7 Questions With Rob Tod, Allagash Brewing Co.
In 1995 Rob Tod founded Portland, Maine’s Allagash Brewing Co., one of the first breweries in North America to specialize in Belgian-style ales. Today Allagash is one of nation’s 50 largest independent craft breweries, and more important, one of the most highly respected. Tria was one of Philadelphia’s first establishments to feature Allagash. There’s been an Allagash beer (or more) on each of our beer lists almost every day since we opened in 2004. You could say that we’re fans.
What inspired you to specialize in Belgian ales back in 1995 when hardly anyone cared?
I knew that I’d be spending the bulk of a year building the brewery, more or less on my own, mostly with used dairy equipment. I figured that if I was going to do all of that work, then spend the rest of my life running the brewery (hopefully!), why make something that people could already get? I wanted to do something different and give people unique experiences with beer. I felt like brewing in the Belgian tradition would give me that opportunity. Belgian beers are so diverse in style, technique and ingredients that I saw an almost limitless potential for these unique experiences.
If you hadn’t become a brewer, what would you have become?
I studied Geology in VT then headed to CO where I washed dishes and worked in the construction trade. After couple years in CO I ended up back in VT with plans to either go back to school for Geology (possibly to become a teacher?), or get into the restoration carpentry trade. The day I got back to VT I called a buddy for advice on where I could find a job to tide me over for a little while. He was working at a local brewery (Otter Creek) and said they needed a part time keg washer… so I got sidetracked from my original plans for Geology or Carpentry!
What is your advice to someone who wants to start a brewery today? (“Don’t do it” doesn’t count.)
When I started back in 1995, it was a very tough business, for us especially… no one wanted to drink Belgian style beers. And the fact that the craft segment was so underdeveloped made it an uphill battle for all the little burgeoning community brewers. Then from 2006-2016 (ish) it seemed like everyone wanted craft beers and there was a LOT of growth for most craft brewers. During that period it seemed like the biggest challenge was just keeping up. But recently, growth has once again become a challenge. There are SO many breweries around now that the landscape has gotten extremely competitive.
My advice? Be passionate about the business and making beer. It needs to be a labor of love because once again it’s a very tough business. You’re going to have to work very hard to survive. Don’t “do it for the money” because you might end up being pretty disappointed by the results.
What do you think is the most positive change over the past decade in the craft beer industry? What is the most negative change?
The most positive change (even though it’s made it very competitive) is the emergence of a craft brewer in almost every community in the country. Like most things over the last few generations, beer got commoditized and moved out of communities, THEN it came back to communities with the advent of craft breweries. So lots of value has been delivered to communities in the form of jobs, innovation, gathering places, urban renewal, etc.
For negative change: I really don’t see any downsides right now!
What is your desert island beer, and why? You can only pick one.
Allagash White. Hardly a day passes that I don’t enjoy one (or more!), and I still love it as much as I did when I first brewed it. It’s a complex, balanced and drinkable beer… I’m still discovering new flavors and aromas in the White when I’m drinking it in different settings, with meals I’ve never had, etc.
Any plans to sell Allagash Brewing Company to Big Beer?
Short answer: Nope.
If you could have done one thing differently, what would it be?
We’ve made our share of mistakes, but as long as we’re learning from them we are growing. So I try not to dwell too much on the past. We did things how we did them and things have worked out OK so far!