Back in 1995, when Rob Tod founded Allagash Brewing Co., there were very few Belgian-style beers being made in the U.S.
From a small, one-man operation on the outskirts of Portland, Maine, the business grew to become one of the most recognized brands in the craft beer movement. And Tod became a force for the future by looking back to traditional methods and introducing bottle-conditioned, wood-aged and sour beers long before most other American brewers.
While Blue Moon and other Belgian wit-style beers are common today, the first release from Allagash, Allagash White, was way ahead of its time in 1995, and remains the brewery’s flagship brand.
Beyond that, Allagash has five other year-round Belgian-style beers in its portfolio, along with regular seasonal releases and one-offs.
Recently, Tod was at Brick Store Pub in Decatur for a celebration of the 10th anniversary of Allagash Curieux, a deliciously strong beer which is produced by aging the brewery’s Tripel Ale in Jim Beam bourbon barrels.
We talked about the evolution of Allagash and American craft beer. Here’s some of what Tod had to say:
Early struggles: The first 10 years, we struggled. No one wanted to buy our beer. We grew very slowly from 120 barrels, which is what I brewed the first six months. After 10 years, maybe we were up to 3,000 barrels.
Belgian-style: The main reason I wanted to do it was because no one else was doing it. I didn’t look at it as a viable business niche. I just figured if I was going to spend time building a brewery, and maybe my life running it, what’s the point of putting all that work into making something that people could get someplace else.
Changing tastes: It’s funny that wood-aged and sour beers are so popular now. When we started making those beers, and even when we first came out with Curieux, we didn’t expect to sell much. Now we can’t make enough of it. It’s amazing how tastes have changed.
Brewing better: As we’ve grown, we’ve used that opportunity to invest in equipment we couldn’t afford in the old days. Now we can make far more consistent beer, use less energy, and be safer.
Aging more: We have a very substantial chunk of our brewery totally dedicated to making innovative wood barrel-aged beer and stainless steel-aged beer with fruit, wild yeast and bacteria. The average age of beers in the facility is about two years.
Growing again: We’ve never really been volume-driven. This year, we’ll sell about 70,000 barrels. And hopefully we’ll continue to grow. But for us, growth is what allows us to be a better place to work, and improve the quality of the beer, and give back more to the local community.