Will Travel for Beer

We love cheese at Formaggio Kitchen, but we also love our beer.

You’ll catch a lot of us on the staff stopping by local beer tastings, seeking out new and hard-to-find bottles, and regularly checking out (and sampling) the rotating taps at our favorite Boston-area bars. A few of us also brew our own beer – recent undertakings have included a clone of Stone Ruination IPA, and a beer brewed with fresh cranberries that somehow ended up measuring a whopping 2% ABV (we lovingly call this one “Granny Cran”).

Whenever we can, we also visit breweries to see beer-making in action. It’s fascinating to see beer brewed on a large scale (though many of the craft breweries we like are still considered small players in a giant market), and it’s enlightening to talk to brewers about what goes in to making certain beers and why they taste the way they do. We’ve previously field-tripped it to Sixpoint, Ommegang and Brooklyn Brewery (see related post), all located in New York. Last month, I stopped by Dogfish Head Brewery in Milton, Delaware, and last week, a group of us headed to Portland, Maine, to visit Allagash Brewing Company.

Fermenting tanks at Allagash Brewery

Fermenting tanks at Allagash Brewery

Allagash was founded in 1995 by Rob Tod, who, to our surprise, had had no formal brewing experience before he decided to launch his own venture, focusing on Belgian-style beers. The brewery is now famous for Allagash White, a witbier brewed in the classic style with orange peel and coriander.

The brewery also produces several experimental barrel-aged beers, which are kept in Allagash’s barrel room.

Beer-aging barrels at Allagash Brewery

Beer-aging barrels at Allagash Brewery

Rob led us through a tasting of several of these beers on our visit, including Interlude, which we currently carry at Formaggio Kitchen. The beer is brewed with Brettanomyces, a wild yeast that tends to impart funky, sour flavors, and then aged in both stainless steel and French oak barrels. The result is a tart, refreshing beer that smells of strawberries and has flavors of plum.

Allagash has also begun experimenting with so-called spontaneously-fermented beers. Rather than adding specific yeast strains to the brew, the brewers allow natural yeasts to kickstart fermentation. At Allagash, these experimental beers are produced with the help of a “cool ship,” a large open tray that exposes the beer to the air — and whatever yeasts happen to be floating around. We tasted one called Cerise, a cherry-based beer that had the hallmark sourness of spontaneous fermentation and deep flavors of piña colada and cinnamon.

Grain tanks outside Dogfish Head Brewery

Hi, I’m in Delaware. Grain tanks outside Dogfish Head Brewery.

Down in Delaware, Dogfish Head was founded by Sam Calagione, a Massachusetts native who set up shop in 1995 (the same year as Allagash). They are known for their “extreme” beer styles – hugely flavorful and often highly alcoholic. Dogfish Head pioneered the practice of “continuous hopping,” or adding hops nonstop as the wort is boiled. My favorite Dogfish beer is the 90-minute IPA, a powerful (9% ABV), but beautifully balanced beer that is hopped continuously for 90 minutes.

Dogfish Head gained a bit of press a few years ago for its Palo Santo Marron, an intense, roasty brown ale aged in a huge barrel made of so-called “holy wood” from Paraguay.

Barrels for aging beer at Dogfish Head.

Barrels for aging beer at Dogfish Head. The furthest is the Palo Santo barrel.

The wood is fragrant and so hard that it is reportedly bullet-proof. The beer, which is 12% ABV, spends about a month in this tank, and gains complex caramel and vanilla flavors. Claus, a Dogfish staffer who met us at the brewery, likes to blend it with the 90-minute IPA. A very tasty concoction, but one that I would recommend saving for the end of the night.

Emily Shartin is a cheesemonger, chocolate buyer and beer drinker at Formaggio Kitchen Cambridge.