After building excitement since word spread in September, the kind of good news beer lovers can always use is finally, officially, here: Allagash White will exist in 16-ounce, canned four-packs starting in February.
Putting a 24-year-old beer in a new kind of vessel may not seem like a big deal, but the resounding excitement from this fall’s initial news of the added aluminum format was hailed by industry pros and enthusiasts alike on social media with the fervor of a thousand beer geeks waiting in line at a can release.
White accounts for about two-thirds of IRI-tracked sales in grocery, convenience, and other stores, and is around three-quarters of total production for the Maine brewery, which made about 95,000 barrels total in 2017, the last year of available data.
The release has been welcomed by drinkers, but unfortunately not everyone will get the chance to pound an easily-portable tallboy in the woods. Canned White will only be available at first in eight of the brewery’s 17-state footprint: Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Jersey, and Western/Upstate New York.
It’s also getting released next month alongside a new, year-round canned beer called River Trip, described by Allagash as “an easy drinking, sessionable Belgian-style ale” that’s dry hopped for “notes of grapefruit, lime, and stone fruit.” But when a longtime, beloved beer like White is released at the same time, it’s easy to understand why the latter would get more attention.
“It's a beer that made me want to work in this industry as an unassuming, know-nothing, 21-year-old, and it's a beer I still eagerly anticipate drinking as my first beer whenever I'm on a trip to the East Coast,” says Steve Luke, founder and head brewer at Seattle’s Cloudburst Brewing. Luke spent part of his early career at Allagash. “I brewed that beer nine days out of 10, for close to a year, and I never got sick of it. I can't think or even dream of that ever being the case with the brewing of any other beer, except for maybe Orval.”
While drinkers may be giddy at the chance to drink a favorite beer directly from the can, Allagash also has reason to be happy with the new move. The brewery has seen its IRI sales track upward consistently, growing its portfolio of beers by 131% over the last five years, and about 10% from 2017-2018. White has done essentially the same thing, growing in IRI sales volume by 174% since 2014 and 10.6% year-to-year in 2018. New England, where a majority of White will be released in cans since it’s close to home, accounted for 43.5% of IRI sales in 2018.
But it's also about the package.
Almost a year ago exactly, GBH documented the fast rise of cans in sales channels, a trend that didn’t change in 2018. According to IRI data for last year, the 16-ounce, four-pack format grew by 17% in sales volume and 26.5% in dollar sales from 2017-2018.
Sure, cans are all the rage for their seasonal appeal (warmer months) and portability (beaches, camping, boating), but those aren’t the reasons that Greg Norton, co-owner of Portland, Maine’s Bier Cellar, is excited about the new SKU soon to hit shelves.
“It will reintroduce the beer to a clientele who can sometimes have blinders on for only cans,” he tells GBH. “Sixteen-ounce four-packs of cans drive the industry in Maine—Portland especially. Making Allagash White exciting to that group and getting a whole new segment of people to maybe either try that beer again or for the first time can only be a positive for the beer scene in general.”
“It is Maine's original hazy beer,” he slyly adds. “Only right to see it in a can.”
To Norton’s interest, the shift of White—which put Allagash on the map—has opportunity to function as a lead brand for the brewery’s continuous rollout of canned releases. For years, Allagash has done small runs of cans (including White) for employees, but over the past year it’s stepped up those brewery-only releases for the public. Having a flagship like White lead the way for an increasingly important packaging format can play to broader business goals.
Almost 830 case equivalents of White will roll off the company’s canning line over a 10-hour day of packaging, says brewmaster Jason Perkins. White and River Trip will both be can-conditioned, and in the case of White, has been tested repeatedly by internal panels to assure a match with its bottled version.
“The last two years, every time [canning White] came up, we just ruled it out, always because of focus and space,” Perkins says. “We really felt like we didn’t have the space to put in the can line and hit our entire footprint.”
After so many times putting it off, Perkins says he and teammates finally decided it had been long enough. Instead of assuming canned White would need to be an “all or nothing thing” across the 17 states that sell Allagash, it simply became a way to meet consumers where they were.
“This lets us step into it,” Perkins says. “It’s the beer world we live in now. There are all these third-premise types out there to enjoy beers in new places, and this gives us that ability to do it.”