Recently we've gone through a bit of a beer phase. While we always appreciate a well crafted brew, our normal beverage of choice is wine. The recent streak of warm weather inspired us to see what great beers were available in our neck of the woods. Of course instead of discussing one of the many fine local breweries today we're highlighting Allagash Brewery in Portland, Maine. One way or another we always seem to be drawn back to that beautiful little treasure trove of a state. Although not especially known for it's food and drink (other than seafood of course) there is a lot to be found here for the enthusiastic foodie.
Take a look at their website for the full story. We'll just note that Allagash focuses in on Belgian style beers and their myriad permutations. Belgian beers to my mind are notable for their soft, almost creamy texture, intense layered flavors, and sipping quality. These are beers to be savored not to be used as hot weather thirst quenchers. They pair beautifully with food and are equally happy to stand alone. Belgian beers encompass a wide range of styles.
The beers crafted at Allagash are all bottle conditioned. Bottle conditioning is a process where the beer is dosed with yeast and candi sugar before sealing the bottles so that a final fermentation period takes place during storage. Because of this the beers can appear cloudy and have sediment but don't let that deter you. A little yeast goes a long way in terms of flavor. Bottle conditioned beers that are stored properly can age in your cellar for several years. This is a good thing because ounce for ounce really good beer can be as expensive as wine, a fact which can surprise the novice when they get to the checkout counter. Allagash offers a series of barrel aged beers that are absolutely delicious and definitely worth exploring. They are only available in larger 750ml bottles, which makes sense because the larger bottles are believed to age significantly better than the small ones.
Belgian beers are marked by an abundant creativity within their essential parameters. There are Abbey and Trappist style ales, strong golden ales, lambics, witbiers, brown ales, amber ales, pilsners, saison, and a variety of seasonal offerings. With enough research you can find exceptions to every rule and the only constant seems to be a quest for flavor. Malt is the backbone of Belgian beer and as with grapes, there are different varieties that are best suited to specific types of beer. Different sugars are also employed with the malt or during bottle conditioning depending on the style of the beer. Candi sugar is made with a superheated sucrose solution that is deeply caramelized to add more complex flavors than a simple granulated sugar would. There is a variety of yeast strains that can be used alone or in various combinations to produce Belgian style beers. Finally the type of hops you choose will have a profound impact on bitterness levels and the final flavor of the beer.
Unsurprisingly Alex and I saw the words "barrel-aged" on the label and immediately reached for the Allagash. We tried the Confluence and the Interlude. To our taste the lighter style and fresh, citrusy flavor of the Confluence was perfect for this time of year. The beer was balanced and flavorful with a lingering fruity finish. The Interlude was a spicy complex beer that seemed more like a fall beer than one for the warmer weather. It was bigger and more complex on the palate, inviting us to savor the long, soft finish. It had weight on the tongue and a slightly mouthwatering quality that probably came from the barrel aging. It would be a great choice for food pairing and actually an Allagash dinner would be a lot of fun, perhaps something we can do in the near future.