Barrels can be used as an ingredient in beers, an Allagash tour guide explained. Photo by Caitlin Enz

Allagash is probably the best-known brewery in Maine, and its combination of celebrated Belgian-inspired beers and B Corp status has always drawn me to it. So, as soon as I heard the brewery was offering a new way to experience its beers, through hour-and-a-half-long small-group tours, I logged onto the website to book one.

The so-called Cellars tours run Friday through Monday and take place in the building adjacent to its tasting room, at 100 Industrial Way in Portland. Described as an “one-of-a-kind beer tasting,” the $35 tours revolve around the brewery’s barrel-aged, wild and sour beers and include four pours per person, which are different every tour.

The small group size made the tasting and tour feel very intimate, and the nine people on my tour were a diverse group of beer lovers, mostly couples (hint: great date) and one bunch of friends who had traveled from abroad and were tasting Allagash beer for the first time.

From the moment we opened the door, we were welcomed into a warm and inviting space. Dan, our guide, and Chris, our bartender, greeted me and my date with smiles and ushered us to our own table, set up with a tasting mats, water glasses, a carafe of water and a jar of pretzels. Chris poured us our first beer, the brewery’s flagship Allagash White, while we waited for the other guests to arrive. As I warmed up, I noticed that the entire building smelled delicious, like yeast.

Once everyone had arrived, Dan told us what to expect from the tour and warned us to be careful while moving around as we were in an active space, full of barrels and tanks of beer. While tasting Allagash White, we learned that this beer makes up 87% of Allagash’s sales and that it is what started Allagash on the road to becoming a Belgian-style brewery, though it’s not one that’s brewed in The Cellars. Dan demonstrated how we should rouse the yeast in this beer – by flipping over the unopened bottle or can and giving it a swirl before pouring – and explained that this applied to kegs as well.

Next, we tasted Curieux, a beer aged in oak bourbon barrels, and learned how barrels are used as an ingredient, adding to the flavor. Next, we tasted a spontaneously fermented ale, Coolship Resurgam, that was cooled and then aged in oak barrels. Allagash was the first brewery in the country to use a coolship, a large open vessel used to cool wort before fermentation. Cooling the wort brings the liquid to the yeast’s preferred temperature and creates the right conditions for fermentation and the creation of beer. Using this method, Allagash creates its version of lambics, which are made from a blend of one-, two- and three-year-old coolship beer.


Between the presentation of each beer, we had time to walk around, chat with our neighbors and finish up our beers. There was plenty of time for my fellow tasters and I to ask questions, and we had a lot of them.

With our fourth beer in hand – Cellars #1, a sour blonde with golden raspberries – we followed Dan farther into the cellars, where he showed us row upon row of barrels and where the first Allagash beers were brewed. It was hard to imagine that Allagash started in a shared space that resembles a large garage.

The walking tour ended back where we started, in front of a giant barrel of maturing saison Interlude. We got a small pour of this beer still in progress, and everyone enjoyed comparing it to the beers that we had had so far. The experience ended with a small bonus pour of a beer that was aged in red wine barrels and fermented with a house strain of yeast. It seemed like the perfect way to close a special afternoon.

Caitlin Enz is a Certified Cicerone® who lives in Portland. Follow her on Instagram at @hops_and_brains.

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