Freshly Tapped spotlights one recently released beer, whether it be a flagship, one-off, seasonal, or modified recipe.
Sometime around the new year’s arrival, Allagash Brewing produced 30 barrels of a slightly unusual farmhouse ale called Darling Ruby – a traditional grisette in many ways, informed like all Allagash beers by the Belgian tradition, but spiked midway through the brewing process with grapefruit zest and juice.
Then the Maine brewery proceeded to pour most of it down the drain.
This sort of thing happens on occasion in the best breweries around the world, even if it’s rarely publicized. A batch of beer becomes infected or simply misses the mark, and a difficult decision is made swallow the costs and dispose of it rather than put something subpar into the market.
“A brewery that never sewers flawed beer is not a craft brewer,” Brooklyn Brewery Brewmaster Garrett Oliver remarked recently. “Throwing away beer that is beneath your standards is the essence of respect for your customers and the time it took them to earn the money to buy your beer. I remember every beer I had to kill. But it had to be done.”
Except that’s not quite what happened here. Nothing went wrong in the production of Darling Ruby. Allagash brewed 30 barrels of this citrusy saison knowing it would never see the caged light of its homey Portland tasting room.
“This is going to sound crazy to a lot of people,” Allagash Brewmaster Jason Perkins tells me, talking over the phone in late March, “but one thing we’re doing on occasion is making a scaled-up batch of beer and…”
Perkins detours a little here, proffering a handful of qualifications for what he’s about to say, but the gist of what follows is this: When Allagash is scaling up a recipe from its homemade 10-gallon pilot system to its state-of-the-art 75-barrel brewhouse, it will sometimes brew a 30-barrel test batch, particularly when that recipe involves novel processes.
“I mean, if we’re sizing up a beer and it’s just a Belgian singel or something, that’s pretty easy, but when we’re using odd fermentations or odd ingredients like fruit, it’s really important for us to get it right,” Perkins explains. “So, even though we didn’t sell it in the store, we brewed a 30-barrel batch of this beer, just to dial it in one more time. We enjoyed some in-house, but most of it we dumped. That’s a fair amount of dumped beer, but it’s a choice me make.”
Over the past six months, Allagash has released a handful of new beers that underwent this bonus phase of R&D. In December, the brewery debuted The Stranger and the Crane, a dark saison brewed with cranberries. A few months later came Sun Drift, a Brett ale brewed with lemon zest and black tea to evoke the time-honored pleasures of an Arnold Palmer. More recently, it launched a blend of lager and saison called Moselle.
All three beers sprang initially from Allagash’s pilot program, an initiative introduced by Perkins and brewery founder Rob Tod in 2007 to enable Allagash employees to experience breathing life into a recipe – and to harness their creativity.
Under the pilot program, anyone at the brewery – whether they work in the tasting room, as part of the accounting department, or on production floor – can propose an idea for a new beer, and if the pilot team selects it, that employee gets to produce the recipe on a 10-gallon pilot system. Some pitches come in close to fully formed, with specifics details like malt varieties, yeast strains, and the hopping regime already etched in. Others are a little vaguer.
One of Allagash’s biggest hits in recent memory is Two Lights, a lager brewed with sauvignon blanc grape must and fermented partially with champagne yeast. This stylistic hybrid was the brainchild of Mariah Nelson, a member of the brewery’s administrative team with a penchant for bubbly wine spritzers.
“Two Lights started as a total concept – not even a recipe,” says Lindsay Bohanske, who runs Allagash’s Industry Hospitality Program. “Mariah just loves champagne and sparkling wine, and she wanted to make a beer that was sort of like [Allagash] White but had a lot of champagne notes. I don’t think someone from production would necessarily come up with an idea like that. That’s why the pilot program is so important: It takes in a much broader perspective than just the production or sales and marketing sides of things. It’s a much more holistic approach.”
