Interviews, visits and more interviews were on my agenda this past week, and the beer book is chugging along. Monday it was a reunion with Rob Tod, owner of Allagash Brewing Company in Portland. Last time Rob and I met about fifteen years ago, (or longer!) he had a ponytail halfway down his back and I was, well, much younger on my middle age journey. So on a sunny and mildly warm August afternoon, we sat down at one of the picnic tables in the inviting outdoor sitting area, where some guests sipped samples of the house ale you can only get there, and traded memories of the good old days of microbrewing in Maine. Rob has much shorter hair now, but still looks to me like’s about twenty-eight. Me, well I’m just shaking my head at how fast time is passing.
The year was 1995, and neither one of us can fathom that it’s been so long, since I last drove from Harpswell to Portland, the Riverton section of Portland to be exact to interview Rob and take photos of the brewery. The old place is now like visiting a museum. Allagash has grown so much since Rob opened it that the current facility is the Giant compared to the Jack-in-the-Beanstalk that the original system was back then. “In fact,” Rob said, “just to remind ourselves of the scale of the first brewing system to the huge system we have now, we had someone paint outlines of the vessels on the concrete floor of the first brewery.” I’m here to tell you it’s mind-boggling to see the growth and expansion. The first humble building is in the back of the newest one, and Rob told me that, “our newest expansion will connect the buildings.” More to come.
The nicest part of this interview is how warm Rob is. It took some doing to get a date set, but we did it. And I appreciate that he took the time to meet me, talk, then give me a personal walk-through of the whole place. It was like being on the red carpet of craft breweries. I was tempted to give my Jackie Kennedy “wave” at the many people there to take part in tours and tastings, but restrained myself. Just barely.
The tasting room is as inviting as your “local,” as a pub is called in Ireland, with engaging people manning the bar, not only willing to pour you a flight or a sample, but willing to lean on their elbows and really talk. Matt St. John, here’s a shout out to you. Sweet guy who’s going places.
Rob did say, “You know, when you really think about it, there were no ‘good old days.’ It was hard. No one really knew what the Belgian style was all about and it took ten or twelve years for us to feel like we had a real future.” When I asked him about money, he said, “Yeah, for a long time the only phone calls we got were people asking to be paid. The only calls we made were to people who owed us money.” We laugh. It all worked out in the end. “We focused on quality and consistency and that paid off.”
The rest of my week was done strictly on the phone. I’m reading a lot of inspiring writers’ advice and someone said, “Place seat of pants on seat of chair.” That’s where I am now in the writing of my book on New England craft beer. I’ve spoken with at least ten brewers, owners, secretaries and a brew bus tour owner and all of them were generous with their time, information and recipes. Now I’m heading off to relax and maybe watch some Sox. No matter that the Series is not in the cards. I’m no fair weather fan.