By Day Bracey
Pittsburgh Current Craft Beer Writer
Feb 10, 3 p.m.: I arrive at Allagash Brewing in Portland, ME, a beautiful peninsula that thrives on seafood and beer to keep their economy afloat. Allagash is a one of the nation’s 50 largest breweries, credited with the proliferation of Belgian whites across the country and is home to America’s first coolship. What’s a coolship, you ask? It’s “a broad, open-top, flat vessel in which wort cools.” Basically, after the brewers get all the sugar from the malt into what is called a wort, they put it into this big shallow pool and allow weird and wild yeast to get in there and do what it does, which is ferment. This is where the funk in those funky sours comes from. In essence, Allagash brought the funk to America, albeit many years after George Clinton.
So, why am I here? I’m glad you probably asked. Apparently, Allagash is once again adding Pittsburgh to its distribution list starting in March and has invited me to have a look at their operations up close. First thing I notice is that all of the employees seem happy and enthusiastic. That’s because they all earn a living wage and a trip to Belgium after five years. Did I mention they have health insurance and maternity leave? Listen, if you’re not treating your employees well, fuck you and your product.
Lindsey and Liz, my tour guides, show me the tanks for the infamous Allagash White. Back in the day, whit beers weren’t very popular. Rob Tod, the owner, fell in love with them, welded some dairy equipment together in a barn, and began to brew and distribute the unpopular swill throughout the region. Eventually, it found a cult following, later a mass following, and catapulted the company into beer royalty while initiating the nation’s first haze craze. They’ve since upgraded the equipment and techniques to ensure consistency in taste and quality. I am not the biggest fan of whits, despite Blue Moon being one of my earliest craft beer favorites. They are typically banana bombs with coriander out the ass.
But Allagash White is subtle in both areas, taking a less-is-more approach that doesn’t burn out your palate after the first sip. It’s like a good parent who knows how to keep their rowdy kids in check so that everyone else in the bar can enjoy their visit. Keep this in mind the next time your little bananas and corianders are throwing tantrums on the floor at my favorite brewery.
We have a look at the original barn, sip some of that coolship funk, and discuss plans for the future, which includes a hangover.
“You know what the best cure for a hangover is?” asked Lindsey. “Tap water. We have the cleanest and best tasting water in the country, right out of the tap.”
I’ve been doing brewery tours for six years now and I have never heard anyone brag about the tap water. But it’s true. Nearby Sebago Lake is one of only fifty surface water supplies in America that is so clean that it doesn’t require filtering. Meanwhile, I have guests sign a waiver before drinking the tap water at my house.
And this isn’t by accident. Allagash is part of Sebago Clean Waters, a “collaborative involving organizations from Maine and away with the aim of protecting the Sebago Lake watershed through voluntary forestland conservation.” Which sounds pretty dope to me. You need good water for good beer. I just wish there was more the government could do to protect all waterways. Maybe create an agency, of some sort, for the protection of the environment? I’m just spitballing here. Don’t take me too seriously.
Feb 10, 7 p.m.: I’m treated to a meal at Eventide, home of the trademarked Brown Butter Lobster Roll™. It’s worthy of the paperwork. A few members of the team are present and drinking Allagash White. I’m drinking a stout from another local brewery because who drinks Allagash all day and then goes out and orders more? Company employees on the company card, that’s who. We order a bunch of plates of assorted, dead sea animals, some cooked, some not, and share stories, insights, and bites. Afterwards, I meet up with a friend who introduces me to one of Maine’s most popular watering holes, The Great Lost Bear. For the record, Thirsty Botanist of Boothbay Craft is a solid hazy, and Orono Bake Shop makes an amazing Imperial Chocolate Donut Stout. Have I expressed my love for adjuncts?
Feb 11, Midnight: All of the restaurants are closed. Luckily, the gas station has egg salad sandwiches and Stoneface IPA on deck. Both great choices!
Feb 11, 9 a.m.: Goddammit this hotel tap water is delicious! Someone get Trump on the line. Tell him I have an idea!
To be continued…