After an early 7:30am sales meeting, 6 Drinx Unlimited salesman, including myself, shipped up north to Portland, Maine. We embarked on an excursion to only be welcomed, bedded, fed, and… uh…. given lots of beer, from none other than Rob Todd, Matt Welch, and the rest of Allagash’s staff. Due to the substantial support behind the brand, Allagash decided to reward the Drinx sales team for it’s valiant efforts in getting draft lines and shelf placements throughout all of New Haven, Litchfield, and Fairfield counties. Although not all of the sales members could make the trip, the remaining 6 that went to Allagash compensated for the lost soldiers. It was a battle of knowledge versus ineptitude, eagerness versus inebriation, and livers versus alcohol. All in all, the trip was educational, inspirational, and a nice change of scenery from the congested suburbs of southwestern CT.
To reduce risk and improve team cohesion, we rented a Chevy Tahoe in attempts to comfortably accomodate all six reps for the 4 and a half-hour safari. Oh…. and comfortably is a euphemism for squeezing hippos into Baby GAP one-zies. Needless to say, we were crammed. To my relief, I’m under the age of 25 and over the age of 21, meaning I’m too young to rent a car at regular price and old enough to party. Therefore, I crushed a few Allagash brews on the drive up to wet my whistle.
The drive was faster than anticipated due to my impeccable DJing skills with the common likes of old-school, west coast hip hop. A shuttle bus was scheduled to pick all distributor reps up at the Portland Holiday Inn, at approximately 2:30pm….. we arrived at the hotel at 2:10pm. Perfect timing. We checked in, dropped our shit off in the hotel rooms and accordingly rendezvoused. Oh and by the way, this was a “distributors” weekend. We were in company with distributors from Massachusetts, Maine, Chicago, and maybe a few others that are blurred due to the heavy consumption of Allagash House Beer.
The distributors arrived at Allagash Brewery around 2:45pm upon meeting and greeting Matty Welch, a dedicated regional sales rep that did a great job representing the brewery and hosting us hooligans. We lounged leisurely in the barrel Brett room, imbibing House Beer while three rotations of tour groups slowly cycled out of the building. Drinx Unlimited went last. Always save the best for last. Plus, we had more time to replenish our hands with full beers instead of empty ones.
As the tour began, we left the barrel room and entered a second warehouse made primarily for sour and wild aging beers. A separate operational facility such as this helps prevent the mere exposure of sour/wild contaminants into the non-Brett beer, equipment, and facilities. In the picture above, you will see 90 barrel tanks, formerly used as dairy equipment, that host sour beers aging on fruits such as peaches, raspberries, and strawberries. Some of the tanks also hailed from Baxter Brewing Company, another Maine brewery.
From the sour/brett facility, we progressed to the main building on premises, the primary operations brewery including all of the offices and merchadise/tasting room. With ceilings as high as cathedrals, the windowlit rooms spotlighted the cleanliness of every nook and cranny within the brewery; absolutely spotless. Tidiness and security for the wellbeing of beer is always a primary objective of a brewery; Allagash exemplifies this. As Matty leads us through the labyrinth of towering tanks and vessels, he elaborates on the stages of brewing by describing the equipment we walk by. Shiny, stainless steel lauter tuns, kettles, fermenters, maturation tanks are thoughtfully formatted through the categorized rooms of the facility for the mere sake of efficiency.
Allagash is a cultivated atmosphere with passion for beer, surrounded by hard-work, ingenuity, innovation, and scientific precaution. Aside the from the flawless and pristine corridors, notions of authenticity and Allagash spirit are scattered throughout the brewery.
After observing and learning the mashing and boiling processes, we reached the new massive, fermenters, which are partially underground. This allows for an efficient infrastructure; the beer can be run from the out of ground fermenters, which are 240 barrel fermenters by the way, underground into the main brewing facility and straight to the bottling or kegging lines. To put this in perspective, one of these 240 barrel fermenters is equivalent to 480 kegs…. also known as “half barrels.” 480 “half barrels” is equivalent to 59,520 U.S. pints. That my friends, is a lot of beer. Great beer. Thirsty anyone?
Before leaving the fermenters from below, the group noticed a creatively jerry-rigged home brewing system in the corner. Matty Welch followed up by explaining, every new experimental batch is brewed from this very system (picture below), before hitting the market. Pretty neat to see where all the magic comes from. Then Matt pulled a bunny rabbit out of the system…. kidding.
And to my favorite part of the tour, the Koelschip (Coolship)!!! Matt led the group of reps to the rear of the building, where we progressed outside and traced the outskirts until reaching what looked like a rustic lawn shed. This isn’t just any lawn shed. This is the beholder of the beast. This is the platform and foundation of the spontaneous fermented beers that so many beer consumers seek few and far between. This isn’t the koelschip folks, this….. is the Mother Ship, because it gives birth to weird, complex liquid babies that give you high velocity flatulence and permanent real estate in your heart. It takes time, but always worth it.
This “shed,” if you will, always keeps the windows ajar for the mere purpose of local, wild yeast to reside within the walls, air, and wood.
