Shipyard Brewing Co. Interview: Master Brewer Alan Pugsley Alan Pugsley

Former England native and current Maine resident Alan Pugsley is considered one of the most influential people of the craft brewing movement.  Alan has set up more than 120 breweries in 17 countries worldwide.  This Johnny Appleseed of Breweries took some time to sit with us and tell us about being semi-retired, his feelings on current beer trends and of course, his Portland based brewery, Shipyard Brewing Co.

The Brewery: Can you tell us a little about yourself Alan?

Alan: (Laughs) Starting when?

The Brewery: Let’s skip to the beer parts.

Alan: Well I’ve been a brewer since 1982.  I’m English.  I have a bio-chemistry degree from the University of Manchester.  I ended up joining a small brewery called The Ringwood Brewery in Hampshire, England.  It was owned by a man named Peter Austin at the time.  Peter Austin was a Brewer with about 30 years’ experience and he had retired from a larger brewery in his mid-50’s and decided to build his own little brewery in England in the mid 70’s.  At a time when the big breweries were basically discontinuing cask conditioned beers known as “real ale”.  Peter decided to open a little brewery in his retirement to produce cask conditioned beer.  He opened the Ringwood Brewery 1977 which produced Ringwood Best Bitter, 49er and eventually Old Thumper which you’ve probably heard of.  When he did that, through word of mouth and so forth, people started contacting Peter to help them set up small breweries in different parts of the UK.  Which he did.  I joined Peter in 1982 to learn to brew practically, and then to work with him on building and designing and installing breweries initially in the UK.  It ended up being a fairly worldwide phenomenon by the end of it.  Through that I got to go to places in China, South Africa, through Europe, Canada.  I ultimately ended up full time in the United States in 1986.  I was helping establish the D.L.Geary Brewing Company in Portland, Maine.  Famous for the Geary’s Pale Ale.  I was contracted for 2 years with David Geary and then the same thing that happened to Peter 10 years previous started happening here where I was starting to be contacted regarding people looking to build a brewery.  They liked some of the beer we were producing, English style ales, and so forth.  I ended up getting contracts to build breweries including McAuslans in Montreal, some work in Ottawa and Wild Goose in Maryland. I worked on these projects from November 1988 until August of 92.

The Brewery: Where did you go from there?

Alan: I ended up returning to Maine in 1992.  After returning I installed a brew pub in Kennebunk, Federal Jack’s Kennebunkport Brewing Co. for Fred Forsley.  From there Fred and I forged a relationship.  When I came back into Maine, basically to focus on consulting, working on building breweries for people, setting up systems, training brewers and that.  I needed a training ground for these potential would-be brewers.  So I asked Fred if he wouldn’t mind if I used Kennebunkport Brewing Co.  He said “no, not at all.”  Fred is a business marketing man, not really a hands on brewer.  He said “but in return I would like you to look after this Brewery.”  So we shook hands and that was it.  No money changed hands, and that’s what we did.  It became my office.  I brewed there every day and ran the brewery.  When I got inquires and people looking to buy our systems, they would come down and train there.  I would show them the place, they would taste the beers and that lead to another phase of explosive growth of new breweries that we were involved in throughout the nineties up until about 2000.   In 1993 Kennebunkport Brewing was out of capacity, we had expanded, and we were doing bottling by hand.  So I said to Fred “we really need to find a place to put a large brewery.  This way we can focus on packaging there and not at this little brewpub in Kennebunk.”  So he found this site in Portland, The old Crosby Laughlin building on Newbury Street right down town Portland, Maine.  We decided this place was perfect.  We installed a 50 barrel brewing system there in early 1994.  We started brewing April 94.  The rest is really history.  Shipyard nineteen years later is thriving, producing over 150,000 barrels in 2012.  I became Master Brewer and partner with Fred at that time.

The Brewery: So, 2014 marks Shipyard’s 20th Anniversary, can we expect any celebration or milestone beers?

