Paying homage to Belgium’s great brewing traditions, Allagash Founder and award-winning brewer Rob Tod won’t call his Belgian-inspired Coolship beers lambics.
“There’s not one Allagash beer that tastes like any specific Belgian. Our philosophy is never to copy. Anything we make is our take on beers that fit into the traditions pioneered by Belgian brewers,” says Rob Tod, who is best known for his brewery’s flagship beer Allagash White. “I have too much respect for those guys [Belgian brewers] to call our Coolship Resurgam or Coolship Red a Lambic. Lambics come from Belgium. My beers are made in Maine with native, wild yeast so I can’t in all good conscience call them Lambics.”
In 2007, Tod’s Allagash Brewery installed a coolship – a large, shallow pan – and began making American Lambic-style beers collectively referred to as the Coolship Series. Available only at his brewery in Portland, Maine, these very limited release beers are made by a process called spontaneous fermentation whereby wild strains of yeast floating through the air find their way into the pre-beer liquid starter – called wort. The wort only becomes beer after the yeast makes it all bubbly. It takes three years to make a coolship beer because it’s aged in French oak barrels that once may have contained bourbon or red wine. The final product is a blend of beers that have aged for different lengths of time in the various barrels. The entire process is Allagash’s homage to a method the Belgians have honed for hundreds of years. The beers are a taste of Maine because the ingredients, the yeast and the equipment are unique to Tod’s corner of the globe.
“The first time I drank a Saison Dupont, a Celis White or something brewed by Orval, I was blown away by how different they were,” Tod explained as he poured himself a glass of Coolship Resurgam, a blend of three, two and one-year-old beers. It’s his brewery’s interpretation of a Belgian Lambic.
“It is hard not to be influenced by what came before, but I have too much respect for guys like Frank Boon to call Allagash’s coolship beers, Lambics.”
Boon – whose Brouwerij Boon produces the delicious raspberry Lambic Framboise Boon, ranks as one of the world’s most noted Lambic brewers and blenders. Tod, ever the innovator, could never be happy just trying to reproduce someone else’s beer, no matter how tasty. That is why he’s quick to point out that even Allagash White, his company’s flagship beer (and probably the first thing that you think of when you hear the word Allagash), is his brewery’s “take” on a traditional Belgian wheat beer, and NOT a Belgian beer.
Since 1994, one of America’s best-selling wheat beers, Allagash White has been loved by beer aficionados for its balance and complexity. It’s also the perfect brew for people who think they don’t like beer. Flavored with subtle hints of coriander, Curacao orange peel and a secret spice, it’s easy-drinking and sessionable (ABV 5.1%), but still dazzling to the taste buds.
When it first made its debut, it was a bit of a novelty. Belgian beers were virtually unknown in the U.S. back then. For Tod, that was very appealing, but his interest in Belgian beers went beyond their obscurity. The seemingly endless flavor possibilities the Belgians were able to coax out of their ingredients had caught his imagination. It took Tod about a year to build his brewery – done on a shoestring budget with equipment repurposed from a dairy operation. And after having gone to all that trouble, he wasn’t going to make the same beers that most American brewers were already churning out. “Allagash Brewery,” Tod said, “would strictly brew in the Belgian tradition. That’s our philosophy and we’ve stuck to it.”
Some people call the Coolship Series sour beers, but Tod points out that they should be appreciated for their balance and not just because they are sour. Coolship Red is a perfect example. It’s aged with fresh, ripe raspberries, which give the beer its balance of sweet and tart notes. And the color is a pretty shade of magenta, so it’s as beautiful to behold in a glass as it is delicious to drink.
Setting the record straight one more time, Tod adds, “My buddies and I spend time with brewmasters from places like Orval and Cantillon. I go back to Cantillon almost every year. It’s run by Jean Van Roy, who is an amazing brewer. Every time I go there, I pick up some nuggets of inspiration that push me to try different things. I get energized to keep pushing myself as a brewer. I know the other guys on the trip, [Tomme Arthur of The Lost Abbey and Vinnie Cilurzo of Russian River], feel the same. Almost every American brewer owes something to the Belgians, but we don’t imitate what they do. You could say that we choose to flatter them sincerely with our inspiration, not imitation!”
Can’t get to the brewery? Try these Allagash brews in your neck of the woods:
Allagash Hoppy Table Beer
While Hoppy Table Beer was inspired by the Belgian tradition of low-ABV, easily drinkable beers, it still occupies a hop-forward spot all its own. Brewed with Allagash’s 2-row malt blend, Maris Otter malt and oats, the beer is then spiced with a subtle addition of coriander and fermented with the brewery’s house yeast for classic Belgian citrus aromas. Hoppy Table Beer is hopped with Chinook, Cascade, Comet and Azacca hops, then dry hopped with more Comet and Azacca.
Allagash Brett IPA
Aromas of citrus, pineapple and passion fruit meld into tropical flavors that pair nicely with the beer’s lightly hopped body. Maris Otter, Munich malts and raw wheat balance the floral barrage of Bravo, Cascade, Amarillo, Centennial, Citra and Galaxy hops. By finishing with a mix of pleasant bitterness and tropical fruit, Brett IPA ushers brewing history into the present.
Allagash Interlude 2017
Two yeast strains were used to create this unique Belgian-style ale. The first, a saison yeast, establishes the flavor foundations of a classic Belgian-style ale. The second, Allagash’s house strain of Brettanomyces yeast, contributes myriad flavors including pear, apricot, graham cracker and bread crust. A portion of Interlude is aged in red wine barrels, which imparts a distinctive vinous, plum character and a dry, almost tannic, finish.