As we close out the year, spend some time getting to know Guild Allied Trade member, Allagash Brewing Company, and why sourcing local ingredients and cultivating diverse, inclusive communities is important to this legendary Portland, ME brewery’s success. Responses were provided by Jason Perkins, Allagash’s Brewmaster and VP of Brewing Operations, and their Senior Communications Specialist, Brett Willis.
Tell us about Allagash. How’d the brewery get started and how has the operation evolved over the years?
We were founded in 1995 in Portland, Maine, by Rob Tod. Now, we’re a brewery of 150 people, brewing around 120,000 barrels of beer per year. Rob always wanted to make sure that our brewery was a positive member of our community, and so we really doubled down on that promise in 2019 when we became B Corp certified, which means that we’re brewing for the good of our employees, community, and environment.
What is the brewery’s philosophy when it comes to making beer? How does that philosophy affect which raw ingredients (i.e. malt) you choose to create those beers?
Quality would be first and foremost. From the raw materials to the brewing and packaging process, we want to be giving customers the highest quality of beer. And along with that, innovation is a driving force behind many of the beers we brew. Both of those lead us to quite a bit of testing and experimenting with raw ingredients like malts. Our pilot system helps us test raw ingredients for quality and taste, and also helps to give us new ideas for innovative beers.
What’s a beer you’ve brewed with craft malt that you’re most proud of or think is especially exciting?
We’re really proud of a beer called Sixteen Counties. We brew it with 100% Maine-grown grain. And the process of creating the beer was also unique for us. Rather than starting with a flavor profile that we were looking for (like we do with most of our beers), we started with the ingredients: Maine-grown malts and grains. Then, using those malts, we saw what flavor profile they wanted to impart in the beer, and built the rest of the ingredients around it.
In the fall of 2017, Allagash Brewing became a Craft Maltsters Guild Allied Trade member, a big commitment for a brewery to make to an organization that at the time wasn’t even five years old. Around that same time, Allagash founder Rob Tod made the pledge that the brewery would be using one million pounds of Maine-grown grain per year by 2021. We’re guessing these two things aren’t just a coincidence. What was the initial motivation behind joining the Guild back then? How has membership benefited your brewery over the past five years?
We wanted to be in and involved in the Craft Maltsters Guild because it, and its members, are doing some of the coolest and most innovative work with brewing ingredients. We want to be cool and innovative too. The spirit of experimentation and innovation really resonated with us and malts from craft maltsters inspired many of our pilot beers. We’ve also benefited from the Guild’s quality resources. Our malt sensory program was developed in large part through programs put together by the Guild.
Let’s talk about the 2017 one million pounds of Maine grain pledge Allagash made. The brewery hit this goal last year. How does one go about planning an ingredient-sourcing transition like that? There had to have been some major strategic planning and relationship-building going on. What was that process like?
Relationship building was really at the heart of it. We had to talk to the farmers and maltsters in our state to even get a picture of what they’d be capable of growing. And then from there, communication was vital. By being open and concrete about our goals and the amounts of grain we’d need in coming years, we were able to help our farmer partners forecast how much they’d need to plant, and the sort of infrastructure they’d need to build in order to actually provide the amount of malt we were looking for. Really, it was an inspiring process.
This summer that the Governor of Maine awarded some grants to Maine maltsters. Both Blue Ox Malthouse and Maine Malt House are undergoing or have undergone recent expansions. With this pending production capacity increase, have any new goals to increase craft malt usage past the one million pound mark been made?
We’re already on our way! 1 million was always a milestone, in our minds. As much as possible, we’ll continue to push our use of Maine-grown grains. This year, we’re set to use about 1.4 million pounds.
Do you have any advice for other small to medium-sized breweries looking to increase their craft malt usage but don’t know where to start?
Well, for one, the Craft Maltster’s Guild is a valuable resource in being able to both see what’s available and then know who to reach out to. And that would be our advice, reach out to the farmers and maltsters in your area. There’s a good chance that you’ll be able to work together to either find what you need or figure out a way to make it happen together!
Similar to the Guild, Allagash is dedicated to inclusivity and participates in the Crafted for All Commitment. How have these values been incorporated into the brewery’s company culture? How does it affect the relationships you have with maltsters, farmers, etc?
At its base, our goal is to involve more people in craft beer and to empower them to be a part of the community. One of the most tangible ways that comes to life in our brewery is our pilot brewing system. Every single employee can suggest ideas for a new beer, and basically, all of our beer releases in the past ten years have come directly from that system. And when it comes to considering new partners for sourcing malt, we’re always open to hearing from a wide variety of sources.
What is one positive thing related to craft malt that Allagash has experienced in 2022?
We were lucky to have great harvests here in Maine in both 2021 and 2022. This was especially helpful for us because the crop for the rest of the US in 2021 was not so great.
Does Allagash have anything interesting or exciting in the works they’d like to share with the greater craft malt community? Many of our members are excited to visit your brewery and spend time in Portland, ME during our 2023 Craft Malt Conference in March! Thanks again for sponsoring!
We’re excited to welcome folks into town for the conference! This is the third try (COVID changed our plans the past two times), and we can’t wait to see everyone in person.
Visit Allagash online and sign up for the 2023 Craft Malt Conference to gain access to exclusive pre-conference tours of the brewery on March 16.
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