In December of 2007, Allagash Brewery began experimenting with Coolship brewing techniques. From Allagash:
Last month we brewed the first two of our spontaneously fermented beers at Allagash. In brewing these beers we are using an authentic, traditional process honoring the classic Belgian Lambic tradition, including the use of a cool ship, which we built specifically for these spontaneous beers.
The process begins with a specialized decoction mash, which utilizes the addition of both two row barley and raw, unmalted wheat. After the mash and sparge, we add aged hops during the boil, which are traditionally used because they impart many of the beer stabilizing benefits of hops without contributing bitterness. The use of aged hops (aged a minimum of three years) necessitates an unusually long boil of over four hours.
After boiling, rather than cooling the beer in a sterile environment and adding a brewer’s yeast culture, the hot wort is pumped to a cool ship in a special room designed specifically to make these beers. The cool ship is a commonly used tool in Belgium, but is rarely seen beyond Belgium’s borders, if at all. It is a large, open tray that is 12 feet long, 8 feet wide and 1 foot deep. Once in the cool ship the hot wort spends the night cooling from near boiling temperatures to about 60 degrees Fahrenheit. To facilitate the cooling process, windows in the cool ship room are left open overnight. The cool Maine air, containing natural bacteria and wild yeast, drifts in and cools the wort. As soon as the wort is cool enough, the natural airborne yeasts and bacteria are able to survive in what will eventually be the spontaneously fermented beer (it is these natural yeasts and bacteria which will ferment the beer, rather than a yeast added by the brewer). Next, the wort is pumped back into a brewery tank, where it will spend one further day before it is pumped into special French oak barrels. Within one to three weeks, spontaneous fermentation begins in the oak and will continue for over one year. After the yearlong fermentation this traditional beer will age in French oak for at least one more year, sometimes with the addition of fruits, before it is finally bottled.
This process creates beers with very complex flavor profiles after an extensive aging process. I received two bottles from Allagash, Cerise and Red. I haven’t tried Red yet, but I have tried Cerise, and I consider myself privileged to have had the opportunity.
Cerise poured a bright orange-yellow with a bright white head of very tight bubbles. The aroma was very complex, I found apples, pear, and cherry combined with some of the more difficult (funky?) aromas to identify which gave the impression of very tart flavors to come.
Tasting was equally challenging, similar flavors matching the aroma followed, fruits and malt, funk, and with a very dry and tart finish, somewhat cirtic and tannic, but not displeasing. After spending several minutes waffling over what flavors I was able to identify, I resolved to stop trying, and just to enjoy it. I savored the lone glass for a long time though dinner, making sure to share with my wife.
I am definitely looking forward to trying the Coolship Red, and the time when Allagash begins to release these beers for retail sale. Cheers, Allagash!