Two Lights was introduced in four-packs across Allagash’s 18-state distribution footprint last summer, but like essentially all graduates from the pilot program, it was rolled out on a smaller scale first – in this case, on draft in the tasting room the summer before. Similarly, Moselle is currently only available at the brewery, albeit in cans to-go. Cans of The Stranger and the Crane, meanwhile, actually went into distribution… but only within the state of Maine. Almost a year ago, Pilsner with Brettanomyces, yet another pilot program product, went straight into full distribution… but only in kegs.
Of course, it’s no sure thing that a beer like Moselle will be scaled up further or even produced again. If a recipe is lucky enough to make it past the 10-gallon pilot batch – the vast majority don’t – it finds itself in progressively smaller company at each rung of the ladder to the highest level of Allagash releases: year-round flagship. Even then, with only eight flagship slots, most can only dream to peak as a four-pack released nationally once a year.
“We’ve never had any beer that went pilot to national in our current system,” observes Brett Willis, a marketing specialist at Allagash. “You could look way back at a beer like Confluence and say, ‘Yes, this went from pilot to full distro,’ but we were a much different brewery at that point. For all intents and purposes, we always create at least one step in between a beer starting on the pilot before it goes national.”
But then came Darling Ruby, the first beer in the modern era of Allagash to break from this tradition.
In late March, the 30th largest brewery in the country began sending 12oz bottles of grapefruit Grisette around the country, less than five months after Bohanske submitted its initial recipe to the pilot program.
The speed of this turnaround and the degree to which the Industry Tour Specialist’s citrus saison was scaled up amplified the importance of that 30-barrel test batch. While Allagash exercises an unsurpassed level of quality control with all of its beers –again, Moselle, an in-house can release, received a similar glorified piloting – Darling Ruby was going straight from Class A to the major league.
How it even came to be in that position was the product of fortunate timing, the prevailing winds in craft beer, and a near-perfect pitch.
If you’re paying a visit to 50 Industrial Way, the home of Allagash Brewing since 2010, a number of tour packages are at your disposal. There’s the Classic Brewery Tour, the Private Tour, the Deep Dive Tour, the Grand Cru Tour. As you might imagine, each is slightly more intensive, boozy, and pricey than the last.
At the base level, $5 nets you an hour-long tour of the production facility and four 4oz samples. Put down $75 and buckle up for three hours of Belgian-inspired bliss, including – but not limited to – participating in a brew, tasting barrel samples, and chatting up brewers. You might even share a beer with Rob Tod if he’s around.
But there’s a fifth tour, perhaps the ultimate Allagash experience, and you won’t find it listed on the Allagash website. Formerly known as the VIP Tour, now the Industry Hospitality Tour, it’s a tour exclusively for other brewers, wholesalers, retailers, the media, and anyone else working alongside Allagash in craft beer. Among many in the industry, it’s taken on a somewhat legendary status. No one tour is the same, but there are elements that repeat in stories: drinking in the coolship, visits to the wild and sour cellars, boundless generosity.
Former DC Beer editor Bill DeBaun fondly remembers his 2016 visit to the brewery alongside a small group that included Neighborhood Restaurant Group Assistant Beer Director Tim Liu. An otherwise normal tour through the facility took a turn when they were lead to separate building that formerly housed Allagash’s old, ramshackle brewhouse. Now it was home to an eight-seat private bar with leather couches and multiple draft lines.
“This is going to sound tacky, but it really got special back there,” he tells me. “We would be talking about beers with our tour guide – just shooting the shit about the all the cool things Allagash had done – and the second we showed any kind of interest in a beer, no matter what it was, he’d be like, ‘There were only 80 bottles of this made, but if you’re interested, let’s just crack one.’ That happened, I don’t know, four or five times.”
It’s worth noting that pretty much every brewery of a certain size has some protocol for VIP guests. Dogfish Head hosts visitors at its Dogfish Head Inn. New Belgium employs a Viper Squad. Other simply call their hosts beer ambassadors. Perkins acknowledges that Allagash’s program has been informed over time by the treatment he’s received at such other breweries.
“Like so many things here, it has evolved slowly into what it is today,” says the brewmaster, who joined Allagash two decades ago. “It’s not like two or three years ago, we said, ‘Hey, let’s figure out a way to take good care of our industry friends.’”
