Spontaneous Beer: Allagash Brewing Company

Don’t be busy. Be productive.

In the midst of relocating across the country, planning a wedding, enrolling in an MBA program, and diligently writing for Third Leap Brewing & Blending, I went and started another project; SpontaneousBeer.com! Truth be told, I have been itching to share research about American Spontaneous Beer producers for quite a while. Originally, I considered writing a manuscript in hopes of eventually wooing a publisher. Soon reality sank in and I quickly shifted focus from static, time-consuming manuscript to dynamic, build-as-you-go wiki.

Despite its humble beginning, I plan to slowly paint the comprehensive picture that is American Spontaneous Beer. I will also feature pertinent content on Third Leap – after all, my primary goal was to expand my own spontaneous homebrewing skills by researching the moderns experimental producers.

The first SpontaneousBeer.com article features Allagash Brewing Company!

For a more detailed overview Allagash’s spontaneous beer program, please visit http://spontaneousbeer.com/Allagash_Brewing_Company

When Allagash began its spontaneous beer program in November 2007, founder Rob Todd considered it an experiment and wasn’t certain they would ever be able sell the beers to the public. Despite this uncertainty, he gain confidence in initiating the program after an “instrumental” visit to Belgium in 2007 and also due to the success of Interlude, a clean saison that was unintentionally contaminated with wild Brettanomyces.

Allagash modeled its spontaneous beer production 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 40% unmalted wheat, minimum three-year-old aged whole-leaf hops, turbid mash regimen, extended boil, and coolship. They are often credited as the first modern US craft brewery to install a coolship for the purpose of spontaneous beer production.

Initially, Allagash brewed during both fall and spring 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 characteristics from spring batches, Allagash has since limited spontaneous beer production to the fall season only.

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. Designed out of practicality, the coolship measures 12′ x 8′ x 2′. 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. Allagash targets a temperature range between 25°F and 40°F, with 35°F considered ideal.

After spontaneous inoculation, the wort is homogenized then transfered into freshly dumped French oak wine barrels (or sometimes Kentucky bourbon barrels) for fermentation. Initial batches 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 begin fermenting. This is attributed to the build-up of microflora in the coolship room itself.

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.

Allagash sources fresh, whole fruit for its spontaneous beers. Most fruit is sourced within a 50-mile radius from the brewery, sometimes from a single farm. Fruit is added to mature two-year-old beer at a rate of ~2 lb/gal. Brewers first add fruit to non-jacketed 500-gal stainless steel totes, then transfer beer on top. Spontaneous beer remains in contact with fruit for approximately four to six months (until re-fermentation is complete).

Allagash believes that “blending is the art behind [the] beers.” Their blends are determined by flavor and density, not specific proportions. The process begins with the head brewer 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 produces several notable spontaneous beers under the Coolship brand including:

Coolship Balaton – spontaneous beer with Balaton cherries

Coolship Cerise – spontaneous beer with Montmorency and Balaton cherries

Coolship Clermont – spontaneous beer aged in bourbon barrels

Coolship La Mûre – spontaneous beer with blackberries

Coolship Red – spontaneous beer with raspberries

Coolship Resurgam – a blend of one-, two-, and three-year-old spontaneous beer

Coolship Single Barrel One – spontaneous beer aged in a single bourbon barrel


2 Responses

    1. Thanks Art! I appreciate the support and trying my best to give back to the beer community after benefiting for so many years from others. Cheers!

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