Last weekend the wife and I made a trip to Portland, ME, home of basically every brewery on the planet, and took in a slew of these wonderful places. My goal is to write about all of them, so here goes....
Our first stop was a venue we've visited before, one of our favorites, Allagash!
Allagash Brewing Company
50 Industrial Way
Portland, ME 04103
Most folks who have heard of this lovely institution (which recently overtook Shipyard as Maine's top-selling brewery) know them for their Belgian White flagship beer, a masterpiece of the genre that has for years held a slot in my all-time top five. The combination of citrus, cloves and that wonderful banana-esque Belgian yeast is always welcome in my gullet. I've been a fan of their Tripel, Saison, and Black for a long time as well, but Allagash has branched out quite a bit over the years, always experimenting with new flavors and brewing techniques. My mission this visit was to try some of their limited and obscure releases.
Coolship La Mure: This blend of spontaneously fermented beer is aged on blackberries. We begin brewing Coolship la Mûre with Pilsner malt, 40% raw wheat, and aged whole-leaf hops. The unfermented wort is then transferred to a large shallow pan called a coolship, which allows the hot wort to mingle with wild yeast and souring microbiota in the Maine air. After fermenting and aging in French oak wine barrels for over two years, we add blackberries and let it rest for an additional five months. The finished beer’s aroma exhibits hints of lime zest and an herbal, berry-like quality. The tart flavor evokes multiple facets of blackberry, including just-ripened fruit and rich, juicy berry.
JB: This unusual brew is very tart with prominent blackberry flavor, similar to a Lambic. I'm not a big sour beer guy but this was a bold, flavorful example of it.
Darling Ruby: Darling Ruby is a refreshing farmhouse ale with a twist: grapefruit juice and zest. The beer’s specific style is a grisette, a light and refreshing cousin of the modern saison. The combination of a grisette and citrus whirls tangy notes together with tropical aromas—all before landing on a beautifully dry finish. A lively ride from beginning to end.
JB: Ruby is dry and grapefruity, with a slighty bitter finish. A nice, crisp saison substitute.
Saison Gratis: This saison-style ale is set apart by the fact that we added hops—Calista, Grundgeist, and Strisselspalt—while it rested in our coolship and then open fermented it with saison yeast. Esters hinting at everything from orange, to pineapple, to clove spring from this beer’s nose. Its flavor spreads across the palate with the slightest hint of citrus and finishes with a balance of fruit, hops, and a dry mouthfeel.
JB: This was an interesting blend of a saison and the audacious sourness of the Coolship, that for me was an easier-drinking beer than that one.
Barrel and Bean: Barrel & Bean starts its life as our Tripel (a Belgian-style golden ale). We age that beer in bourbon barrels for just shy of two months, before blending it with cold-brewed coffee from Speckled Ax, a Maine coffee roaster. The sun-dried Ethiopian beans in the coffee are known for their stone fruit and dark berry flavors. The finished beer features rich notes of caramel, bourbon, and coffee. Loads of caramel and coffee notes.
JB: This one was very rich like a porter but light colored, making for an eccentric dichotomy, also boasting just a hint of the bourbon.
Saison: Allagash Saison is our interpretation of a classic Belgian farmhouse-style ale. Saisons were once brewed to slake the thirst of farmers returning from a long day of toil; they were spicy, light, and drinkable.
We brew this amber beer with a 2-row barley blend, malted rye, oats, and dark Belgian candy sugar. Northern Brewer, Bravo, and Cascade hops deliver a citrus profile with light bitterness. By fermenting with a traditional saison yeast strain, notes of spice and tropical fruit accent the aroma. Citrus and peppery spice balance its pleasant malt character. This beer is full bodied with a rustic, dry finish. Made for enjoying, no matter which type of work you’re returning from.
JB: I've had this one before of course, but it's a classic saison with spice, citrus and banana notes. Probably my second-favorite Allagash offering.
White: Our interpretation of a Belgian-style wheat beer is brewed with oats, malted wheat, and unmalted raw wheat for a hazy, “white” appearance. Spiced with our own special blend of coriander and Curaçao orange peel, Allagash White is both complex and refreshing.
Though it’s brewed in Maine, the recipe sticks to its Belgian roots. We’ve worked hard to make sure that the Allagash White in your hand tastes the same as it did back in 1995, when Rob Tod brewed the first batch.
JB: I saved the best for last. Goddamn, this beer is a masterpiece.
Allagash has really broadened their horizons since I visited in 2014, and while some of their experimental results are a mixed bag for me, there's always something new and outside-the-box to try. Their tasting room has also expanded, with more indoor seating and a large outdoor patio with a firepit. So head on down to Allagash and get ready to try some unusual brews. Plus there are an additional five breweries in that same industrial complex. More on that soon....
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