In the old days, it was often Perkins would lead these tours. In fact, he would be called upon to lead any tour.
“When I started in the late ‘90s, tours were already part of what we did,” he explains. “I mean, it was very rare that we would get visitors. If the door opened, it was a bit of surprise – like, ‘Huh, I wonder who’s coming here today.’ But then I or someone else would just stop what we were doing to give a tour. Rob always made a point to say, ‘We want people to see us. We have to tell them our story and show them what we do here.’ And as craft beer got bigger and we got bigger, we slowly had to add more and more things to it.”
Hundreds of thousands of visitors have wandered through Allagash in its nearly 25 years of producing beer. Five years ago, one of them was Lindsay Bohanske, who found herself at the brewery on a visit to Portland. A Boston native living in Cincinnati at the time, she had strategically scheduled a tour early in the day, hoping for a small group size. The ploy worked: The group ended up consisting of just her and her husband.
In another stroke of luck, her guide was the brewery’s VIP Tour Coordinator Mike Guarracino. Or perhaps it wasn’t entirely luck – Bohanske had established herself as a beer and food blogger in Ohio, and she came to brewery that day with a camera in tow to document the experience. This probably didn’t hurt. Either way, Bohanske was soon enough standing in the Allagash coolship, drinking Coolship Resurgam.
“I was in full blog mode, taking all of these photos and acting like a total lunatic beer nerd,” she remembers. “Mike was so welcoming and so warm, and he gave me a really cool impression of their culture. I just left thinking, ‘Oh my god, Allagash is this amazing company.’”
A tad over three years later, she would join the company, appropriately enough, filling Guarracino’s position and completing an unusual journey to the world of craft beer.
“It’s kind of a long story,” she says of that path to Allagash. “But I think everyone in the beer industry has a long story.”
Bohanske grew up in Hopkinton, Massachusetts – the starting point of the Boston Marathon – before studying health science at Boston University. Staying in the city after graduation, she lived down the street from famed Belgian beer bar The Publik House, where an interest in craft beer began to take slowly take root. She became enamored with Allagash and Unibroue – a natural fit for an aspiring cook from a “food-focused family.”
“Those beers are just naturally so good with food, it just all started coming together for me,” Bohanske remembers. “Cooking put beer right into perspective. I had this very narrow definition of what beer was, but I realized you could make beer be whatever you wanted.”
That connection intensified when she and her husband began homebrewing together. By this point, the two had moved to Cincinnati for his work. (“I kind of joke that he kidnapped me, and he hates that, but it’s more or less true,” she quips.) Now the proud holder of a Master’s Degree in Public Health, Bohanske had left behind her ideal job at Dana Farber Cancer Institute’s Center for Community Based Research in Boston. She found “pseudo-employment” working a clinical trials, but the work wasn’t nearly as fulfilling, so she began to fend off boredom with a blog dedicated to cooking, homebrewing, and the beers she liked called Love Beer Love Food.
The website began to attract a following. Bohanske started receiving invitations to local beer events. She even partnered with a local TV channel. To give herself added authority, she pursued another degree: Certified Cicerone, craft beer’s equivalent of a sommelier.
“I wanted people to realize that I wasn’t just some chick who had a blog – that I actually knew something about beer,” she shares. “So, I studied my ass off, and I passed the exam, which was a miracle.”
Not too long after, a distributor approached Bohanske via a Twitter DM slide about coming to work for the company. It was truly an unexpected development. She had never worked in sales. And aside from homebrewing and writing, she had no industry experience. But although the connection may not be obvious, she believed the previous year of enrolling patients in clinical trials had provided her with some relevant interpersonal tools.
“In a weird way, selling people on whether they would be comfortable and willing to participate in a study isn’t all that different from cold calling an account,” she observes. “A lot of sales is just: be kind, be on time, know your product, and be able to talk to people. I basically had all of those skills. It felt like kind of a weird transition, but looking back it wasn’t at all. It was sort of meant to be.”
