Food Matters: Maiden Voyage to Tree House


ALL I KNEW, really, when my buddy Jerrid picked me up at 9 a.m. sharp on Thursday, was that we were headed to a remote town in Central Massachusetts. Sometime after noon, he said, Tree House Brewing Company would unveil a super-exclusive, limited-edition, small-batch, craft beer that he assured me was, “some of the best beer in the world.”

Why picking up a few cans and growler fills would take all day — the town of Monson, about the size of Aspen, sits just 60 miles east from our hometown on the Mass Pike, after all — I wasn’t quite sure. Still, he asked me for verbal confirmation that I understood I might not be home until 6 p.m., and I gave it to him.

“Usually they open at two o’clock,” he explained,” but they’ve been opening at 12:30 p.m. lately because there are so many people, the parking lots fill up, traffic get congested, the town doesn’t appreciate that.”

Like, how many people are we talking about?

“Last Thursday I got there at 9:30 a.m., and there were already 100 people in line,” he replied. “They opened up when two of the parking lots were filled. They had 1,000 cases to sell; times 24 beers per case at 12 cans per person is 2,000 people, sold in four hours.”

Wowza. This was a lot to process. But Jerrid had promised postscript barbecue from BT’s Smokehouse — a BYOB joint down the road from Tree House — and record shopping in Northampton, so I didn’t question him further. He’d even borrowed an SUV for the occasion, as a ‘Noreaster was sweeping across New England to create a potential weather emergency. Excitement was building — though I wasn’t quite sure what I was supposed to be excited about.

One of my closest friends since high-school and now beer guru at a high-end spirits boutique, Jerrid didn’t need to tell me much more than it would be worth it. He’s the careful, calculated yin to my impulsive, impetuous yang — not the kind of guy who makes brash decisions or embarks on epic road trips without promise of major payoff.

“I was kind of anti-Tree House for a while,” Jerrid admitted, as our SUV crawled along the highway in a whiteout. “I was going to breweries, up to The Alchemist [in Stowe, Vt.] for Heady Topper, and doing the whole wait-in-line-for-beer thing — here was too much hype…One day a can fell into my lap and it completely blew my mind.”

He decided to check it out on a day off, expecting to wait for hours to get inside.

Strangely, though, the parking lot was nearly empty when he arrived. The Tree House website has just announced the day’s featured beer as Juice Machine — which, despite having been brewed only once before at this time, was one of the brewery’s most sought-after beers already.

“My first Tree House experience is showing up with zero wait, getting six cans of the best beer they make AND two cans of Julius AND three cans of Bright AND three growler fills, in and out in five minutes,” he marveled. “I’ve been back every Thursday since and that’s never been the case. I always wait in line at least an hour and a half.”

I gulped, while visions of brisket danced in my head. Nick, a high-school social studies teacher grading papers silently in the backseat this entire time, sighed dramatically. Hopefully I’d bring some beginner’s luck to our crew.

“Will travel for food,” as the saying goes. But what makes a person so obsessed it (or beer) that he will stand in line outside for hours, in a snowstorm, just to get a taste?

“Beer is always changing,” Jerrid says, and the next best brewery is out there waiting to be found. “When you’re in line three hours early and they haven’t announced what they’re releasing that day, the anticipation of a super-limited release and talking with others beer heads is a lot of fun.”

Perhaps, if you don’t have a Rocky Mountain playground nearby. Colorado is the hub of the craft beer movement, though, and there are plenty of bearded, burly beer snobs who wait in long lines to sample special releases — see Crooked Stave in Denver and Broken Compass Brewing in Breckenridge, among others.

Maybe it’s the ritual of a food adventure — the journey, the anticipation, the struggle, the sweet success at the end of it all — that makes the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow so magically delicious.

And often you don’t know…until you know.

Take Cloud Nine Alpine Bistro, the ultimate destination on a Champagne odyssey. Mid-mountain at Aspen Highlands, the ski-in-only chalet has a cult-like following for its raucous afternoon dance parties, making it one of the most coveted reservations in winter.

I repeated all of this last weekend when I ran into a college pal from New York, here on a well-timed ski trip with other ’Cuse alumnae. They asked me where to ski on Saturday, and I didn’t skip a beat. Hike the Highland Bowl — challenging with the altitude but worth it, I said — followed by pre-après-ski Champagne party at Cloud Nine: legendary.

Early Saturday morning I received a text: The girls were skipping skiing for brunch and shopping instead. “We might want to just go walk into Cloud 9 if we can take the gondola right up there at 3,” she wrote.

Immediately I felt as if I’d failed as a friend/impromptu vacation consultant. Yes, I’d mentioned that two chairlifts were required to visit the incomparable party oasis with the confirmed largest Veuve Clicquot account in North America — but even the words “raining Champagne from the rafters” couldn’t convey the debauchery that would ensue.

Even I had forgotten, temporarily, that Cloud Nine at 3 p.m. morphs into a dark, steamy, ski-boot-stomping, shirt-round-yo-head-like-a-helicopter bacchanal. I popped in on Saturday anyway, to say hi to a soul sister with a table rez, and was drenched in Veuve within seconds. Spilling out onto the frigid slope later, I didn’t care that I was sopping wet and still kind of sober. That was worth it.

Back at the smokehouse after the Tree House excursion — which, by the way, only lasted two hours: Nos. 70, 71, and 72 in line, beginner’s luck! — we cracked open iridescent purple cans of Tree House Haze Double IPA and made a toast to a successful mission. Happy, hoppy, tropical-fruit nectar refreshment. I was converted.

You just don’t know…until

you know.

Aspen Times Weekly

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