If New England ever hosts a brewing Olympics, there’s little doubt that Allagash Brewing Company would medal multiple times. The brewery is firmly rooted in Belgian brewing traditions, and longtime brewmaster Jason Perkins is helping to lead the brewery’s brigade in its 16th year. Perkins grew up in a small Vermont town and took a detour to Montana before settling at Allagash in 1998. He recently discussed his background and approach.
What distinguishes Allagash from other breweries?
From our inception in 1995, we have been dedicated exclusively to the brewing of beer in the Belgian Tradition. Lucky for us, this allows us a tremendous amount of variance and experimentation. When we began, there were very few breweries attempting these styles, and we struggled to gain customers. The American drinker has changed dramatically in the last decade and a half, and we have been able to grow as a result.
How did you become so interested in beer?
Like many American craft brewers, it began as a hobby with homebrewing. I had always enjoyed cooking, and I grew up on a small farm where we grew and butchered the majority of the food we ate, so homebrewing came as a natural interest for me. Once I landed my first brewing job in at a brewery where I was buying homebrew ingredients, I could not turn back.
Do you have a first beer memory?
Camping when I was 12 with some fellow 12 year olds. Molson Golden bottles; I think we had 4 to split between the three of us. What a night four beers can produce!
What was the very first beer that you brewed?
As a homebrewer, I brewed a Stout first. Someone told me it was the “easiest.” Even so, it was barely drinkable. One of my best early homebrewing memories was making a Sierra Celebration clone in a large batch. I took the beer to a new year’s party with a big group of friends and people loved it. It was my first taste of “successful” brewing.
What was your major?
Do you think that helps you in your position as a brewer?
Yes, it helps. There are a lot of weird people in the craft brewing world – all of them, actually.
Do you have any brewing mentors?
My brother, who was homebrewing before me. He is still making it at home and claims he taught me everything I know. Rob Tod, who has taught me a tremendous amount about the world of brewing and who has given me the opportunity to grow with the company. Almost every close colleague I have in the brewing world has taught me something about making and appreciating fine beer.
How did the opportunity arise for you at Allagash?
Good luck. I had moved back to Maine in 1998 after a stint in Montana and was working part-time at Gritty McDuff’s (a brewpub in Freeport, Maine). I hounded Rob Tod (owner/president of Allagash) for a job and luckily they had a job. Allagash was very small at the time, and it was a great opportunity to get involved with a fantastic company early on. There were some rough years, but my experience here has been unbelievable.
Who are some other brewers that you respect?
Too many to list. There are so many small innovative new brewers on the scene that I have a tremendous amount of respect for. However, the ones that I really tap my hat to are the ones who have been around for a while, consistently brewing great beer and sticking to their guns. Sierra, Anchor, Pizza Port/Lost Abbey, Russian River, Deschutes, Cambridge Brewing Company, Portsmouth Brewpub, New Belgium, Odells, Bell’s, etc. The craft brewing group is an incredible one. Frankly, I have a tremendous amount of respect for anyone who is willing and able to make fantastic beer for little money and a tremendous amount of hard work.
What’s the newest recipe that you brewed, and what was your approach?
We make many new recipes each year. Our approach each time, is to achieve a blend of unique, innovative and balanced. We want to make beers that stimulate the senses, but not overpower one with a specific flavor.
If you could only drink one more glass of beer, what would it be?
An Allagash beer; I would have to say Interlude. Non Allagash: Orval – a true classic. That is my answer today, at this moment. Ask me tomorrow and I will have a different answer.