Stretching three states, her new employer, Cavalier Distributing, was hardly the little guy, but it’s portfolio was exclusively craft. In fact, Bohanske accepted the position largely because she’d only have to sell beer she was proud of – local beer, Stone, Dogfish Head, among others.
“It was a big life change, but I loved it and I got this totally different perspective of the beer industry,” she reflects. “A lot of people don’t see that side of things.”
When she and her husband decided to move back to New England, they set their sights on Portland, a less expensive alternative to Boston. He got a job at one of the city’s hospitals. At the top of occupational her wish list, naturally, was Allagash. As fate would have it, the brewery was looking for a new VIP Tour Coordinator, a position for which Bohanske was uniquely qualified.
“I could talk to people who were in the media, I could talk to people who were on the distributor side, I could talk to accounts,” she says. “I think that was a big reason why they ended up picking me. Also, it didn’t hurt that I had a ton of beer knowledge.”
Since taking over, Bohanske has brought more structure to the program and expanded it. She changed its name to the Industry Hospitality Program to reflect that it provides tastings and staff trainings in addition to tours. Because she couldn’t lead tours seven days a week, Allagash added someone to support her, Bob Kutch, her “right-hand man.” Together, they’re charged with “giving people the love.”
“We really function as in-house representatives of the company,” Bohanske explains. “Our job is to know everything about everything. I’m not a siloed thing. I have a great relationship with all of our brewers, because I’m always up in their business. When people are visiting, I want to be able to say, ‘We’re kegging this beer’ or ‘We’re processing some local fruit for this beer.’ I want to make sure the information people are getting is on-the-ground and in real time, because we’re constantly changing and evolving.”
Perkins laughs when I ask about Bohanske’s inquisitive nature. He says she’s pulling him aside most chances she gets.
“Lindsay probably has her finger on the pulse of Allagash better than anyone here,” the brewmaster shares. “A lot of times, she’s giving tours to very tenured brewers or industry people, and they ask a lot of hard questions, and she’s prepared. She knows her brewing process, she knows her beer styles, she knows flavor. She’s kind of the perfect fit to be fielding some real hard questions.”
Bohanske compares each tour to a first date: At first, she’s just trying to figure out what the other side is interested in. On the particular Monday in March that we’re speaking, she has four first dates scheduled over the course of the day.
Such visits are about much more than schmoozing. Allagash has risen to be one of the United States’ leading breweries with a portfolio of thoughtful, complex, Belgian-indebted beers. More often than not, these beers come at a higher price point than what’s competing for a draft line. It’s important for Allagash to be able to show people why that is.
“Part of it is explaining the process,” says Bohanske. “Even White, which accounts for 80% of our sales, takes twice as long to make as your standard pale ale because we bottle condition it.”
Earlier this month, a post appeared on the site under the title, What Is: A Grisette?
Somewhat remarkably, it’s a question that Allagash had never really had to answer until now.
While the Allagash pilot program is intended to rouse unexpected ideas from unexpected places, there is one notable restriction on the endeavor: Each recipe has to draw inspiration in some form or fashion from the Belgian brewing tradition.
This is consistent with the entirety of Allagash’s oeuvre. Since being founded by Rob Tod in 1995, the brewery has made two types of beers. One is renditions of classic Belgian styles, like its Tripel, its collection of Lambic-style gueuzes, and the ubiquitous White, the engine that drives the entire operation. The other encompasses a broad range of hybrids with the American tradition – most often, utilizing pungent Pacific Northwest hops or barrels previously used to age American spirits.
The latter category still allows for ample wiggle room. For example, as Perkins explained last year, any beer fermented with Brettanomyces is automatically connected with the Belgian lineage given the wild yeast’s role in so many of the country’s iconic styles. This explains how Pilsner with Brettanomyces comes to enter the Allagash catalogue. But if an employee were to suggest brewing, say, a wholly traditional German Helles lager, the recipe would not have a clear path to the pilot system.
