Brewpublic, on a recent trip to New England, made certain to stop at Allagash Brewing Company in Portland, Maine.
As mentioned on their website, Allagash, since 1995 and behind the vision of founder Rob Tod, has brewed a unique variety of traditional and experimental Belgian-style beers made with a dedication to craftsmanship and quality.
All of the bottled beers at Allagash are bottle conditioned. In a temperature controlled cellar, the beers begin a new fermentation process in the bottle and naturally carbonated the brews. Allagash’s focus on traditional Belgian character craftsmanship sets them apart from the majority of American breweries. It is a long, expensive and traditional process that the brewery adheres to in order to put forth an amazing product worthy of admiration from the biggest beer geeks around the world.
While at Allagash, we had the distinct pleasure and honor of meeting with brewmaster Jason Perkins. Perkins, 35, is in his twelfth year with the brewery, and has perpetuated the longstanding tradition of the artisan brewhouse.
Recently, Allagash has made waves in the international beer community by taking their spirit of experimentation to the next level by brewing a 100% spontaneously fermented beer in the tradition of the Belgian Lambics. In December of 2008, Perkins and company brewed the first two of their spontaneously fermented beers at Allagash. In brewing these beers they employed an authentic process paying homage to the classic Belgian Lambic tradition, including the use of a Koelschip (cool ship), which was built on premise, specifically for these spontaneous beers.
The brewery explains:
The process begins with a specialized decoction mash, which utilizes the addition of both two row barley and raw, unmalted wheat. After the mash and sparge, we add aged hops during the boil, which are traditionally used because they impart many of the beer stabilizing benefits of hops without contributing bitterness. The use of aged hops (aged a minimum of three years) necessitates an unusually long boil of over four hours.
After boiling, rather than cooling the beer in a sterile environment and adding a brewer’s yeast culture, the hot wort is pumped to a cool ship in a special room designed specifically to make these beers. The cool ship is a commonly used tool in Belgium, but is rarely seen beyond Belgium’s borders, if at all. It is a large, open tray that is 12 feet long, 8 feet wide and 1 foot deep. Once in the cool ship the hot wort spends the night cooling from near boiling temperatures to about 60 degrees Fahrenheit. To facilitate the cooling process, windows in the cool ship room are left open overnight. The cool Maine air, containing natural bacteria and wild yeast, drifts in and cools the wort. As soon as the wort is cool enough, the natural airborne yeasts and bacteria are able to survive in what will eventually be the spontaneously fermented beer (it is these natural yeasts and bacteria which will ferment the beer, rather than a yeast added by the brewer).
Next, the wort is pumped back into a brewery tank, where it will spend one further day before it is pumped into special French oak barrels. Within one to three weeks, spontaneous fermentation begins in the oak and will continue for over one year. After the yearlong fermentation this traditional beer will age in French oak for at least one more year, sometimes with the addition of fruits, before it is finally bottled.
You may have noticed less of Allagash’s fine beers on the shelf in the Pacific Northwest marketplace. This is related to the overwhelming demand that has brought the focus of their push toward a more localized front. Hopefully in the not so distant future we’ll begin to see more of Allagash’s bottles and kegs seeping their way back into the finer establishments around Cascadia. Until then, you’ll just have to do as we’ve done and pay a visit to the source.
Thanks to Jason, Kate, Naomi, and the entire staff at Allagash for their hospitality and a wonderful tour of the brewery.
Stay tuned for an exclusive Brewpublic video interview with Allagash brewmaster Jason Perkins.