In part one, we outlined what white beers are. Now we cover our story.
“This beer is kind of weird.” At least that was what Rob Tod, the founder of Allagash, thought when trying his first Belgian-style white beer. His roommate had brought home a six pack of Celis White. While that first sip may have struck him as unfamiliar, the last sip in the bottle left him intrigued. By the end of the six-pack, he was enthralled.
This innocuous event—a young man trying a new beer—has rippled out to impact everything Allagash Brewing Company has had the good fortune to achieve. And we want to go back for a second to chronicle the origins of that chance meeting.
Rob at the literal drawing board circa 1995.
The beer Celis White has a long and convoluted history (one that’s not even yet fully written). To summarize, somewhere in the 1960s, a former milkman named Pierre Celis started brewing a white beer in the Belgian town of Hoegaarden. After basically reviving the white beer style in Belgium, he moved to America in 1992 and founded Celis Brewery. There, he produced Celis White, the Belgian-style beer that captured Rob’s imagination.
Fast Forward to 1995. After a year-long stint at Otter Creek Brewing, Rob still hadn’t forgotten that first sip of white. So he opened Allagash Brewing Company in the corner of a multi-purpose warehouse on 100 Industrial Way. With a number of test batches under his belt, Rob brewed his first batch of commercial beer: Allagash White. The decision to brew a still-obscure Belgian-style beer was not one he made lightly. As Rob puts it, “if we had brewed a pale ale as our flagship, we probably would have been doing a lot better in the beginning.” British ales were actually the dominant flavor profile at the time, and Belgian wits looked, and tasted, about as different from those beers as you could get. Rob, however, believed (and still believes) in the power of giving the beer drinker something that Belgian beers had given him: an experience with beer he’d never had before.
To drum up support in the early days, Rob used to drive around with a stuffed moose (or bear) in a canoe strapped to the top of his car.
As foreshadowed above, Rob’s attempts to sell White did not meet with enthusiastic response. The beer was like no beer that anyone in Portland had ever seen before. It wasn’t clear. It smelled fruity. “Something is wrong with this beer,” was the common response. Some patrons at the Great Lost Bear, the iconic Portland beer bar where Rob secured Allagash’s first tap, conjectured that the beer’s color was the result of being pulled from the dregs at the bottom of the keg. Despite the uphill battle, Rob continued to believe in the White beer’s ability to broaden beer fan’s horizons. We’re glad that he did.
As of 2017, White hovers around 80% of our annual production. And you won’t find a person around the brewery who isn’t proud to brew it. We love experimentation, brewing various styles, and pushing ourselves to imagine and execute the best beer we possibly can. But we also love White, and we can’t say how grateful we are that so many other people do too.