“You know, I love German Helles, it’s one of my favorite beers to drink when I’m in Europe, but it doesn’t really fit Allagash, and we’re never going to brew that beer on our big system,” says Perkins. “So, if someone pitches an idea like that, we might just take them aside and say, ‘Hey, look, this is just not something that’s going to work for us. Pitch another idea, and we’ll take it from there.’”
There would be no need to have such a conversation with someone lobbying for a grisette. With roots stretching back to 19th-century Hainaut, the subset of saison falls firmly within the Belgian tradition.
In contrast with most other saisons, which were produced on farms for farmhands (hence the enduring catch-all “farmhouse ale”), grisettes are believed to have been brewed for the region’s coal and stone miners.
While historical records are a bit spotty, these beers were generally low in alcohol – logically, given that they were intended to revive miners otherwise toiling away inside the earth. They had elevated hopping rates, perhaps indicating they were meant to be consumed fresh. And they were brewed with some amount of malted wheat.
“This detail is perhaps grisette’s defining characteristic, because many Belgian beers of that period would have been brewed with unmalted wheat,” Kate Bernot wrote in her definitive primer on the style. “It’s unclear precisely why malted wheat should make up a portion of a grisette’s grain bill, but [Side Project Brewing’s] Cory King speculates that it’s to add body and texture to a beer that, due to its low alcohol, could become quite watery and boring.”
Of course, grisettes weren’t limited to malted wheat.
“Back in the day, they probably used spelt, maybe rye – whatever grain they had available to them,” says Bohanske. “As with all saisons, the idea was that they were seasonal.”
Like most regional styles, however, the grisette fell out of fashion with the passage of time. Indeed, outside of a few Belgian stalwarts like Dupont and Silly, saison production in general had waned considerably entering the 1980s, when interest abroad sparked a revival of the loosely defined style.
But even as American drinkers rediscovered saisons, the grisette took much longer catch on. In fact, it wasn’t until the beginning of this decade that brewers – more specifically, American brewers – turned their attention to the style. 2010 saw the release of Sly Fox’s highly decorated Grisette, which was followed a year later by Hill Farmstead’s iconic Clara, which preceded Loretta, the first of many grisettes from Maine’s Oxbow – perhaps the loudest trumpeter of the style. In the wake of these beers, grisettes have become a more common sight in U.S. taprooms, from Modern Times to Creature Comforts to Trillium. Some breweries, like Maryland’s Manor Hill and Virginia’s Reason Beer, are even opening with grisettes as flagship offerings. To be fair, it remains somewhat of a niche style, but it’s one that’s broadly appealing if a brewery can manage to get it into a consumer’s glass.
“If you’re looking for a beer that’s easy to drink, that’s still going to have some flavor, then grisettes are a perfect fit,” says Perkins. “You’re going to get a very dry, very low-residual-sugar beer, but if you choose the right strain of yeast, that alone is going to provide enough great flavor and aroma to make it interesting. I like the style a lot.”
Interestingly, Allagash – the United States’ preeminent producer of Belgian beers – hadn’t released a grisette before two years ago. (Perkins says the brewery piloted “a bunch” of recipes, but they never advanced past that initial stage.) This finally changed with Rivulet, a grisette fittingly brewed with Pine Tree State compatriot Oxbow for 2017’s Saison Day
Rivulet was a traditional take on the style: hopped with old and new European varietals; brewed with oats, wheat, and pilsner malt; fermented with Allagash’s house saison strain. The 5.5% ABV beer didn’t leave the brewery’s taproom, and it didn’t last long there, but it left an impression on Bohanske. She cites the grisette, along with Oxbow’s dry-hopped Grizicca, as part of the inspiration for making her own.
“I was just sitting one day, thinking about beers that I love and want to drink, and grisettes came to mind,” she shares. “It’s kind of a perfect style. Beer nerds love it. It’s this random historical style. There’s not a ton of them out there. But it’s also just this super easy-drinking beer.”
In November of last year, Bohanske submitted her pitch to the pilot team: a grisette brewed with local grains, hopped with citrusy Pacific Northwest varietals, and then conditioned with literal citrus – specifically, grapefruit zest.
