Prior to the pandemic, Portland, Maine’s Allagash Brewing was something of a powerhouse in bars and restaurants. For a quarter of a century, Allagash White has been hailed as the quintessential American wheat beer and could be found on tap at any beer bar worth its salt. Of course, that all changed in the spring of 2020, when so many dining establishments and bars (on-premise) were forced to close. Founder Rob Tod and the rest of the team had to completely pivot their focus to offer their beer in those places (off-premise) that were deemed essential.
With nearly two years since the shift, Allagash can safely say they’ve weathered the storm and seen immense success – so much so that they were named Brewery of the Year at the most recent Great American Beer Festival.
Draught Lines sat down with Naomi Neville, Tod’s right-hand woman, to find out how they were able to shift so quickly.
Draught Lines (DL): Before COVID, Allagash saw most of its growth in the on-premise. In a recent national sales meeting, Rob Tod mentioned that the Allagash team was able to complete a three-year plan in just one year and the brewery is now a much bigger player in the off-premise. Can you take us through that quick pivot? How you were able to execute it so quickly?
Naomi Neville (NN): Pre-pandemic we had built a [long-term] plan to bring our beer to more customers for more occasions in the off-premise. When the pandemic hit, we had to fast-track that plan. So, we invested in packaging equipment – the biggest and most pertinent investment was a high-speed canning line. We innovated and developed new product lines and dedicated ourselves to avoiding layoffs and furloughs for our sales team and refocused them in the off-premise.
Really it came down to people. Because the plans were in place, and we had the people to deliver them, it primarily came down to sending everyone off and running to get the work done. Not that executing those plans on such a short timeline was easy, but we gave ourselves the best shot at success because everyone was ready to go.
DL: Prior to the pandemic, your sales were close to 70/30, draught to package. That number now sits closer to 50/50 in just 18 months’ time. What changes were made for this to happen?
NN: Honestly, we [now] see Allagash fitting everywhere in the off-premise. We currently offer an Allagash White can package to suit everyone; from 12 oz. 12-packs to single-serve 19.2 oz. cans, for a grab-and-go option. Also, our 12 oz. bottles – which for a long time had been in a 4-pack – are now in a more popular 6-pack format. These new package types and sizes have opened up all sorts of new avenues for business and growth that we didn’t think possible, prior to the pandemic.
DL: What can fans expect from Allagash in 2022?
NN: Fresh and always in-stock Allagash White! It’s what customers have come to expect, and we have no plans to deviate. We’ll also have our core brands – Tripel, Curieux and North Sky – and we’ll continue to offer new innovations and wild beers on draught. We haven’t stopped innovating during the pandemic!
DL: Speaking of innovation, we have heard of a number of new Allagash beers being teased recently, including Allagash’s first national IPA, a summer seasonal and a blonde ale. Can you give us a peek into Allagash’s newest innovations?
NN: For sure! The three beers you named are absolutely ones we’re excited about. All three came from our pilot system. In the spring, we’ll release 4-packs of 16 oz. cans of Swiftly, an amber IPA that’s generously hopped for lush, citrusy and resinous hop aromas. In late spring, we’re excited to release 12-packs of 12 oz. cans of Seconds to Summer, a lager that’s brewed with traditional hops from the Czech Republic and fermented with Belgian yeast for a crisp, refreshingly hoppy flavor. And semi-concurrently, in mid-June, we’ll be releasing 4-packs of 16 oz. cans of Floating Holiday, a blonde ale brewed with lemon peel and a pinch of sea salt.
And to cap off the year, we’re welcoming a brand-new bottled beer called Day’s End, inspired by a cocktail known as the “boulevardier.” We brew it with Lambrusco grape must, angelica root and orange peel before aging it in bourbon barrels for two months, resulting in balanced notes of vanilla, red wine, oak and caramel. 4-packs of 12 oz. bottles will be available in mid-September.
DL: What else does Allagash have planned for 2022?
NN: We first want to mention the unprecedented support that we’re giving to three of our year-round brands – Allagash White, River Trip and North Sky – in the form of national campaigns. And as a B Corp, we’re constantly pushing ourselves to better support our employees, customers, community and the environment. And actually, by the end of this year, we’ll check off a big success in reaching the use of one million pounds of Maine-grown grain, per year!