It’s just after 5 o’clock on a recent Wednesday, and in the spirit of the Jimmy Buffett song, Allagash brewmaster Jason Perkins has already cracked a beer.
“Feel free to open your can if you haven’t already,” Perkins says to a group of reporters assembled on Zoom. “I have.”
The cans, unlabeled and containing 16 ounces of liquid, were sent by Allagash to those on the call and, at that moment, contained a mystery: the Portland, Maine, brewery’s new year-round beer, to be released sometime in 2023.
A mystery beer release has the potential to be hokey, but nothing Allagash does has ever been a gimmick. The brewery still leads with its first beer, Allagash White, and features a lineup largely composed of Belgian-inspired classics. So there was legitimate anticipation on the call as Perkins cut to the chase and revealed something that would be considered tired at another brewery but is novel for Allagash: a brand new IPA.
“Anyone who knows our history well knows we’ve done a bunch of IPAs over the years,” says Perkins, referencing Hugh Malone, first brewed in 2007. “But nothing year round.”
Perkins isn’t wrong, but “a bunch” is probably hyperbolic when you consider the proportion of IPAs vs. other beers Allagash sells. On its pilot system, Allagash does often release hoppy beers, but many are taproom-only releases. Thus Hop Reach IPA, the new IPA coming into regular rotation, is a notable departure.
“We’ve done a lot with hop research here over the years on our pilot system,” says Perkins. “So we have a pretty broad level of experience despite the fact that we haven’t done a year-round beer. Certainly it’s something we’ve been asked about for a very long time.”
How exactly does Allagash, a company known for eschewing trends, approach brewing its first year-round IPA? To start, they make it a company-wide project.
“We actually brewed 17 different pilot batches of IPA before we landed on this version,” says Perkins. “And each time we did a round of IPAs we saw input from our entire staff.”
Somewhere along the way during that 17-batch process Allagash brewers settled on a blend of older hops like Nugget and Cascade, as well as proprietary ones like Citra and Mosaic. There’s some Cashmere and El Dorado in there too, and the name of the beer, in keeping with the brewery’s nature theme, echoes hop vines reaching for the sun.
“From the get-go we were looking for something — timeless is a word that comes to mind for me,” says Perkins. “Something that is approachable to a lot of different people but is assertive in hop aroma… Not aggressively bitter but somewhat bitter. We didn’t want a one-dimensional hop aroma, so we didn’t want just huge tropical or huge pine.”
I’ve written a lot about Allagash in this space, but good is good, and this is an exceptional IPA. Even readers burnt out on the style in general will notice the restraint here, from the slightest touch of haze in the glass to the aromas of mango and orange zest wafting from it. By now you know what IPAs taste like, but the important things to note here are the light mouthfeel and balance of fruity and bitter flavors, which leaves you wanting another sip. There’s a level of execution here that’s rare in craft beer these days, and it’s appreciated.
Allagash has big plans for Hop Reach. According to Naomi Neville, the company’s director of sales, Allagash expects the product to be its second-best selling, after White.
“It’s a good bet,” says Neville. “It’s not going to be easy, but the huge majority of our business is in White. If you see it on a shelf this should be the second one.”
You can expect to see Allagash’s new Hop Reach IPA on store shelves in both 4-packs and 12-packs starting early next year.