“I love grisettes, I love grapefruits, and I love alliteration apparently,” she says with a laugh. “Because I had been homebrewing for so long, I had a pretty good idea of what this beer would look like.”
Bohanske had been unsuccessful in her one previous pitch to pilot team – a chamomile tripel – but the green light came quickly this time around. Soon enough, she was sitting down with Evan Culver, head of the pilot team, fleshing out the recipe for the initial 10-gallon batch.
“We loved the idea from the get go,” says Perkins. “We’re always looking for a beer that’s nice and easy to drink but still in the Belgian tradition or at least Belgian inspired.”
Bohanske spent a day brewing the grapefruit grisette with the pilot team, and then three or so weeks later, on a Friday afternoon, it went on tap in the employee breakroom.
The breakroom is the unofficial proving ground for any pilot beer. Allagash subjects every batch to a rigorous sensory panel’s analysis, and it solicits written comments from across the company, but a beer’s popularity in the breakroom is frequently prophetic.
“It’s pretty easy to gauge interest at this company,” Perkins told me last year. “I always joke that if we put a five-gallon keg of something on in the breakroom and it’s gone in two days, that tells me a lot. Or, oftentimes, you just hear people talking about it. There’ll be a buzz going around the brewery: Did you try so-and-so’s beer?”
In the case of Bohanske’s grapefruit grisette, the keg emptied in three days – a speed made more impressive by the fact that the entire production team had gone home for the weekend.
“I was pumped,” remembers Bohanske. “The faster that keg gets drained, the better. It almost doesn’t even matter what the feedback is. If the keg gets drank really fast, that’s always the best sign.”
A few weeks later, Perkins stopped Bohanske in a hallway. He told her she was just the person he wanted to see.
“I thought, ‘Uh-oh…’” she recalls. “But he said, ‘In all seriousness, we decided we want to brew your beer again.’ And I was like, ‘Holy crap, that’s amazing.’”
Bohanske assumed it would be a limited release in the tasting room. Maybe even a four-pack sent across Maine. Something small.
“Jason was like, ‘Yeah, it’s going to be a national release,’” she continues. “I almost passed out.”
The tour coordinator’s grisette had come along at exactly the right time. Allagash was in the midst of planning its 2019 release schedule, and it had a spot in the line-up to fill in the spring.
“The stars kind of aligned in terms of timing and beer flavor,” says Perkins. “We were psyched about it. The staff was clearly psyched about it. And we knew that it’s the type of thing that consumers are looking for at the moment.”
What a healthy portion of consumers are increasingly looking for is lower-alcohol, lower-calorie beers. Granted, Allagash has produced one of those in form of a 5.2% witbier since day one, and its 4.5% brewery-only House Beer has been revered in the brewing community since its introduction in 2012, but there’s been a renewed focus in recent years in introducing sessionable beers to the national market. First came 2016’s Hoppy Table Beer, which was essentially tweaked and rebranded as River Trip at the beginning of this year. Notably, both River Trip and Allagash White are currently available across New England in cans, a receptacle Allagash has been methodically rolling out for a little over a year, and one that makes sense for session ales.
“By no real intention, a lot of our specialty releases in years past have been stronger, higher-alcohol beers, sometimes with wild Brettanomyces or sourness involved,” says Perkins. “It just seems – partly with cans being part of our portfolio now, and partly because of what consumers are interested in – we happened to have some cool ideas in the pipeline that fit that [market].”
A January press release touts River Trip as “the lowest-calorie beer in our year-round lineup,” but the brewmaster bristles slightly at the idea of Allagash hastily catering to popular demand.
“It’s kind of easy to do a low-alcohol – or low-calorie, if you will – beer, but we want them to be truly Allagash beers,” Perkins says. “We want them to follow the tradition that we’re used to and be interesting and flavorful. You’ll see the beers that we’re doing follow that. They’re not just low-ABV beers that are intended to be marketed to health-conscious people or whatever. It’s more just: How do we get intensity of flavor in a beer that you can have several of?”
