Sacred Profane Brewing has opened its doors, bringing Bohemia to Biddeford. Brienne Allan and Michael Fava will channel over a quarter-century of brewing experience between them into two beers, precisely: a pale lager and a dark lager. It is an idiosyncratic project, both innovative and traditional: a brewery with just two beers, wrought in the traditional fashion, preaching the gospel of Czech lager in an often profane world, where new is the imperative and all that is solid seems to melt into air.

Conversely, the brilliance of Czech brewing is firmly anchored in place and time. “The Czech Republic is blessed with having the best landscape a brewer could ask for as a starting point,” Director of Operations Fava says, as it is the source of its distinctive raw ingredients. The water is very soft, which Fava notes is “perfect for brewing lagers.” The rich soil of the Moravia region is another essential factor: “This fertile farming region has been growing cereal grains for millennia, and the varieties of barley that have been cultivated there have been regarded as the best for hundreds of years.” And of course there are the distinctive hops — commonly known as “Saaz,” a Germanization of their namesake town of Žatec, about 40miles northwest of Prague. Given this indigenous cupboard of ingredients, it was as though the Czechs “were meant to brew beer,” Fava says. “It is no surprise that they invented the world’s most popular beer style, pilsner, and that they consume the most beer per capita in the world.”

But it’s not just the ingredients that make the beer, of course. “Czechs have kept using old-world malting and brewing techniques that distinguish their beers,” Fava notes. Key among those are the traditional processes of malting and “decoction” mash brewing.

Most malted barley used today is highly modified, making it very efficient when it comes to yielding fermentable sugar (and faster to get through the brewhouse). But Czech maltsters use a traditional floor-malting technique to transform that lovely Moravian barley, consistent with when the original pilsners were brewed in 1842. The result is a malt that is “‘undermodified’ by modern-day standards,” says Fava, but “it offers an opportunity for the brewer to complete the malting process in their brewhouse and do it to their specific specifications.” Essentially, the first step in brewing — mashing, when crushed grains are added to water – becomes “an extension of the malting process.”

Brienne Allan and her fiance and Sacred Profane business partner Michael Fava prepare to pump a batch of Czech lager from a mash kettle to a fermentation tank. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

The brewer then plays with this “undermodified” malt through the process of decoction mashing – a traditional way to convert the malted barley’s starches into fermentable sugar. The brewer removes a bit of the mash, boils it, then returns it to the main mash.

The brewer’s goal is to raise the temperature of the main mash to an ideal point at which the malt enzymes optimally convert carbohydrates into sugar. This can be done one, two, or three times. With each decoction, the additional sugars are boiled with the grain, producing a Maillard reaction that caramelizes the sugars, Fava explains, generating deeper colors and enhanced flavors in the finished beer.


“If you’re not decocting,” Fava asserts, “you’re not brewing Czech-style beer.”

Expedient, it is not. But expedience is not the point. Sacred Profane’s lagers begin their slow journey across the production floor in squat open-top fermenters, before moving to secondary vessels where fermentation finishes. Then, after another transfer, they begin their long sojourn in horizontal lagering tanks in cold temperatures, where the beer fully carbonates and matures. The low-slung tank geometries are important, as it shortens the distance yeast and protein particles must travel to settle on the bottom of the vessel — a crucial step in natural clarification.

The amount of time a beer is lagered (from the German, lagern, “to store”) depends on the strength of the beer, but typically runs from four to eight weeks. This “exercise in patience,” as Fava calls it, mellows the beer’s bitterness, rounds out its sweetness, and enables the carbon dioxide to fully integrate. A smooth, harmonious beer emerges, with refined carbonation – “tiny bubbles that are lush and explosive with flavor and aroma and that also contribute to the mouthfeel in every gulp.”

And gulpable they are. Pale Lager (4.2% ABV) possesses a light breadiness with a spicy, bitter, lively finish. It is an eminently refreshing beer you could drink end-on-end (and I did). Pair it with a can of the ur-pilsner, Pilsner Urquell (the name literally means “original source of pilsner”) to get a sense of the distinctive qualities of each.

Dark Lager (4%) is medium-bodied but massively flavorful: rich and roasty, its chocolate and coffee notes are trailed by a spicy hoppiness.

For those looking to venture outside the Czech tradition, can pours of Reverence IPA (6.6%) were also on the menu. A collaboration with Kittery’s Tributary Brewing Company, it is a delicious throwback to a beer style of more recent vintage – the West Coast IPA. Awash in grapefruit and piney aromas, with a robust malty backbone, it features a long finish, starting bitter, transitioning into a long tail of orangy citrus.


Other drinks – including a range of wines from Slovenia, Austria and Hungary – are also on offer (alongside Becherovka, a Czech digestif). And so, too, is a large-enough food menu, including beef tartare, poutine, curry wiener, and schnitzel. The same precision and consciousness that clearly imbues Sacred Profane’s brewing process is evidenced in the menu and space as a whole.

A “foam” pour of Sacred Profane’s dark lager; Reverence IPA is in the background. “There’s a mouthfeel and a texture to it that I can only describe as a life-changing experience,” says Director of Operations Michael Fava. Photo by Ben Lisle

But while non-beer drinkers will find plenty to enjoy, the beer is the engine. One of brewpub’s distinctions is the special “foam” pour of both the pale and dark lagers. It is “perhaps the most satisfying and unique beer drinking experience one can have, and one that is purely Czech,” says Fava. The foam pour is enabled by the specialty LUKR serving system — the first of its kind installed in the United States – whose specialized side-pull faucets give the tapster total control over the amount of foam in the glass. This foam is much denser than typical beer foam – “so decadent and smooth” that it was originally sold in upscale restaurants as an alternative to dessert. “There’s a mouthfeel and a texture to it,” Fava claims, “that I can only describe as a life-changing experience.”

It is a delicious experience, and there is something deeply arresting and pleasurable about drinking beer so deliberately and passionately made. When asked if they would ever get bored brewing these two beers, Fava replies, “Never. There are so many variables and so much nuance that goes into these two beers that it would be impossible to become bored.” Sounding something like an apostle, he promises, “We look forward to taking the rest of our lives to perfect Sacred Profane Pale Lager and Sacred Profane Dark Lager.”

Ben Lisle is an assistant professor of American Studies at Colby College. He lives among the breweries in Portland’s East Bayside, where he writes about cultural history, urban geography, and craft beer culture. Reach him on Twitter at @bdlisle.

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