Somehow, I always seem to hear about the special releases from Allagash that come out periodically in bottles – like its coolship series beers and other barrel-aged delights. But the last time I visited Allagash’s tasting room, I saw something unfamiliar in the coolers. Next to all of the bottles were three beautiful cans that had somehow evaded my attention: Florette, Starling Wit, and The Stranger and the Crane. My curiosity got the better of me and I brought a four-pack of each home to try. I was delighted to find that all three were compelling, unique and unquestionably tasty.
The name Florette might be familiar; it had been released bottles previously, but this is its first time in cans. The recipe was changed a little bit too, so this is almost a new beer. Florette is a Belgian-style ale that’s got a touch of local honey and is finished with hibiscus petals. Hibiscus has been used in other Maine beers before; Flight Deck Brewing Company Tea-56 is made with a hibiscus tea, and Barreled Souls Rosalita uses hibiscus petals to brighten up a blonde ale with floral flavors. Usually, the ingredient brings a stark pink color to the beer and can contribute a floral, but also earthy and almost cinnamon flavor. The color that the hibiscus brings to Florette is not electric, but closer to pastel. Similarly, the hibiscus petals’ effects on the taste is delicate and blends in seamlessly with the beer’s own flavor profile, leaving a little floral pop at the end of each sip. The end result is a drinkable, soft and refreshing beer that has just the right amount of fruit and tartness to it.
A beautifully drawn star-filled starling adorns the label of Starling Wit. The base beer here is a witbier, a golden style of beer that uses wheat as a port of its grains, similar to Allagash’s flagship White. The beer has a lot of similarities to White, but is elevated by the addition of some delicious but subtle flavorings. Witbier already has some orange-like characteristics from its yeast. To enhance that flavor, Curaçao orange peel and coriander were added, bringing the citrus flavors more to the forefront and adding a subtle spice. What makes this beer unique, however, is the addition of Maine-grown ginger. The ginger is what plays with your taste buds as you drink it and leaves you with a more wintry feeling than a typical wheat beer. It also has a bit more alcohol than a typical wheat beer (8 percent), making it perfectly suitable for a cold night where you’re dreaming about a vacation in the tropics.
A different bird is the subject of the next beer, The Stranger and the Crane. Described as a “saison with dark malt and cranberries,” this dark and brooding beer caught me off guard. The name originates from the region in which saisons were first developed, Wallonia in Belgium, which roughly translates to “stranger,” and the fact that cranberries were named after the birds that were seen eating them – cranes. Thus, The Stranger and the Crane celebrates the marriage of the saison style with the tiny tart fruits. Cranberries are an unusual addition for beer, and pairing them with a dark beer is even more uncommon. There’s very little in this beer that reminds me of a saison, but that hardly matters. The beer pours kind of an uninteresting, hazy brown color, but the smell – bursting with richness – more than makes up for its unassuming appearance. The raisin, currant, cranberry and plum notes are delicious and comforting.
Together, this trio has a little something for everyone. The Starling Wit has familiar flavors that fans of Allagash White will recognize. Florette is lighter, more elegant, and might appeal to those that like wines, while The Stranger and the Crane is perfect for anyone who wants to embrace the hearty and wintry flavors of dark Belgian ales. All three of these beers are available for purchase in the tasting room at Allagash.
Allagash Brewing Co. put 40,000 pounds of locally grown Maine fruit into beer in 2018, as well as 330,000 pounds of Maine-grown and processed grain. Using these ingredients creatively and finding ways to integrate them into complimentary beer styles is one of the things that sets Allagash apart from other breweries. Most brewers can make a fun beer by adding an ingredient or two on top of a base beer style, but few have the experience of years of blending and aging and recipe-making to handle ingredients like cranberries and hibiscus flowers with such relative ease.