For those of you who do not know, the koelschip is pronounced, cool-ship, because the bed is a heat exchanging process from the hot liquid in the kettle, transferred to the koelschip to, well, “cool.” Keep in mind, no yeast is added because the beer is “spontaneously” fermented partially from the yeast within the koelschip room and partially from the yeast and germs within the aging barrels…. with the already existing proprietary yeast from years of maturation in previous batches.
Koelschip and Hop Filter
In the hop cage shown in the picture above, the hot liquid is ran through aged hops for the sole purpose of preservation. Hop characteristics diminish over time; having said that, hops are natural preservatives so they help maintain the beer’s stability while aging. So hops in the koelschip aren’t used for aroma or flavor, but essentially for long term security.
The wort is 180 degrees upon departure from the kettle, which then must settle to 70 degrees or so in the koelschip…. this heat exchanging process takes 12 hours. The procedures take place in early spring when the climate isn’t too cold and the pollen levels aren’t too high. After the heat exchange, the beer is temporarily placed in fermentation tanks and ultimately relocated into oak barrels. I forgot to mention that this style of brewing is not traditionally American, it is traditionally and historically a Belgian style of brewing and fermentation. In fact, Allagash is the first US brewery to both have a koelschip AND release a koelschip beer in the country. Out of a 56 gallon batch, they will be lucky to yield 30 gallons after evaporation within the barrels. As reps, we can truly appreciate the time, dedication, and risk involved within such processes. Allagash does a tremendous job with this process of brewing and aging.
Koelschip aka Coolship Beers
Matty then took us to the 5,000 sq foot packaging room which is newly enhanced; consequently, the new bottling line moves at a rate 5 times faster than the previous. The packaging room is located next to the kegging line which was quite a trip. This kegging line cleans the kegs inside and out, fills 6 barrels a minute which then transports kegs onto a pallet via magnet. An elephant trunk apparatus lifts these full kegs with a magnet. Fuck a pussy magnet son, Allagash got a beer magnet!!
From the line, we progressed towards a mini warehouse within the warehouse…. does that make sense? The large warehouse door to this mini warehouse had the following quote:
Behind this door my friends, is the room that contains all of the Curieux and Bourbon Black. A mini warehouse within a warehouse dedicated just for these two beers? Awesome. The Curieux, is the “Tripel” which is then aged in Jim Beam barrels, which can only be used once for the Curieux. The Bourbon Black, is the “Black” aged in Curieux barrels.
After leaving Cloud 9 in the Curieux room, we headed to Cloud 10 to the new brewhouse. This relatively new, extravagant addition contained malt mills, wort receivers, kettles, and fermenters. We even got to check out the kettles from up above. Next to the kettles were chambers delegated for hop and spice additives. All shiny, German made equipment that makes Allagash’s world go round.
Upstairs in new brew room
This pretty much completed the tour before heading back to the koelschip aging room where we were introduced to one of the aging/lab experts to debrief us on some of the aged beers. We tried some completed koelschip beers and some in the early stages. Really, a phenomenal experience to view and taste lambic style beers in different stages. In conclusion to the tour, the facility is nearly jaw-dropping and the level of art and passion that go into it is unparalleled.
But the weekend didn’t end here, much consumption, exploring, and socializing had to be completed. We headed back to the hotel with a slight skew in our stride and got ready for an Allagash dinner in downtown Portland with all the reps, Matt, and Rob Todd. A tiny craft beer joint called the Thirsty Pig had delicious, savory house made sausages with a stellar line up of local craft beer.
The Drinx Sales Crew and Rob Todd (second from left)
Rob Todd is a genuinely awesome dude who is easy going and extremely knowledgeable. We can tell how he’s molded an Allagash culture full of enthusiasm and ingenuity. After the Thirsty Pig, we explored other activities and bars in Portland which we will not mention for the mere sake of everyone’s innocent eyes and ears.
Saturday morning, everyone woke up feeling just wonderful. Nothing a little hair of the dog can’t cure. Needless to say, we rendezvoused at an Irish Pub called Ri Ra’s where we had a few beers before embarking on a short ferry trip to Peek’s Island, a civilized and occupied island within Portland’s Bay. Allagash treated us to a lobster bake at a mansion…. on a cliff…. with a gorgeous view, lobsters, Allagash, good guys, and corn hole. I am now slightly aroused and confused because I did not mention women in the previous sentence. There could not be a better scenario for such a panoramic afternoon; the quintessential Allagash experience.
As the sun began to set, we all headed back to the ferry for further debauchery on the main land. From this point on, Allagash left the remaining activities up to our discretion. I’m not quite sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. All in all, everyone survived and brought an enormous amount of respect for Allagash back home with us. Thank you again Maine for allowing us in your state, thank you Matt Welch, thank you Rob Todd, thank you the rest of the Allagash crew, and thank you for all of the Allagash consumers. And for a little icing on the cake, The Today’s Show recently listed the top 6 things to do in the USA….. The Allagash Brewery Tour is one of them. Drink Responsibly. Over & Out.