Since 1995, Portland, Maine-based Allagash Brewing Company has been dedicated to crafting the best Belgian-inspired beers in the world, all while working to give to the community that has supported them along the way. In July 2023, Allagash announced it received its recertification as a B Corporation, earning an overall Impact Score of 104.0, which represents a more than 20-point jump from the 83.8 score earned by the brewery when it received its first B Corp certification in 2019.
I recently had the opportunity to chat with the brewery’s Founder, Rob Tod, and their Sustainability Manager Zoe Malia, who became the first person to assume this position full-time in 2022 after four years as a Tasting Room Associate. Rob and Zoe discussed spearheading initiatives to improve water conservation, recycling, and giving back to community organizations. They also share how new craft breweries can implement more sustainable practices – the key, in short, is to start small.
Christopher Marquis: You and your team recently announced that Allagash Brewing Company was not only recertified as a B Corp, but had a 20-point score increase. What strides did you make for this new and improved certification?
Rob Tod: It’s honestly the result of a lot of hard work across the brewery. Underlying all of that work is the fact that we’ve stayed true to our core values while also formalizing and documenting specific goals. This played out in tangible actions and results, such as continuing our Allagash Recycling Co-op, which is now at 20 members and recycled over 40 tons last year; investing in clean water conservation through Sebago Clean Waters; and brewing with more Maine-grown grain than ever. In 2022, by collaborating with local farmers and maltsters, we brewed with more than 1.5 million pounds of Maine-grown grain – and we expect to brew with close to 2 million pounds by the end of this year.
Along with giving back to the environment, our core values also focus on giving back to the people of Maine. We directed over $500,000 to community organizations in 2022—as a combination of Allagash donations and funds contributed by tasting room guests.
We also introduced the role of a full-time Sustainability Manager—which Zoe Malia came on board for in 2022, after four years as a Tasting Room Associate—and her work has been key in helping us double down on doing good, and track our progress so we can make even more improvements in the future.
Marquis: Tell us about your background and why this commitment to sustainability and community is so important.
Tod: I got my start working at Otter Creek Brewery in Vermont, doing everything from washing kegs, to cleaning tanks, to brewing beer. But my ultimate goal was to go out on my own, so I moved to Portland, ME, rented a spot in the corner of a warehouse in an industrial park and called it Allagash Brewing Company. That was in 1995, and even as we’ve grown from a one-person operation selling one-beer, to an organization with around 150 employees that has brewed hundreds of types of beers, we’ve never forgotten how much our community and the state of Maine has given to us. That’s at the core of our dedication to giving back and using beer as a force for good. We also know that brewing is resource intensive. We feel strongly about making sure we are doing our part to use those resources in a responsible and sustainable way.
Marquis: What are some of the typical sustainability challenges that exist when brewing and in the beer industry as a whole? And what steps is Allagash taking to mitigate your environmental footprint?
Zoe Malia: The beer industry relies on natural resources: mainly water, hops, and grain. Our goal at Allagash is to reduce our environmental footprint in everything we do. We strive to do this by purchasing ingredients locally, including our aforementioned commitment to brew with Maine-grown grain, and by using energy and water more efficiently. Being mindful of specific numbers keeps us accountable; for instance, we use 3.1 gallons of water per gallon of beer produced, which is half the industry average, and down from our previous low of 3.8 gallons. Reducing waste is also crucial: currently we keep 99.8% of our brewery waste out of landfills by composting and sidestreaming.
Marquis: What advice would you give to newer craft breweries looking to implement more sustainable practices? How should they start?
Malia: Start small! Many small choices can add up to a large impact. One of the simplest ways to get started is to track your numbers. Tracking is the quickest and most affordable way to reduce waste by answering questions like: how much water do you use per month? How many pounds of trash do you throw away? How many shipments do you get each month? Once you have those numbers, you can take additional steps to improve, such as buying in bulk, sidestreaming waste, opting for high-efficiency equipment, and having a dedicated “green team” to make sustainability improvements at your brewery.
Marquis: Are there additional organizations and/or companies that Allagash is partnering with to make a positive impact?
Malia: Probably too many to mention here. We’re lucky to have staff that loves to get involved, and so we work collaboratively with a large number of nonprofits in our area. Some of our bigger partnerships, though, would be Sebago Clean Waters, which works to preserve our local watershed, the Maine Grain Alliance, which supports our local farmers, and In Her Presence, which aids immigrant women in finding their footing here in Maine.
We also partnered with Crowns & Hops of Inglewood, CA, on a collaboration beer called Cur-8. All of the proceeds from that beer were donated to the cause of increasing racial equity in the craft beer industry.
We’re also proud to share that we’re one of 11 independent craft breweries around the country that partnered with Patagonia Provisions, the food and beverage business of outdoor apparel company Patagonia, as part of the inaugural A Good Grain Collaborative program. The program aims to scale regenerative farming practices and perennial ingredients that are better for the planet.
Marquis: Recent reports indicate that beer sales are down; how is Allagash navigating a challenging market without cutting corners? Have there been any recent repercussions from a down beer market, or has Allagash been able to pivot, and if so, how?
Rob Tod: We’re fortunate to have been able to outpace a down beer market. This is driven by the strength of our current brands and adding new beers to our core, seasonal, and specialty portfolios, as well as continuing our focus in the bottles and cans. And along with the quality of our beer, more and more consumers are making values-aligned decisions about the brands they buy from. Our commitment to innovation and investment in our community and sustainability is critical to our success as a brewery.
Marquis: In the age of trends like the Great Resignation and Quiet Quitting, what steps is Allagash taking to attract, retain and improve the lives of employees?
Tod: Everything we do here at Allagash, from making great beer that people enjoy to giving back to our community, wouldn’t be possible without our dedicated, talented team of employees. We are committed to providing meaningful benefits for all of our part and full-time employees, which include strong wages at or above the minimum living wage for the area (guided by the MIT Living Wage calculator); 401k matching; generous paid time off; and parental leave. We also offer up to $5,250 per employee per year to use on educational opportunities; fully covered health benefits including mental health care through our partnership with Wellspace; and profit sharing for every employee.
We want to go above and beyond to show our employees that they are valued – and make Allagash what it is. That’s also demonstrated through our pilot system, which gives any and every Allagash employee the opportunity to submit a concept for a new beer. We brewed 98 beers this past year based on the pilot system.
Additional offerings for Allagash employees that we’re extremely proud of is that anyone who has been with the company for 5 years receives an all-expenses-paid trip to Belgium to see the Belgian brewing process – the core influence for Allagash’s operations – first hand. And employees who have been with us for 10 years can take a four-week paid sabbatical.
Our thoughtfulness around making our employees feel valued has resulted in our staff voting us one of Maine’s best places to work for 10 years in a row.
Marquis: Are there additional measures or practices the Allagash team would like to improve upon to get the brand’s B Corp score even higher for its next recertification process?
Tod: There’s always more we can do to reduce our environmental impact and to contribute positively to the Maine community. It’s invigorating for me to think about what our whole Allagash team will be able to accomplish in the years to come.