Allagash Brewing Company
Address: 50 Industrial Way, Portland, Maine 04103
Allagash Brewing Company was founded in 1994 but did not produce spontaneous beers until 2007. They are often credited as the first modern US craft brewery to install a coolship for the purpose of spontaneous beer production. Despite spontaneous beer representing a small portion of overall beer production, head brewer Jason Perkins says “it is a huge part of who we are and how we define ourselves.”
Allagash has released seven spontaneous beers under the Coolship brand, most notably Coolship Resurgam, a gueuze-inspired blend of one-, two-, and three-year-old spontaneous beer, Coolship Cerise, a kriek-inspired blend of two-year-old spontaneous beer aged on Maine Montmorency and Balaton cherries, and Coolship Red, a framboise-inspired blend of two-year-old spontaneous beer aged on Maine raspberries.
When Allagash began its spontaneous beer program in November 2007, founder Rob Todd considered it an experiment and wasn't certain that Allagash would ever be able sell the beers to the public. Despite this uncertainty, Todd gain confidence in initiating a spontaneous beer program at Allagash after an "instrumental" visit to Belgium in 2007 with The Brett Pack (Tomme Arthur, Adam Avery, Sam Calagione, Vinnie Cilurzo, and Rob Todd) but also due to the success of Interlude, a clean saison that was unintentionally contaminated with wild Brettanomyces.
Allagash modeled its spontaneous beer production very much after lambic production, with insight from both Frank Boon (Brouwerij Boon) and Jean Van Roy (Brasserie Cantillon). They produce beer in a similar method, including the use of unmalted wheat, aged hops, turbid mash regimen, and coolship. Van Roy insisted that lambic could only be made in the Senne Valley but reassured Todd that spontaneous beers could be produced anywhere, though they may not necessarily be the same as lambic.
The Allagash coolship was christened during its inaugural spontaneous batch on November 27, 2007 with a 375 ml bottle of Cantillon Rosé De Gambrinus.
In December 2011, Allagash released its first two spontaneous beers, Coolship Balaton and Coolship Cerise, featuring Maine Balaton cherries, and Maine Montmorency and Balaton cherries, respectively. Fourteen months later, in February 2012, Allagash released its first gueuze-inspired spontaneous beer, Coolship Resurgam. Since then, Allagash has debuted a variety of spontaneous beers, including versions featuring Maine raspberries, Maine blackberries, and even Jim Beam bourbon barrels.
Brewing Spontaneous Beer
Initially, Allagash brewed during both fall (October to December) and spring (February to April) seasons due to the comparable weather conditions between Portland, Maine and the Senne Valley during these months. But due to inconsistent spring weather patterns and unpleasant solvent and ethyl acetate characteristics from spring batches, Allagash limited spontaneous beer production to the fall season only. In April 2017, however, the brewery resumed spring spontaneous beer production with a batch featuring all local Maine grain. A few weeks later, a second spontaneous batch was introduced to a coolship full of Strisselspalt and Calista hops. This beer, however, was subsequently pitched with saison yeast.
They believe that the biggest flavor influence factor is exterior temperature during the overnight cooling. Early on, Allagash had a much wider temperature range but today their window is between 25°F and 40°F, with 35°F considered ideal.
Allagash uses a grist of 60% Belgian Pilsner Malt and 40% Unmalted Wheat for their spontaneous beers. They hop their beer with minimum three-year-old aged whole-leaf hops at a rate of 1 lb/bbl, mostly Hallertau.
A turbid mash regimen is used to produce their spontaneous beers. The process begins with a thick rest at 115°F, at a rate of four to five times thicker than their normal mash. Next, approximately 100 gallons of hot water is added for the protein rest, followed by a second infusion for a saccharification rest at 145°F. Brewers then decot (boil 25% of the mash for 10 minutes) and return to the mash tun to raise mash temperature to mash-out (170°F).
The wort is boiled for approximately four hours to drive off the cheesy, aged hop character. Once complete, brewers transfer the wort to the locally fabricated, stainless steel coolship. They experimented with pre-acidifying the wort to 4.5pH, however did not see much benefit nor detriment, therefore no longer perform this step. Designed out of practicality, the coolship measures 12' x 8' x 2'. Early batches were 15 bbl in size, and only occupied 15-16" coolship depth. Today, batches are 22 bbl and often fill the coolship to the brim.
