April 4, 2013

What Ales You: Allagash expansion highlights burgeoning sales

The new system, with a price tag of about $4 million, is needed because Allagash sales are growing by 40 percent a year.

By Tom Atwell tatwell@mainetoday.com
Staff Writer

I dropped by Allagash Brewing in Portland last week when they were bottling Prince Tuesday, a collaboration among Allagash, Maine Beer Company and Rising Tide.

This 8.1 percent alcohol beer - first brewed in 2011 - includes Maine-grown rye, a lot of hops and Belgian yeast.

Prince Tuesday won't be available until May 11, the start of American Beer Week, and since I did not try it in 2011, I am looking forward to it. It will be sold only in Maine, in 750 milliliter bottles and in kegs.

That was not why I visited Allagash. Back in September, when Sen. Susan Collins visited the brewery, company founder and brewer Rob Tod estimated a brewery expansion would be done in March, so I contacted Dee Dee Germain, a brewer and marketing director at the company, to see how it was going.

"We hope to brew our first beer in the new system by late May or early June," Germain told me as we walked through the construction site, explaining that weather and other minor problems slowed the work.

The 75-barrel BrauKon system will be used mostly for White, Black and Tripel, the three biggest sellers in the Allagash line. Germain said that White still amounts to about 80 percent volume of Allagash beer sold. The new system will be more automated than the current system, which still will be used for its other beers.

"This system will still be hands-on, but a lot more dialed-in," Germain said. "It will allow for a lot more consistency, and that is a good thing."

The new system, with a price tag of about $4 million, is needed because Allagash sales are growing by 40 percent a year, even though Allagash is not expanding its distribution.

"We're just trying to keep up with current demand," she said.

Allagash is sold only on the East Coast -- except for Florida -- and in Illinois and California. And East Coast means right along the coast. It is sold on Long Island and New York City, but not upstate New York, and in Philadelphia but not western Pennsylvania.

"California is growing really quickly now," Germain said. "They love their Allagash."

The construction also will include a new tasting room twice the size of the current one, with a patio for outside tastings in summer, with landscaping like a beer garden and additional conditioning tanks.

The construction is being done in what was the plant's parking lot, and a new parking lot is being built on the lot beside the brewery.

Conditioning tanks will be added in what they call the bunker, extending into the new lot, which Allagash purchased about a year and a half ago, Germain said.

She said employment at Allagash has been rising steadily along with the 40-percent growth in sales, and the company expects to add 15 employees this year.

While at the brewery, I picked up two beers that are available only on-site.

Allagash House Beer is sold in crates of 24 12-ounce bottles for $60 including the wooden crate. The price is $40 if you don't need the crate. House Beer is a Belgian pale ale coming in at 4.5 percent alcohol by volume.

"This beer mostly is for the employees," Germain said. "In the summer, sales to outside customers might pass sales to employees, but for the rest of the year it is pretty much employees."

Nancy, Christian and I all liked this beer a lot. It is unfiltered, cloudy, and my immediate thought was that it was Stella Artois on steroids: flavorful, but easy-drinking.

The other beer is Cerise, one of Allagash's Coolship beers, brewed with natural yeast in a flat brewing vessel in a screened, unheated shed attached to the main brewery. Coolship beers are Maine versions of Belgian lambics, with Maine having different natural yeast than Belgium.

Cerise has cherries added, and none of the three of us really liked it. Nancy thought it tasted like fermented cough syrup, and Christian and I just did not like the mix of flavors.

I have liked Allagash's other Coolship beers, but this one didn't work for us.

Tom Atwell is a freelance writer living in Cape Elizabeth. He can be contacted at 767-2297 or at:

tomatwell@me.com

 

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