In the utopian future I like to imagine, every Maine brewery would offer a beer that is sourced with one hundred percent local ingredients. There are only four basic ingredients in beer: water, grains, hops and yeast. The water is already locally sourced, and many breweries in Maine have yeast strains they cultivate in-house. So in order to achieve this locavore dream, that only leaves grains and hops.
With Maine’s deep farming culture, one would imagine that sourcing local grains and hops for beer would be easy. Turns out it’s not the growing of the grains and hops that is the challenge; rather, it’s the processing of those crops to prepare them for brewing that has been the deterrent. In order to harvest hops, keep them in cold storage, and turn the cones into dense pellets for brewing farmers need massive infrastructure. In kind, grains need to be malted in a sophisticated malt house before they can be mashed by brewers.
Going from farm to brewery is more complicated than one would think.
That is why Allagash Brewing Company’s release of Sixteen Counties is such a triumph in the quest for a locally sourced beer. Released this spring, Sixteen Counties is a new year round beer, featuring barley from Maine Malt House and Blue Ox Malthouse, oats from Aurora Mills Organic, and unmalted wheat from Maine Grains Alliance.
On a recent visit to the brewery, I sit down with Zach Bodah, Head of Quality, as he lays out the impressive symbiotic relationship between farmers and brewers that led to Sixteen Counties.
He explains that as Maine Malt House of Mapleton and Blue Ox of Lisbon Falls opened as Maine’s two first malt houses, they would drop off bags of grain to Allagash. The brewers would make test batches with the local grains and give the malt houses feedback on the product. Over a two-year period, both the malt houses and Allagash worked to dial in their processes to create a high quality product.
“We went through countless pilot batches,” Bodah explains. But slowly, both the malt houses and the brewery were producing consistent products that led to finalizing the recipe for Sixteen Counties.
This beer stands up to Allagash’s lineup of world-class beers and is a stunning achievement for both the brewery and the farmers.
Sixteen Counties pours a deep gold with a robust frothy head. It has a complex aroma of spices and tangerines from the house yeast and the use of American hops. The flavor is a fascinating tractor ride through bright cereal flavors from the local grains, peppery lemon esters from the house yeast, and grapefruit and pine flavors from the Jarrylo, Chinook, and Centennial hops. This beer has a big, silky body imparted by the Aurora Mills oats.
“They make some of the best oats in the world right here in Maine,” Bodah explains.
I ask if he foresees a time when Sixteen Counties could be brewed with locally sourced hops from The Hop Yard in Gorham and Aroostook Hops in Westfield.
“Absolutely,” he says. “When the technology is in place, we’re open to adding local hops.”
The fact that Sixteen Counties is a year round offering shows Allagash’s commitment to working with local farmers for years to come.
With farmers and brewers dedicated to building a healthy local economy, I expect that Sixteen Counties is just the first harvest of what will eventually be a vibrant crop of locally sourced beers brewed in Maine.
BREWER: Allagash Brewing Company, 50 Industrial Way, Portland
FARMERS: Maine Malt House, Blue Ox, Aurora Mills Organic and Maine Grain Alliance
FLAVOR PROFILE: Bright cereal flavors from local grains, peppery lemon esters from Allagash house yeast, and grapefruit and pine flavors from American hops
AVAILABILITY: Purchase in 750 ml bottles at the brewery or in most Portland area beverage stores, also available on draft in select locations
MORE INFO: www.allagash.com/sixteen-counties-video/
OTHER BEER HAPPENINGS
Firestone Walker Beer Showcase at the Great Lost Bear
5 to 9 p.m., Thursday, The Great Lost Bear, 540 Forest Ave., Portland.
The craft beer scene on the west coast continues to overflow into Maine with the recent addition of the acclaimed Firestone Walker Brewing Company. The innovative California brewery has been wowing beer critics for years with their American-style ales. Their Union Jack IPA has an outstanding 94 score on Beer Advocate. It’s a beer I’ve been dying to try for years. This Thursday at The Great Lost Bear, Maine craft beer lovers will have a chance to dig into some Firestone Walker beers. This event will feature draft pours of Pivo Hoppy Pilsner, Easy Jack Session IPA, Union Jack IPA and Pale 31 California Pale Ale.
Sign Up for Craft Brew Races 5k and Beer Festival
June 25. Payson Park, Portland. $55. craftbrewraces.com/portland
If you love craft beer, there’s a chance that you’ve developed a slightly rotund physique over the past couple years as you’ve delved into Maine’s world-class beer scene. I know I have. Here’s an opportunity to let the craft beer world help get you in shape. Craft Brew Races features a 5k around Portland’s Back Cove Trail and ends at Payson Park where runners are treated to a Beer Fest. The brewfest portion of the event hosts over 40 craft breweries and is worth attending on its own. But if you run the 5k as well, you get the best of both worlds: chip away at that craft-beer-bod and enjoy a brewfest chock-full of Maine brewer