When it came to Darling Ruby, this would be a tricky questions to answer.
Grapefruit landed on the shores of Florida in 1823. A hybrid of Jamaican sweet orange and Indonesian pomelo that was brought to the new world by the East India Company, the fruit had first been recorded growing in Barbados some 75 years earlier. From Florida, it would gradually spread to several warm-weather states hospitable its growth – most prominently Arizona, California, and Texas.
It was in the Longhorn State that citrus growers discovered a mutated red grapefruit growing on a pink grapefruit tree in 1929. Sweeter than pink or white varieties, with a deep reddish flesh, this cultivar would come to be known as ruby red grapefruit. And in the decades that followed, ruby red grapefruit would fuel the popularity of citrus paradisi across the country.
Much like a combination of tripel and bourbon barrels, therefore, Darling Ruby represents the marriage of something distinctly Belgian and something distinctly American.
The proper union of these two – in the form of a 400-barrel production – would occur this February, when 2,000 pounds of Florida-grown ruby red grapefruit arrived in Portland.
By this point, the grapefruit grisette had gone through at least three turns on the pilot system, in addition to the aforementioned 30-barrel test batch. Almost all of this brewing focused on one issue: how to best capture the character of the grapefruit.
The rest of Bohanske’s recipe had come together somewhat seamlessly. It starts with a grist of Allagash’s two-row base malt (a blend of pilsner and pale malts made specifically for the brewery), a dash of Victory Malt (a proprietary Breiss product with a unique cracker biscuit character), and a mix of raw white wheat and malted red wheat.
High in protein and less fermentable than two-row barley, the two wheat varieties contribute a creamy mouthfeel to the low-alcohol grisette, much like they do in Allagash White.
“White is only 5.2%, but it doesn’t taste thin because wheat and oats really contribute body to the beer, in addition to that hazy color,” explains Bohanske. “Working with raw wheat and oats is a huge pain in the butt – it’s part of the reason that not a ton of breweries make a witbier – but our BrauKon system has some special tweaks to make it easier, plus we’ve just had a lot of practice.”
As with any grisette, hops play a significant role in the recipe, too. Its wort receives a hearty late-addition charge of two Pacific Northwest varietals: the new school Loral and its thirty-something big brother Crystal. Both combine the floral, herbal notes of European noble hops with a citrusy American twist.
“They’re definitely complimentary flavors to grapefruit,” says Bohanske. “This beer is nothing close to an IPA or anything, but it’s definitely on the hop-forward side for us.”
Rather than ferment the grisette with its house saison strain, as it did with Rivulet, Allagash then pitches a yeast from Oregon’s Imperial Yeast called Rustic. Slightly more phenolic and bubblegummy, it’s a strain that Allagash became acquainted with years ago brewing Pettygrove’s Chance, a sparkling pale ale produced in partnership with Deschutes for SAVOR 2016.
“We could have easily used our regular strain, but we wanted a little different flavor profile,” Perkins says of returning to the yeast. “We just really liked it – real robust, good fermenter, not as finicky as a lot of saison strains but still producing a real nice character. Of course, it’s allegedly derived from some famous Belgian saison that can not be named.”
With all of these elements enshrined, Perkins and his team turned to the grapefruit.
Allagash is no stranger to fruited beers. Strawberry, peach, cherry, blackberry, lemon, pluerry, fig, blueberry, cranberry – if it grows from a branch or in a bog, there’s a decent chance it’s gone into one of the brewery’s beers. In every case, the fruit has done so fresh, not as a purée or reduced to an extract. And in every case, the fruit has shown up to the brewery freshly picked and unprocessed.
“It’s partially philosophical and partially flavor driven,” Perkins says of the approach. “We use so much fresh fruit here in our wild beers, that we just like the idea of doing it ourselves.”
In addition to greater cost, brewing with fresh fruit comes with more headaches for Allagash.
