Some thoughts on the Trillium debacle

I was going to include the Trillium stuff from this week in my monthly news/notes/links column coming on Thursday but there was way too much to unwrap, so I decided to write a separate post. Here it goes.

It has been a crazy week for Trillium Brewing Company, one of the most popular and sought after local breweries. It started with a thread on Beer Advocate where a former employee made a series of accusations including the fact that many long-time employees had their pay cut as they moved into jobs at the new Fort Point brewery/restaurant. There were also accusations of offering lower quality beer from trub kegs (containing excess sediment from the bottom of a batch) for growler fills and of spiking frozen beer drinks with tequila. The Boston Globe followed up with a comprehensive article that included a short response by founder JC Tetreault, and Trillium later followed up with an official statement that admitted to the wage cuts but declined to address the other accusations. Trillium has reinstated the wages of impacted employees who hadn’t already left the company.

One of the best pieces I’ve read on this is from Beervana, who notes how poorly the brewery has done at responding to this debacle. The Full Pint suggests that breweries need to invest in professional PR firms to handle these things.

Will Gordon called out local beer blogs on Twitter today for avoiding the topic, so I thought I would jump in the ring and give a few thoughts on everything that has happened over the last few days. To be honest, I would be surprised if any local beer writers are actively trying to protect the brewery, my experience (and I am not alone in this) is that Trillium has been arrogantly dismissive of beer writers and bloggers, ignoring most requests for comment on pieces.

Trillium Six-It really sucks that Trillium had no qualms about treating long time employees this way, and that they only changed the policy after public backlash and after many of the impacted employees had left the business. I think it acts as a reminder that the romanticized vision of all craft breweries as ideal companies serving their communities is off base. Just like any other industry there are a spectrum business models ranging from ownership groups that prioritizes the needs of their workforce to breweries that try to squeeze out every last dollar of profit. Hopefully the backlash from this leads other breweries who have similar employment issues to reassess their business model.

-To be honest, the story wasn’t a huge surprise to many people who are plugged into the local industry. I had heard multiple negative accounts from former Trillium employees about the company culture. Fortunately many of these same people have had much better experiences working for other breweries or in other parts of the industry, suggesting that the problem isn’t industry-wide. It will be interesting to see if similar stories start to emerge about other popular breweries.

-I’ve heard plenty of people opine that this negative publicity will have zero effect on Trillium’s bottom line, that the haze bros won’t care about this in the least. I think this is completely false. A brewery like Founders (who is going through their own set of issues right now) might skate by because the majority of their product is sold in grocery stores to people who don’t pay attention at all to beer news. Trillium sells most of their beer directly to customers at their breweries, so their customer base needs to be somewhat plugged into the local beer scene to seek it out. If even a small percentage of their customers decide to avoid the brand after these revelations it could have a significant impact. Trillium markets their brand as a premium product, and they charge a premium price, but there are plenty of other quality options available at a lower price point. The biggest issue that Trillium could face is that some of their die-hard fans could use this as an excuse to check out other brands, and realize that there is a lot of other great beer to try.

-While Trillium admitted to the employment/pay issues in their response they neglected the quality issues, only making a small mention of trub kegs in one reply and completely ignoring the accusation of spiking beer with tequila. I imagine there are legal reasons to avoid these issues (the tequila thing in particular could get them in big trouble), but I have a hard time believing that they would stay silent on the topic if it was completely false.

-It will be really interesting to follow the fall out from all of this. Trillium has just opened a massive new brewery and restaurant in Fort Point and purchased a farm in Connecticut to set up a farm-brewery. We’ve seen a number of recent examples where breweries have run into financial trouble because they over-expand assuming a continued rate of growth, so even though they are selling lots of beer it is missing the projections they need to cover their expenses/debts. I don’t believe that this will happen to Trillium, they have many options to sell more beer (like expanded distribution) and a huge national following for a local brewery, but it will be interesting to see how the backlash from these revelations effect the business going forward.

-I will end with a question for my readers: Will the news from the last week effect your future patronage of Trillium? If yes, will you just buy less or stop going all together? I am interested to hear what everyone has to say.

