Road Trip: Allagash Brewing Company
Then you get into the brewing process starting with the hot side of things (pre-fermenting). In a lofted area, control panels rest atop the steel vats that are used as a mash tun, lauter tun, boil kettle, and whirlpool. At such a large scale, most of the brewing equipment is automated at this point, so boiling, stirring, transferring are all at the touch of a few buttons. The brewing process starts with mashing in your grains – meaning, steeping your chosen specialty grains in hot water for about an hour, where starches from the grain are converted to fermentable sugars. Then comes lautering, the process of separating the liquid from the spent grains, rinsing the grain with more hot water to make sure all the sugars are extracted. This wort (unfermented beer) is then boiled again while hops and spices are added at certain intervals depending on desired results. Earlier addition of hops result in more bitterness, while later additions contribute more to flavor/aroma. Spices such as coriander, peppercorn, star anise, ginger and lemongrass that can be found in Belgian Saisons, are added later in the boil process as to not extract any unwanted bitterness or off-flavors. Once complete, the wort is rapidly cooled to a temperature in which yeast can survive and ferment those sugars into alcohol and CO2. While walking out of the brewhouse to move onto the cold side of production (fermentation etc.), you can glance below the massive automated system and check out a 15-gal homebrew set-up where employees are encouraged to test out pilot batches that could eventually make it into the big leagues for production.
While most of their large scale beers (White, Tripel, Saison, Black) are fermented in stainless steel vats, they are also known for their extensive barrel program. One room is devoted entirely to storing used Bourbon Barrels to age Tripel, which then becomes a new beer in itself – Curioux. Then the next barrel room has more variety. This is where their specialty offerings (sometimes only done once, sometimes on an annual basis) are aged in barrels that contain certain Yeast and Bacteria (Brettanomyces, Lactobacillus, Pediococcus) to impart sour or “funky”/earthy qualities, then sometimes aged on fruits as well.