Portland, Maine’s Allagash Brewing is one of the country’s greatest pioneers of Belgian and wild ale styles, and it has been ever since the company opened in 1995. For more than 20 years, the brewers of Allagash have been setting trends in this country’s beer culture, introducing novel beers that have highlighted a variety of Belgian-inspired yeast strains, wild yeast in the form of brettanomyces and pioneering use of fruit in American craft beer. There’s very few breweries we could respect any more.
But with that said, there’s one area where Allagash could be said to have lagged behind the times: Canned beer. Like some of the other, older breweries from its generation, Allagash has been slow and cautious in embracing the trend toward portable, convenient and recyclable canned beer. It’s not all that surprising—older craft breweries were born in an era when cans were synonymous with cheap macro lagers, and drinkers seeking quality favored beer coming out of brown glass bottles. Now, however, things have changed. Modern can technology has forced a reassessment of cans as a packaging tool, and even the most die-hard bottle proponents are recognizing it.
You can now add Allagash to that list, as the brewery is currently planning its first ever canned beer release in 23 years. However, it’s not the beer you might expect—the iconic Allagash White—that will be receiving the can treatment. The reason is likely volume—Allagash produces a ton of White as its flagship beer, and the logistics of switching that beer over to cans, even partially, is probably a Herculean undertaking. So instead, the brewery will first dip a toe into craft cans by canning their tasty Hoppy Table Beer, a brew that splits the difference between “Belgian pale ale” and “Belgian session IPA.” The cans will be 16 oz, in an appealing seafoam green, and will start entering cans next week. Four-packs of the cans will only be available at the Portland brewery, to start, in what is essentially a quality control testing window.
“It’s something we’re excited to learn more about,” said Allagash brewmaster Jason Perkins to the Portland Press Herald. “We have a pretty good level of knowledge about canning, but not a firsthand, everyday knowledge about it. We’re taking that pretty seriously. One beer, one package, sold only here, so we could really focus on the quality side of things.”
As for future beers in cans, Perkins said the following: “There’s no question we have on our minds the future of potentially doing another beer and selling further than just our own store. At this point, there’s no timeline for that. We really view this as doing things in a methodical, slow way, the way we’ve always done things here. It allows us to make sure we learn the trade before we take any further step forward.”
Cans have proliferated throughout the entire craft beer industry, especially for certain styles such as IPA, which have increasingly become associated with the 16 oz can. However, certain breweries continue to hold out, especially if their brand is connected to their current, bottle-based packaging. One of those is Maine Beer Co., makers of fantastic hoppy beers, who also spoke to the Portland Press Herald. Speaking on the philosophy of bottles vs. cans, MBC co-founder Dan Kleban acknowledged the popularity and efficiency of cans while stating that MBC will stick to its own distinctive bottles.
“The way I look at it is, there’s pluses and minuses to cans, bottles, growlers, you name it,” Kleban said. “I don’t think one is inherently better than the other in terms of the quality. To me, what makes way more difference than what kind of package you put the beer in is what you’ve done upstream to make sure the beer that you put into the can or bottle is high-quality, free of oxygen, et cetera. That’s gonna make way more difference than whether your vessel is made of aluminum or glass. It’s not a value judgment. There’s nothing wrong with cans. But our brand has almost become iconic with our particular bottle and label. We believe a bottle lends itself to a well-rounded experience or an occasion, like when you get a bottle of wine.”