Portland, Maine’s Allagash Brewing Company Founder Rob Tod’s favorite craft beers are inextricably tied to time and place. His dream six-pack is a trip through memory lane and the experiences that have molded who he is as a craft brewer.
“I’m not married to just Belgian styles. I love drinking a traditional British ale on cask. I love a big and hoppy West Coast IPA or a rich and roasty imperial stout. While we were in Germany planning our new brew system, I loved drinking their flawless, classic, and beautiful lagers. It was heaven. We do all Belgian-style beers at Allagash, and I drink and love them. But I just love beer, so I wish it could be a dream case,” Tod says, echoing the sentiment that many brewers share when asked to boil down the wide world of great craft beer into a single six-pack.
But for Tod, who got his start cleaning kegs for Otter Creek Brewing Company in 1993, each craft beer worth compiling into an all-time sixer evokes memories of the places and people he has encountered in more than two decades in craft beer. “It’s an experiential thing, almost like listening to music. The taste of these beers takes me back to those specific experiences.”
Orval Trappist Ale
Orval Trappist Ale is just a beer I always end up falling back on. Whether it’s a month, six months, or two years, Orval always drinks great but expresses itself in different ways as it ages. It’s always dry and refreshing. I’ve been to the monastery a few times, and every time I’m impressed with just how amazing a place it is. When I drink Orval now, it transports me back to that setting. From a brewer’s perspective, it’s one beer, one package, one spot it’s made in. I love the simplicity in that.
Otter Creek Copper Ale
The first commercial beer I ever brewed was Otter Creek Copper Ale. I got a job washing kegs there in the summer of 1993 and hadn’t had much experience with flavorful beer. It was one of the first craft beers I tried. I would work at the brewery doing menial stuff for a twelve-hour shift, then fill a growler with Copper Ale and head back to farmhouse I was living in and drink it. We had a big garden. I would pick fresh veggies, make a big salad, sit on the porch, and drink the growler. I still remember that taste vividly.
Cantillon Brewery Rosé de Gambrinus
To be honest, I could probably choose any number of Cantillon beers, but if I had to choose one, it would be Rosé de Gambrinus, which is essentially a framboise. That brewery and building are like time travel. You can feel the history and taste it in the beer. I appreciate it even more now that we’re making coolship beer here at Allagash [a coolship is a large shallow pan used to cool wort overnight using outside air temperature and collecting naturally occurring yeast], and I have really enjoyed collaborating with Jean Van Roy (Cantillon owner and brewmaster). It’s so great to see a renewed interest in making these classic beers again. I can drink them literally all day long, and I have done that at the Cantillon brewery: started a brew day at six o’clock in the morning and enjoyed their lambic all day long. When I walk into Cantillon, I still feel like a kid discovering something new. It never gets old.
I like the balance of their beers. It’s so important. Some who’ve had them wouldn’t say they were balanced, but for me, there’s so much going on and so much to discover. Fruit, complex tartness, oak character: there are so many layers of subtle flavor in their beers.
McEwans Scotch Ale
When I was living in Boulder, Colorado, before I started brewing, a friend gave me a bottle of McEwans Scotch Ale. I was blown away. I didn’t know beer could taste like that. It has a huge flavor, deep dark color, and loads of sweetness, but it balances that with tobacco and oak notes. If I were to drink a McEwans Scotch Ale right now, I’d be transported back to one of those first revelations of what beer could taste like.
Sierra Nevada Pale Ale
I drink Sierra Nevada Pale Ale all the time. We have a tremendous amount of respect for that brewery and the level of importance they put on quality. That focus and push for quality, never being satisfied, is one of our core values. It’s a great beer when I’m looking for something hoppy but balanced. The hops express themselves wonderfully, and I find myself drinking it all the time, all over the country. If they don’t have my beer on the menu, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale is the first I’ll look for. You can’t go wrong.
Honestly, and I’m not just saying this, I love our Allagash White. The only reason I wouldn’t say it’s my favorite beer is that no one would take me seriously, and they would just think I was trying to “sell” it. The only thing I was worried about when starting a brewery was that I wouldn’t like the beer. I can’t sell something that I don’t believe in. Being genuine is very, very important to me. I couldn’t ask a bar to put one of my beers on tap if I didn’t like it. White is just a beer that, for whatever reason, I’ve fallen in love with over the years. You would think that something you’ve been doing for so long would get tiring or you’d fall out of love with it, but there’s nothing I love more than Allagash White on a clean draft line or in a fresh bottle. I love drinking it, and when I drink one, I just want another.