Alan: That I don’t know yet.  I’m sure there’ll be something.  But I’m not sure.  That would be probably best to ask Fred Forsley.  Basically a year ago I made the decision to step back from day to day operations at the brewery, if you like, semi-retired.   I’m now consulting Master Brewer back to Shipyard.  I’m actually sitting in the brewery right now.  I come into the brewery for certain projects, meet with the brewers and Fred, and so forth.  But I’m not on a day to day basis here.  Regarding their plans for the 20th Anniversary, I’m sure there are some.  But I’m not quite sure what they are. (laughs)

The Brewery: That’s fair, so Shipyard’s Pumpkinhead Ale is hands down our favorite Pumpkin Ale.  How did Pumpkinhead come about?

Alan: Umm… down at Fed Jack’s Kennebunkport Brewing Co, I think it was the second October.  It had to be 1993.  We had done a summer beer and decided to do a fall seasonal. I had a couple of kegs of Summer Ale left over, which is a fairly light wheat beer.  I said “let’s do something fun with it.”  We were thinking about pumpkin pie, the fall, and Thanksgiving.  We went into the kitchen and took out various spices, cinnamon and nutmeg, etc. we also got some pumpkin. We mixed a whole bunch of stuff up, mixed it into a pint of beer just to see what would happen.  We came across a formula that we thought was pretty interesting and so we took out one of the kegs and we made up a batch of the spices and added it to the keg and sent it to the bar.  The keg was gone overnight.  People loved it.  That became the birth of Pumpkin Ale. We literally every fall would pick the date and say okay, pumpkin release is going to be 3 kegs, or 4 kegs, or whatever we do.  When it’s gone it’s gone and that’s it.  So people started coming and asking us about it and looking forward to it.  I think it was 2002 or 2003 when Fred said “you know we should really look at doing this in the bigger Brewery, in Portland and putting it into package.”  Well, at that time there weren’t a whole lot of fruit beers and there weren’t really any pumpkin beers and we were a little nervous.  I was a little nervous, our sales manager was a little nervous.  We said okay let’s make a couple of batches.  We made about 300 barrels worth or in other words 3500 cases worth of beer.  That was about it.  We order packaging for that.  We were shocked that it actually sold out really quickly.

The Brewery: There must have been a high demand.

Alan: People started getting pissed off that we didn’t have any available in the store.  They would drive up from Boston and Connecticut whenever they heard about it, people had been raving about it, and even our store had run out.  They’d get a little irritated.  So the following year we said “the hell with it.  Let’s really ramp it up and go for it.  So we went up to about a 40,000 case packaging order, expecting to have a little left over for the following year, and that sold out!  So, every year then we just kept increasing and increasing.  The demand is from all over the country, it’s not just a Maine thing or a New England thing, it’s literally all over the country we get this huge demand for pumpkin.  To the fact, this year the sales will be around 50,000 barrels, which is a massive amount of beer for a one off or a seasonal beer.  And it’s still only available from the middle of August through about Halloween.  It’s quite an extraordinary phenomenon.  It doesn’t seem to be running out, even after all of these years, and there are so many pumpkin beers out there now.  Everybody makes pumpkin.  It’s amazing, when we made pumpkin the only pumpkin that was available was I think Buffalo Bill. He made a pumpkin.  He actually asked us to make his pumpkin at one time.  A year or two after that Fred said “why don’t we bottle our pumpkin?”  So, it’s interesting.  Today there are so many pumpkins; I would have expected our sales to have dropped off due to competition.  But they haven’t.  They’re right up there and have increased again this year.

The Brewery: Well, it is the best Pumpkin out there.

Alan: Thank you.

The Brewery: Following in Pumpkinhead’s footsteps you have Applehead and Melonhead, is there anything next in the “head series”?

Alan: Not that I know of, but that’s not to say there isn’t.

This was just part 1 of 2, so be sure to come back next Wednesday to check out the rest of the interview.  Plus another Brew Shot this Sunday.  Nonstop beer/comic greatness right here at Brewery Comic.