'Beer Camp' and beyond: Allagash Brewing grows with a splash in Portland
PORTLAND — These are heady days for Allagash Brewing Co.
Preparing to be part of the Beer Camp Across America tour at Thompson's Point on Friday, the brewery at 50 Industrial Way will also expand by 18,000 feet and turn 20 next year.
"I never thought the Belgian category would take off like this," brewery founder Rob Tod said July 24.
On Friday, festival visitors will be able to sample suds from at least 110 brewers at the first large-scale event held at Thompson's Point, which will eventually be a $110 million multi-use development. Tickets are $65 ($30 for designated drivers); ticket sales are capped at 5,000.
The festival is a movable fermented feast organized to celebrate the Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.'s brewery's eastward expansion from California to Mills River, North Carolina. Among the state, regional and national brewers taking part, Allagash is the only New England brewer included in a promotional 12-pack of collaborators with Sierra Nevada.
"We were excited about it. I've always had a lot of admiration for Sierra," Tod said. "It is an iconic brand, they are pioneers in the craft beer business."
Allagash's Belgian-style specialty beers, which continue to ferment inside the bottle, drew the notice of Sierra Nevada as the festival was being planned. Tod said he was approached by the brewery, but did not expect Portland to land the festival, which is also stopping in San Diego, Denver, Chicago and Philadelphia before ending Sunday at the new North Carolina brewery.
"We cooked up the idea over beers and they came here," Tod said.
Dee Dee Germain, Allagash creative manager, said the festival proceeds will be donated to the Maine Brewer's Guild, where she is also the secretary.
Germain said the nonprofit guild works to promote craft beers and lobbying the Legislature for "brewery-friendly" revisions to state laws.
"There are a lot of residual laws that don't have a place in today's society," Germain said.
The guild is led, among others, by Fred Forsley of Shipyard Brewing Co., Dan Kleban of Maine Beer Co., and Kai Adams of Sebago Brewing Co. Germain said it is also a resource for entrepreneurs who want to start a brewery and need more information on laws, regulations, and even where to get supplies such as stainless steel fermenting tanks.
A University of Maine study commissioned by the guild predicts massive growth for craft beers in Maine: 200 percent over the next four years. The study found Maine breweries had 2013 sales of $92.6 million while employing 1,500 people.
Since the study of 35 breweries was completed, 18 more have opened, and Germain sees unlimited potential.
"There is endless room for growth," she said. "Craft beer isn't even 10 percent of the beer market as a whole."
Tod has seen days of boom and bust since opening in 1995, but said the Allagash niche and style are enduring.
"I was fascinated by the fact the Belgians have a very experimental brewing approach," Tod said. "There is an unlimited palate."
Demand for the fruit-flavored beers, 80 percent of which Germain estimated are sold by the keg, will lead to the brewery's multi-phased, 18,000-square-foot expansion approved July 22 by the Portland Planning Board.
Germain said the expansion will cover the gamut of brewery operations, from more outdoor fermentation tanks, to loading docks set farther away from daily operations and guided tours.
A gleaming glass and stainless steel expansion completed last year has added to brewing capacity, while also allowing Allagash to automate the additions of ingredients to beers. Allagash now employs more than 70 people, with enough recent hires that Germain and Tod were uncertain of the exact number.
Allagash is not the only brewer on the block. Bissell Brothers Brewing Co. and Foundation Brewing Co. are at 1 Industrial Way, and are also Beer Camp participants.