Back before craft beer became a multibillion-dollar industry and every hipster in America could wax eloquently about infusion mash or primary fermentation, craft breweries made up a niche market with no guarantee of becoming mainstream.
One craft brewer that dipped its toe into the kettle pretty early on is Allagash Brewing Co. of Portland, Maine, which celebrates its 25th anniversary this year. Owner Rob Tod launched the business in 1995 after previously working in various capacities at Otter Creek Brewery. Tod rented part of an industrial park warehouse, welded together a 15-barrel brewing system, jackhammered some drains into the floor, and called his startup Allagash Brewing. He put his initial focus into brewing a single Belgian-style wheat beer called Allagash White.
Back then, fewer than 1,000 craft breweries operated in the United States. Today that total has ballooned to around 8,300 breweries, and you’d be hard-pressed to find any corner of the country that doesn’t have at least one craft brewery cranking out various ales, lagers, stouts, porters, pilsners, IPAs, sours, and wheat beers.
Allagash has more than held its own against the onslaught of competition. Today, it stands as one of the country’s most distinguished breweries, having won numerous awards for its beers and earning Tod the prestigious James Beard Award as an Outstanding Wine, Beer, or Spirits professional in 2019. The business itself has undergone a couple of major expansions, including moving into a new building next door to its original space. Over the last decade, Allagash has installed a new keg line as well as its first canning line, expanded its bottling line, added a larger tasting room, and operationalized a new, high-efficiency BrauKon brewing system.
Allagash still specializes in Belgian beers, though its lineup has been developed well beyond the single white. Currently, they offer nine year-round beers along with 10 “Coolship” beers, which are crafted using a traditional Belgian brewing method called spontaneous fermentation. Dozens of limited-release beers are offered as well, ranging from a Flanders-style red ale to a gose infused with Maine sea salt.
In addition to being recognized for its beers, Allagash has also earned accolades for its social activism, charitable giving, workplace environment and focus on sustainability. It’s been voted one of the Best Places to Work in Maine seven years in a row, thanks to perks such as volunteer time off and trips to Belgium for associates who’ve put in five years of employment.
One of Allagash’s moves to increase awareness about sustainability was to form a green team to educate customers and employees on how to compost, support local farms, reduce water usage and identify which materials can and can’t be recycled. The company uses a variety of recyclable materials, including cans, glass bottles, corks, metal bottle caps, cardboard, and plastic Packtech carriers that hold cans together.
Allagash donates 10 cents from every barrel of beer it brews to Sebago Clean Waters, a partnership between nine conservation organizations that work to protect the region’s water quality, fish and wildlife through voluntary forestland conservation. Allagash raised some $10,000 for the group in 2019.
“We know that we’re lucky to have access to such pristine water, both as brewers and as people living in Maine,” says Tod. “We believe access to clean water is a right, and we want to help preserve it for generations to come.”
Three years ago Allagash made a commitment to use 1 million pounds of Maine-grown grain per year as a way to boost demand for the state’s growers and malters. It also donates part of the proceeds from its Crosspath organic golden ale to the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, which helps farmers transition to organic crops.
On top of all of these efforts, Allagash also donates 1% of its sales to local community and charitable groups, and the company also supports Luke’s Lobster Keeper Fund, which awards mini-grants to various coastal projects. Allagash pitches in $1 to the fund for each Allagash White sold at Luke’s locations, up to $10,000 per year.
Allagash Brewing Co.has racked up several awards. Some of its top awards include:
- Gold, European Beer Star Competition, 2017
- Gold, Great American Beer Festival (GABF), 2015
- Gold, World Beer Cup Competition, 2012
- Gold, World Beer Cup, 2010
- Bronze, GABF, 2010
- Gold, GABF, 2005
- Silver, World Beer Cup, 2004
- Gold, GABF, 2002
- Bronze, World Beer Cup, 2002
- Gold, World Beer Cup, 1998