13 Comments

  1. Trillium is 1000% arrogant with ZERO customer service..I sent them 5 emaiis about a $22 four pack of beer that was flat, and I never heard a single word from them. They completely ignored me. Arrogant is a good description of Trillium.

    1. Not replying to a QC issue is inexcusable, I’ve had multiple beers from different breweries with similar issues (no carb or obviously oxidized) and I’ve always received an expedient response from the breweries.

  2. There are sooo many good breweries out there now. I think the wage cuts to long time employees was too sleazy business move to overlook for me, not to mention the growler fill and aged tequila barrel debacle.

  3. I’ve always felt Trillium beer while incredible tasting is vastly overpriced. I limit my purchases there and always seek out other great local beer. So in essence I can’t go there less unless I stop all together. Treehouse is far superior imho and many other breweries with comparable beer dollar for dollar!

    1. Same for me. This debacle confirmed for me that their high prices aren’t going back into the product or the employees, the profits are pocketed by the owners and investors. They generally do make quality beers, but I’ll stick to their offerings that are competitively priced, such as Fort Point Pale Ale (until they jack up the price on that).

  4. It is clear that the Tetraults made a bad decision but it was never clear to me that the employees who grab my 4 packs were so reliant on tips. I always add 15% because I worked in restaurants for years. But it was never clear either on social media or any of the Beer community boards that Trillium employees made their money off of tips.

    I find the Beeradvocate trolls to be lemmings. For several years, all they could do was “qvuell” when a new trillium beer was released. Now they all get off on slamming one of the best beers in New England.

    As for the new recipes and all the BS criticism, I still think their beer is exceptional and will continue to visit Canton once a week.

    All of this criticism means MFM – More for me. !!!

    1. I don’t agree with the people who have used this controversy as an excuse to slam Trillium’s beer, I think they make a quality product overall. I do think that the decision to cut employees pay was pretty shitty, and their response has been a PR disaster. I think many people will agree with you and keep buying their beer, but it will be interesting to see how this all unfolds.

      1. You’re not wrong – they obviously make a quality beer. However, I think a lot of customer’s have experienced poor quality beer and like excused it as a one-off scenario, where it is now being brought to light that this is more common. I had the same issue with a few packs of their Cutting Tiles and some others where there was an insane amount of trub in each can. I reached out to Trillium 4-5 times and was completely ignored. Gave them the benefit of the doubt that they were too busy to respond, but seems like I’m far from the only one they ignored.

  5. For me – their stouts would be very difficult for me to stop drinking. PM Dawn, Day & Night/Night & Day, etc. are some of my all time favs. I’ll rarely drink their Pale Ales, Sours, Saisons, etc. going forward unless they do some solid course correction and prove their care about their staff.

  6. So the trolls have joined in on this discussion. If a wine drinker ever complained to a winery because of cork taint or sulfites, you would get the same non response. Both beer and wine are living things. They change, are harsh at the beginning.

    Get a life and buy other beers. AGAIN – MFM (more for me )

    1. I don’t see that comment as trolling. I have had beers from a variety of breweries that had quality issues (flat, oxidized, clearly out of code but no dates), in nearly every case I’ve received an apology when I contacted the brewery, and usually an offer of a refund or replacement. That is just good customer service. BTW-I have a friend who is a big wine guy and he has had similar interactions with vineyards over “corked” bottles, where they have apologized/refunded the purchase.

      1. I was not specifically referring to your comment. Are you aware that 10% of all corked wines have taint issues ? I seriously doubt that any winery outside of a boutique winery replaces bottles.

        I recently was given a growler of Honest Weight filled the day it was given to me and it was totally flat.Just pour it down the drain.

  7. For what its worth, I got a bad 4 pack of Rebel Raw a couple years ago. Wasn’t refrigerated and had no hop aroma/flavor left. I reached out to Boston Beer Co and they apologized and sent me a $12 check in the mail. I had an issue with Undine Double IPA from Down the Road, where the beer was clearly off. I reached out and they responded with an apology and an offer of a free beer if I visited the brewery. Two concrete examples of breweries standing by their product.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s