For this edition of “Have a Beer With” I caught up with Rob Tod, the founding owner and head brewmaster for Allagash Brewing Company in Maine. Rob is in the District for Savor festivities. Before his appearance at the Brickskeller’s “Reunuless” event tonight, we had a chance to chat about the excitement of Savor week events, the challenges of entering new beer markets, and the 15th Anniversary of Allagash Brewing.
Deverie: DC is buzzing with pre-Savor excitement, and we’re very glad to have you back in town! What is your favorite thing about attending Savor?
Rob: Thanks. I’ve been to Savor for the past few years, and yeah, it’s gotten huge – it’s very cool. There are a lot of elements to Savor that I like. It’s a very different approach to a “brew fest” because it really focuses on pairing beer with food. There aren’t too many brew fests in the country that have that kind of focus. At Savor, there are a couple of food suggestions with each of the beers that the consumer can try, so this is a great opportunity to elevate beer. As you know, a lot of people have thought that the only thing you can pair with food is wine. This event goes a long way towards changing that perception.
Deverie: Savor has some great salons, as you know, because you participated in them last year. If you were planning a salon, what beer would you bring? And what would you pair it with?
Rob: I think a lot of people have had our White beer, and I think it is a lot of fun to pair a White beer with cheese, like a Parmigiano-Reggiano. Another favorite pairing of mine is our Curieux with cheesecake. Really almost any kind of cheesecake. Or our Curieux with a Crème Brulée. Another interesting pairing is some Maytag Blue Cheese which goes great with the Allagash Black. And that wouldn’t just pop into mind usually, but it worked perfectly.
Deverie: Yum! I’m glad I just ate lunch! So Rob, what’s the latest news with your spontaneously fermented beer series?
Rob: Well, we really don’t have any solid plans timing wise, to release it, though I’m sure at some point we will. Right now, we’re just learning. The Belgians have been doing it for hundreds of years, and no one’s really done it over here. I think it’s going to be a few years of R&D and messing around. That being said, the beers are coming out great, and we’ve been having a lot of fun. We just bottled our first batch which had been aging for two years in oak, in December, and we brought it to the Night of the Great Thirst, which is a biannual festival in Belgium that just does spontaneously fermented beers. It was really well received there. So we’re having fun with them, we’re learning a lot, but it’s going to be a while until they get released.
Deverie: And how have the “reserve list” beers going for Allagash? Brews like Confluence, Interlude, and Hugh Malone?
Rob: We can’t make enough of those beers. Every time we do a specialty release like that, they get blown right out. We probably have orders for about twice as much as we’ve made.
Deverie: Congratulations! That is great to hear. And now that you’re in your fifteenth year of operations, can we expect to see a 15th Anniversary Ale?
Rob: We started doing the anniversary beers for our 10th Anniversary, and I think we have the 10th and the 11th on our website. Since then we’ve done a beer called Fluxus, and it’s a different beer each year. This year we’re doing a Belgian Imperial Stout, which is kind of a departure from the other styles we have done in that series. And with the Fluxus, we raise $1.00 a bottle, for the big bottles and the same equivalent in draft, and we set up a scholarship fund for nurses at Maine Medical Center. Last year we raised about $7,000 to further their education. So that’s another fun aspect of that beer.
Deverie: What are some of the challenges that craft brewers face in getting their products into D.C., Virginia, or Maryland?
Rob: The more we move towards different regulations in each state, the harder it gets. Administratively and logistically, for a small company like ours, if you’ve got laws that are different from state to state, or when different states have different labeling requirements, that is a nightmare for small brewers. There are about 1500 small brewers in the United States, and this is a huge logistical nightmare to deal with those changes. It goes with the territory to some extent, and we’ve always lived with it, but whenever you have difference from state to state, especially regarding labeling, it is a lot of work to deal with. A lot. We have someone who works full time at our brewery, just to deal with compliance.
I think there needs to be regulation. But, different regulations in different states definitely create administrative hurdles for us.
Deverie: We have seen you in D.C. a lot, and you seem to do quite a bit of traveling. How, in your opinion, has the District evolved as a “beer city?”
Rob: D.C., like a lot of the major metro markets, has definitely evolved in the last few years. Dining wise, beer and food wise – the whole culture of beer and food has changed dramatically. D.C. is one of the cities that seems to have been a few years ahead of the curve. There are tons of great food and beer options in the city. D.C. is a great beer city. A lot of little things have helped in this evolution, and there is no doubt that Savor is one of them.