For starters, the fruit has to be added to the beer on the “hot side” – meaning, prior to fermentation. This stands in contrast with most smaller craft breweries, who will typically add sterilized purée after primary fermentation. Fruit character comes through stronger when added later in the process – mostly because it doesn’t get “blown off” during primary fermentation, but sometimes because the fruit doesn’t ferment completely, as is the case with many “smoothie-style” sour ales – but it also increases the chances of infection. For a brewery like Allagash, distributing beer from Maine to California, the prospect of a recall due to uninvited wild yeast or bacteria is daunting.
“You have to be really thoughtful about when to add fruit to beer,” says Perkins. “Adding hot side gives us a lot of assurances for the long-term stability of the beer.”
Adding in the last minutes of the boil or during the whirlpool effectively pasteurizes the fruited liquid. When Bohanske first piloted her grisette, though, she didn’t have to worry about this precaution. She simply added zest during fermentation. Scaling the recipe up meant taking the more measured approach. The challenge was making sure the grapefruit still shined brightly on the other side of fermentation.
“We really wanted to capture the character of real grapefruit,” says Perkins. “But we also didn’t want grapefruit to be the only driver of the beer. We didn’t want it to be overly grapefruit juicy. We wanted it to be a grisette with a background flavor of grapefruit.”
Ultimately, the decision was made to add fresh-pressed grapefruit juice in addition to its zest. And after the 30-barrel test batch, Perkins decided to increase the amount of juice going into the whirlpool.
“The zest is wonderful, but there’s a point where the pithiness starts to get into some astringency and bitterness,” the brewmaster explains. “So, we had to kind of play with that balance. That’s probably the biggest change we made on the dumped batch, if you will.”
After Allagash had finalized the recipe, one herculean task remained: manually zesting and juicing 2,000 pounds of grapefruit by hand.
Bohanske and the production would spend two days preparing the fruit for the brew – an “all-hands-on-deck situation,” in her words.
“Oh my god, the smell was amazing,” she remembers. “I smelled like grapefruit for a week. But I also felt so bad for the production team. I was like, ‘I’m sorry! I’ll help!’”
Perkins likens Allagash’s juicer to one you’d use for margaritas in the comfort of your home.
“It was kind of ridiculous given how many barrels of the beer we made,” the brewmaster says. “But in the end, we really liked the flavor that was contributed by adding fresh zest and juice.”
The name Darling Ruby emerged from “silly, fun creative meeting” between Bohanske and her boss.
“We talked about the beer and what it felt like and what kind of words it conjured,” she tells me. “One of the words that I loved the sound and the feel of was ‘ruby.’”
A word that you won’t find on bottles or cans of Darling Ruby is “grisette.” While Allagash is promoting the beer on its website as one, the brewery opted to call it a more generic “farmhouse-style ale.”
“I think we’ve learned with things like Brett and table beer – things that you might not understand if you’re not a craft beer nerd – that it helps to break it down to flavors and feelings,” Bohanske explains. “That’s kind of why I love this beer so much. It’s one of those beers where craft beer nerds will hear grisette and think, ‘Awesome. That’s unique. That’s different.’ And if we say grapefruit and citrus and wheat, then everyone else is like, ‘Oh, yeah, I want to drink that in the springtime.’ For me, it’s kind of the perfect beer because it crosses both of those boundaries.”
When I’m speaking with the Industry Tour Specialist, Darling Ruby is a little over a week from seeing release in the Allagash taproom. The beer has been conditioning in bottles and cans since late February. By mid-April, it will be distributed across Allagash’s entire footprint.
I ask if she’s feeling nervous.
“I kind of went through the nervousness phase earlier,” she admits. “We have such a high quality assurance standard here at Allagash, I was more nervous about something going wrong with the beer or if it didn’t carbonate right and we couldn’t release it. Now, I think I’m dealing with the fear of not knowing how the beer will sell, but talking to the sales team, a lot of it is already pre-sold, which is amazing. So, at this point, I’m kind of enjoying the ride.”
Follow writer Philip Runco on Twitter.
View more of Clarissa Villondo’s beer photography at Karlin Villondo Photography.
Last photo courtesy of Allagash Brewing.