Wort sits in the coolship with the room window open and exhaust fan on to help draw air into the room until it is cooled to 65-70°F. The cooling duration ranges between 12-18 hours, depending on overnight ambient temperature, but is often closer to 18 hours. Brewers see tremendous evaporation overnight, often as much as 16-17%.
After spontaneous inoculation, the wort is transfered to stainless steel tanks for homogenization to help evenly distribute microbes.
Fermenting Spontaneous Beer
Initial batches of Allagash spontaneous beer needed 10-15 days to show visible signs of fermentation. This receded to 5-6 days over the next 18 months, and today, batches take two days or less to being fermenting. This is attributed to the build-up of microflora in the coolship room itself, specifically in the wooden ceiling and walls that were built using locally sourced timber.
The temperature of the barrel room is very important to Allagash. They believe the barrel room should be warm, but not so warm that the fermentation process goes too quickly toward favoring undesirable microbes.
Perkins admits to still observing extreme variations in barrels of the same wort, which can keep him "scratching his head" at times. Common off-flavors that manifest themselves at Allagash are hydrogen sulfide (rotten egg odor), diacetyl (intense buttery flavor), isoamyl acetate (banana flavor), chlorophenols (medicinal band-aid flavor) and acetic acid (vinegar). These characteristics tend to diminish with time, with the exception of acetic acid, which requires dumping. Tartness becomes perceivable approximately 18 months after brew day.
Adding Secondary Ingredients to Spontaneous Beer
Fruit is added to two-year-old spontaneous beer at a rate of approximately 2 lb/gal around July, when fresh fruit is mostly available.
Early on, Allagash painstakingly added fruit to empty barrels and the transferred mature spontaneous beer on top. This was done out of necessity with small batches and when no surplus conditioning tanks were available. The fruit was just as difficult to remove from barrels, which often retained the fruit character. They also experimented with adding fruit directly to brite tanks. Today, brewers have moved to adding fruit to non-jacketed 500-gal stainless steel totes which reside in a temperature controlled room. They have experimented with stirring or rousing the fruit in tanks, but have found it unnecessary for the most part.
Spontaneous beer remains in contact with fruit for approximately four to six months (until re-fermentation is complete) or slightly longer when staff has time to bottle. Beer is filtered through a metal canister with a screen to remove fruit chunks.
Packaging Spontaneous Beer
Allagash believes that "blending helps control things that are outside of the brewers control" and that "blending is the art behind [the] beers." Their blends are determined by flavor and density, not specific proportions. The process begins with the brewmaster selecting barrels to create initial blends. Next, a panel of senior brewers evaluates the blends and a favorite is selected after collaborative discussion.
All of Allagash's spontaneous beers are bottled conditioned with no added yeast in 375 ml bottles, finished with a cork and cage. Bottles are conditioned horizontally for approximately three months.
Allagash offers a custom, heavy based, and slightly tempered 12 oz. coolship glass for enjoying their spontaneous beers. The glassware is not unlike the traditional lambic tumbler that many Belgian breweries offer.
Allagash produces several notable spontaneous beers under the Coolship brand including:
- Coolship Resurgam - a blend of one-, two-, and three-year-old spontaneous beer
- Coolship Balaton - a blend of two-year-old spontaneous beer aged on ~ 2 lb/gal of fresh Maine Balaton cherries for six months
- Coolship Cerise - a blend of two-year-old spontaneous beer aged on ~ 2 lb/gal of fresh Maine Montmorency and Balaton cherries for six months
- Coolship La Mûre - a blend of spontaneous beer aged on fresh Maine blackberries for five months
- Coolship Red - a blend of two-year-old spontaneou beer aged on on ~ 2 lb/gal of fresh Maine raspberries for four to five months
- Coolship Clermont - a blend of spontaneous beer aged in bourbon barrels
- Coolship Single Barrel One - an unblended, spontaneous beer aged in a single bourbon barrel
- M. Tonsmiere, American Sour Beers, United States of America: Brewers Publications, 2014