My uncle, a buddy of mine (Barry), and myself decided to climb a mountain in Maine. Beer was our reward. Six Point Resin after we got back to the campsite, the Maine Beer Company tasting when we drove through Freeport, and the coup de grâce – Allagash Coolship in Portland. This is a beer that I’ve been trying to get my hands on for a while. Only sold at the brewery, only made during certain times of the year (when the wild yeast is juuuuust right), aged for half a decade, and made in an 18 inch brownie pan makes this beer pretty damn hard to come by. I was excited to purchase and sit on it for a while, but fate gave me a kick in the pants when I walked thought the threshold of Allagash.
What do I see when I walk in? A very cool wine barrel display with a sign that reads, “Coolship Red – $15 – Limit, 2 per person.” Ok, I could deal with only leaving with two, however the shelves on the very cool barrel display were empty. Sold out. Zilch. Zip. Nadda. Nothing. Gone, all gone. It was like Christmas day, only to realize that after opening all the presents, the Red Ryder carbine-action, two hundred shot Range Model air rifle with a compass in the stock and this thing which tells time wasn’t under the tree. And no, there wasn’t one in the corner by the desk.
After recovering from this gut-wrenching, visceral pain of disappointment I had, I mustered my way to the bar and asked if Barry and I could go on the next tour. After all, it wasn’t a complete loss; with 4 really good beers on tap to try after the tour, at least I’d be able to leave with the taste of Curieux in my mouth.
Our tour guide was Rachel and we set off throughout the newly expanded brewery where we saw the holding tanks, wafted the wonderful stench of spent grain, and observed the brewers in action. She then took us though an area where they kept all their barrel aged beers that didn’t sit in bourbon, many of them spontaneously fermented with the usual suspects of Brett and Lacto added in. We saw some Coolships from 2009 sitting on the racks and on the way out, I saw some Coolship Red in bottles hidden in a cooler… perhaps my hopes weren’t dead. I asked Rachel if they had any for sale, and she said what they had for sale would have been in the aforementioned barrel display. Since we were talking about our mutual appreciation of sours, she offered to bring the small tour behind the brewery to see the coolship room (aka shack) where the windows are kept open and guarded by mesh steel to keep little critters from entering the brew. It’s designed so that the beer flows in to a giant shoebox top and sits there for about a week collecting the wild yeasts that Maine has to offer. This makes the beer ferment spontaneously, then its transferred to oak to age for years. After the backstage tour was over we returned to the tasting room for some White, Curieux, Golden Brett, and Fluxus 2013… not a shabby lineup at all, but still a bit saddened about the lack of Coolship.
Figuring I had nothing to lose, I pulled Rachel aside and asked her if there would be anyway that I could buy one of the secret bottles stashed away in the cooler that I saw during the tour. Since she had only been working there for two months, she and another employee chatted about my inquiry, but the body language didn’t look promising. At this point there were about a dozen people in the tasting room and if they sold one to me, then they’d have to be able to sell one to everybody – I understood. While preparing myself for the bad news, Rachel turned around, slyly took a cold bottle of Coolship Red from under the bar, popped the cork and poured samples for everyone on our tour and a few people who were doing a tasting. I noticed that I got the fullest glass. What an awesome thing to do!! I was more excited than Ralphie on Christmas! She gave me the cork and bottle to take home, so naturally I had to chatter about it. Would my expectations for this rare beer be met? Time to do the numbers…
Appearance: Ruby red – like cutting into a grapefruit. There was a slightest bit of a white head, but it went away in seconds. You could most certainly tell this beer spent some quality time with raspberries.
Smell: Didn’t have time to analyze this guy too much, but at first whiff, you could most definitely tell this beer was going to make you pucker. I got notes of vinegar, lactic and citric acid, but really not much of the raspberry, I think it was masked by the wild yeasts.
Taste: Sour! Heavy citric acid, a bit of cider vinegar, and some lactic kicks. As Barry described it, it tasted like drinking a WarHead. It was balanced with a sweeter finish, where I think the raspberries might have come into play. It was nicely carbonated with great mouthfeel, but you should really only have one in a sitting. This has a lot of acidity and you might need a roll of tums if you over indulge.
Overall: What an awesome experience it was to try this beer. It was one of the best sours I’ve ever had and is easily in the same category as those made by Russian River (Consecration, Supplication, and Temptation). It gets an A+ and a place in the hall of fame. If the tour wasn’t enough to get you to Portland, this beer should be. As a side note, I was personally impressed with the passion of those who work at Allagash. Clearly our tour guide saw how much I wanted to try Coolship and understood how into beer I am. Rather than send me out the door, she made the effort to get this beer in my hands and I’m really appreciative of that. Kudos to Allagash!