UPDATE: In the most recent development to this original story, Trillium announced on Dec. 5, 2018 that they would be moving to a fixed hourly wage for retail employees.
You’ll have to take the content of this post with a grain of salt, considering the anonymous nature of the source, but the beer world has been abuzz Wednesday in response to some allegations levied against Boston’s Trillium Brewing Co. by someone claiming online to be a former employee of the company. Given the depth of information possessed by the person, there seems to be little doubt that this was in fact a former employee—and the picture he draws of employment at Trillium is concerning in some cases and outright illegal in others.
The accusations first appeared in a thread on Beer Advocate early Wednesday morning, wherein posters were discussing various gripes with the famed NE-IPA producing company. As commenters posted various theories on the brand’s supposedly changed “fermentation profile” and how it’s negatively affected Trillium beers in recent months, an account by the name of @abagofit appeared and laid out a long list of grievances from his/her time as a former employee, calling out Trillium owners JC and Esther Tetreault by name. To cite a couple of those passages:
I can say that everything posted about employee wages and benefits being cut is true. JC and Esther have absolutely no respect for the people working for them, all they care about is $$$. Guess you can’t really blame them, it is a business after all. They are well aware of the fact that people want the “prestige” of working for a top brewery and are willing to be underpaid to build the resume. You can probably count on one hand the number of people who have lasted more than 3 years. Trillium started paying $5/hr instead of $8/hr to new retail staff right around the time the greenway first opened, so this isn’t just because of the restaurant. However, any longstanding employees of the Congress st location were indeed given a pay cut for their years of service.
Let me say that again, after working for trillium for 3+ years, employees were (after interviewing for the jobs they already had) offered $3/hr less to work the exact same job across the street. That may not sound like a lot, but that is a 37.5% cut that would be ~$6000 a year for full time staff. At the end of the day, this is not illegal, it’s just shitty.
The reason why this move, if true, wouldn’t be illegal is because the “retail” positions are apparently tipped out, but it raises immediate questions about which positions in a business should be tipped, and which should have a fixed income. In the U.S., customers expect restaurant servers to be tipped out, for instance—but what about the person who simply hands you a case of beer you purchased after standing in line at Trillium? Many in the Beer Advocate thread said that they had never tipped the employees for simply selling them cans to go, while others opined that it was excessive to expect the customer base to pay the majority of the wages of a retail worker, rather than the employer. It’s unknown what the average retail employee at Trillium is making once tips are factored in, but the fact that the pay cut allegedly was applied to workers with years of loyalty to the company would certainly sting—especially when you consider we’re talking about a brewery that routinely charges $22 per 4-pack.
Compare that to the likes of Vermont’s Lawson’s Finest Liquids, which states its policy is to employ a “no-tip” model by “offering our full-time employees generous living wages with benefits,” while simultaneously donating all tips to charity.
@abagofit goes on, however, to make additional accusations that would be not just ethically questionable, but outright illegal if true. In the segment of his post below, the writer accuses Trillium of literally pouring hard liquor into at least one of its beers, which would be a very obvious violation of state law.
Trillium has however been involved with at least one blatantly illegal practice. Did you guys ever try the frozen Mexican sunrise beer? Ever wonder how they got that distinct tequila flavor? Lots of customers did too and let me tell you it was awkward as hell having to skirt that question or outright lie to the customers. At first we were telling customers that it was a wild ale aged in tequila barrels, but then customers started asking which barrels we were using. I asked the general manager, Matt Gartska what barrels we aged the beer in and his response, “Idk dude just make something up!” If you haven’t figured it out yet, there were no tequila barrels. They straight up dumped tequila into the kegs. I’m no lawyer, but I know that is illegal. Trillium knows it too because eventually they just told us to stop acknowledging the tequila flavor or to tell the customers it was “brewers magic”.
Trillium has yet to release any kind of official acknowledgement or response to the allegations, but they’re most certainly aware of them. Since this morning, the Trillium Facebook page has been deluged by angry beer geeks who are roasting the company over various aspects of the Beer Advocate thread. JC Tetreault also appeared in the members-only “Trillium Brewing Fans” Facebook group and made the following comment, saying only that the Beer Advocate thread was “unbelievable,” and promising future response. The lack of a more direct denial here of any aspect of @abagofit’s post does loom rather large.
A more detailed response from Trillium will no doubt arrive at some point, and we’ll update this post once it does. Of course, the company could be waiting for the holiday weekend to kick in, and hoping that everything will blow over. They may be right, but regardless, a lot of Beer Advocate readers and r/beer denizens just swore off one of the East Coast’s most popular breweries.
UPDATE: The Boston Globe has now picked up on the story, summarizing the content of the Beer Advocate thread while also including some more statements from employees and former employees, including one short statement from JC Tetreault.
Said one quoted employee, speaking to the flood of workers leaving Trillium after their wages were decreased following “promotions”:
“People are leaving. We had one member of the retail team at Fort Point for over three years, who, when presented with her offer, declined,” said one employee, who asked that his name not be published to protect his employment. “We’re dissatisfied because the number that we’ve been getting in our checks has dropped, and not insignificantly.”
Oddly, the Globe story has only one short statement from Tetreault, and it doesn’t deny (or even attempt to address) the specific charges in the Beer Advocate thread, including the potentially illegal use of liquor. Instead, it simply addresses the departures of various employees, admitting that “only two” of the employees offered a pay cut were still with the company. Tetreault said the following:
“We made a mistake,” said JC Tetreault, who founded and owns Trillium with his wife, Esther, in 2013. “To have people not feel valued, that makes me feel terrible . . . I’m pretty heartbroken as to how we got to this point.”
We can only wonder why this is the only comment the Globe was given, but we’ll update this post again, when and if a more detailed response arrives.
UPDATE: Still no “official” statement out of Trillium beyond the single line in the Boston Globe, but JC Tetreault did appear in the original Beer Advocate thread to offer … well, not much of anything, really. In his post, Tetreault simply states that Trillium retail employees are well compensated and prefer the current system to a fixed income, non-tipped one, while saying that he made “a mistake” in slashing the wages of longtime employees. Conveniently, he makes no reference whatsoever to the “tequila” allegations, among other things. One can only conclude that Trillium is trying to stay as far away from that particular topic as it possibly can.
If there are any other statements, we’ll add them to this piece.