

@thepourtraits – Matt Furman photographs brewers. I’ve only recently discovered his profile, and I haven’t even gotten around to liking any yet because I need to set aside a good half hour to go through every one and like them all. His photo of Henry Monkish brings a smile to my face every time I look at it and I can’t begin to tell you why. Like, I don’t even know any of these brewers and I want Matt’s photos hanging on my living room wall next to pictures of my wife and children.–/ 

@elitracks – Eli Traks’ photos, unlike Cory and Matt’s, usually take more of a studio-lighting-and-setup sort of approach, and man are they amazing! You might recognize here photos from the official Aslin Beer profile, which regularly features Eli’s pics. There’s just so much color and life in her photos, and the mid-splash raspberries dropping into beer look so good they make me drool. It would take me about a thousand pounds of raspberries and a keg’s worth of beer to reproduce anything even close to her pics.

Beer Nerd Collective

Speaking of some of my favorite Instagrammers (one day I’ll make a list!), take a look at what @scbeernerd is building over at The Beer Nerd Collective.  Max is another great photographer focusing on beer and breweries, and is very engaged with the beer community on Instragram. When he’s not studying to be a doctor, he’s visiting breweries and documenting them through his photography and writing, brewing beer, and hanging out in IG with other beer enthusiasts.

Max recently kicked off The Beer Nerd Collective project and is enlisting the help of some of the most talented photo-journalists out there to help bring exciting beer and brewing stories to the internets. Definitely one you’ll want to follow!


Kismet Brewing to open in Westfield, MA

@lizdrinksbeer is easily one of my top 5 Instagrammers. Not only are her photos amazing, but she’s super friendly, helpful, and a pleasure to chat with. So it’s very exciting to hear that she and her hubby, @richdrinksbeer, will be opening a brewery, Kismet Brewing, in Westfield, MA later this fall.  Best of luck to Liz and Rich…can’t wait to drop by and meet you in person!

Check out the write up on Mass Brew Bros:

For Craft Beer Couple, New Westfield Brewery is Kismet

Comerica Bank Forecloses on Green Flash

Green Flash West Coast IPA was one of my gateway beers into IPA’s, and one of the first homebrew clone kits that I ever brewed. Still an amazing beer. Sadly, they weren’t able to sustain their growth, and after selling off their new Virginia Beach facility, Comerica bank has foreclosed on Green Flash’s loans. What will become of the Green Flash beers remains to be seen.

Comerica Bank forecloses on Green Flash / Alpine



Below is a sample of my beer-related photography, and also check out my portfolio page for more beer and non-beer related pics. More from our latest trip to Tree House coming soon…


Singlecut – Is This the Real Life?

There have been no beer styles that have ridden the wave of the craft beer craze to the degree that IPAs have. The 2008 BJCP Guidelines listed three varieties of IPAs: English, American, and Imperial. The 2015 update now lists four – English, American, Specialty, and Double – but the Specialty category  defines six more (Black, Brown, White, Rye, Belgian, and Red) and leaves the door open for countless more to be added (Northeast IPAs are sure to be under consideration for the next update.) Further, IPAs are also classified by their strength:

  • Session:  3.0-5.0% ABV
  • Standard – 5.0-7.5% ABV
  • Double: 7.5-10.0% ABV

So there are an endless list of possibilities within the IPA style and most breweries have a number of IPAs in their roster, often one of them being their flagship beer.

A relatively new brewery to enter this market is Singlecut Beersmiths, located in the Astoria neighborhood of Queens, NY, and they are no exception to this rule. A stones throw from my home in CT, they’ve recently started appearing in limited quantities in my local bottle shops and I’ve heard good things, so I picked up a bottle of their Is This the Real Life? IPA to see for myself. (As an aside, music, guitar, and amps are their schtick, so their beers are named as such.)

First, the vitals:

  • Style: American IPA (BJCP 2015 – 1D)
  • ABV: 7.2%
  • IBU: 120 (bottle), 110 (website)
  • Color: 7-8 SRM estimated
  • Hops: Pacific Northwest, New Zealand
  • Malt: Unknown
  • Cost: $7.99/bottle (1pt 9oz)

Technically speaking, this beer doesn’t fit nicely into a single category. The ABV is on the high end for a standard IPA, but their claimed bitterness is well above the range of 40-70 provided by the guidelines. This is one area where breweries are taking the

notice the small red Les Paul-style headstock peeking out from behind the label…so sweet!

liberty to push beyond the specs for this style, and while I don’t object to not being boxed in by the guideline, the “more is better” approach to hopping isn’t always successful.

The bottle is a 1pt 9oz package and the label is a nice matte paper with spot varnish to highlight the brewery name. I love the die cut Les Paul head stock peeking out of the top of the label…a really nice touch and nod to their love of guitars.

The beer is a deep orange color, slightly hazy, and has a slightly off-white, fluffy head that reduces to a layer of tiny bubbles after about 2 minutes. The foam clinging to the wall of my tulip glass leaves nice lacing as I drink this beer. The smell is, as expected, all hops and very fruity. Tropical grapefruit is the strongest at first, but later the mandarin orange becomes more noticeable.

My first sip is a mouthful of beer, to say the least, and is slightly sticky. Not as dry as my previously reviewed Modern Times Fortunate Islands, which finished at 1.008, so I’d put this one around 1.012. The beer is very hoppy, but I doubt that I could distinguish the listed 120 IBUs from 90 or even 70 unless side-by-side, so it seems excessive. The fact that the ABV is in the Standard range but the IBUs are so high throws the IBU/OG ratio out of whack. Whereas you might expect something in the 1-1.25 range, this probably comes in around 1.7.  While I think this beer is hopped for the sake of hopping, and this dominates the profile, it’s not overpowering. I don’t think the IBUs can even be perceived in this range, but it’s not as pleasant to my taste buds.

Ironically, the alcohol esters are a little punchier than I’d expect from 7.2% and so much bitterness, so I’m not sure the best balance has been struck here. Something seems off to me.

Flavor-wise, I’m picking up slightly floral, very soft notes, especially towards the back end of each sip. A medium body with resiny hops that come through later in the glass. Although the hops are clearly prominent, the body of the beer allows them to be front and center without overpowering the flavor. I pick up very little malt flavor, but the color would suggest mostly 2-row with only a little bit of crystal on the low end of the Lovibond scale, maybe 20-40.

The grapefruit continues to take front stage and I let the 2nd half of my beer warm for a little while. When I return, the aroma has opened up, partly due to warming and partly due to being able to get my nose fully into the glass. By the end of the beer, it’s gotten a little too warm and the alcohol esters are too strong.

While I enjoyed the experience of this beer (the bottle, color, aroma, and trying a new brewery,) I didn’t love the beer. If this review seems a little confused, it’s because the beer is too. The hopping tastes too strong to me compared to the maltiness (or lack thereof) and alcohol, but at the same time they’re not overwhelming. I wouldn’t expect any more malt flavor here, but the hops and bitterness are not extremely well balanced with the alcohol. For my taste buds, I’d like to tone back the bittering charge to achieve a more reasonable range of 50-60 IBUs. I’ve been warned that some Singlecut beers are better than others and I’m looking forward to trying some of their other beers before I make a final judgment on the brewery.

JK’s Rating – 3 out of 6