Welcome Back to Part 2 of our Shipyard Brewing Co. Master Brewer Alan Pugsley Interview!
The Brewery: Can you tell me about the Smashed Pumpkin in the Pugsley Signature Series?
Alan: The Signature series beers we started off doing those around six years ago or so. It was quite clear, particularly on the West Coast, there were a lot of stronger, bigger beers being made, particularly in 22 ounce bottles for sharing over dinner and so forth. That type of thing, sipping beers versus quaffing beers. We decided to get into that game, in English tradition to a large degree like everything we’ve done, with a twist! The first beers in the signature series were a barleywine and an imperial porter, which did very well. Then of course we came out with a strong IPA a year later, as did everyone else in the world it seems (laughs). Then we said what the hell our fruit beers have been so successful, the SeaDog Blueberry and the Pumpkinhead, we should see what we can do to elevate those beers. So we did the pumpkin first, Smashed Pumpkin at 9.1%. It was an interesting challenge. Obviously it’s not a quaffing beer. We had to up the grist and the hops. We had to balance the spice, even though we use the same sort of spice mix we use in the Pumpkinhead. It comes out very differently when you put a higher level alcohol in there, more grain, more hops. It was an interesting trick to get it just right. I think all of these strong beers should be drunk warmer, around 50 odd degrees. I think when you drink Smashed Pumpkin that way it almost reminds me of drinking, although not flavor-wise, but just the style of drinking like a port or something after dinner. It’s really very lovely after dinner. Maybe with some cheese or dessert, the spices really come out with the malt in a really spectacular way. It makes it completely unique again. It’s a sipping beer, not a quaffing beer. That’s been increasing in success year upon year.
The Brewery: And the Smashed Blueberry?
Alan: The Smashed Blueberry is a beer that we produce in that vein too which is actually more akin to a porter. It’s a strong 9%. There’s a lot more chocolate in there. We decided to match the chocolate blueberry thing to be almost like a chocolate blueberry dessert sort of flavor, and that’s worked out pretty well. So that’s the idea of the Signature Series really, it’s the higher alcohol, 8, 9, 10% beer that elevates into something that competes with what everybody else is doing out there. Personally, I’m more of a session beer type of guy, give me a 3.8% Best Bitter from England and I’m happy as a clam.
The Brewery: Who doesn’t love a good session beer?
Alan: (Laughs) It’s hard to put that in a bottle mind you. That becomes the challenge there. Otherwise I would have lived on that years ago. We’ve gone through this trend in the last 4 or 5 years of these really high-test, high hoppy beers all over the place. I’ve got a feeling that it’s starting to trickle back around to a session beer base. You’ll see more and more people producing a beer between 4 and 5% with sessionable qualities. High Alcohol beers don’t really fit the lifestyle of going to the pub, driving and being sober and going to work. What’s sort of irritating is in a lot of places you go to, on tap they don’t even give you the alcohol content. You don’t know what’s going on. As a consumer that’s dangerous, very dangerous. Again, the responsibility of driving. Number one, people should know what they’re drinking. And number two, I think most people, at least most mature people, and probably ultimately immature people would spring for a lower alcohol beer, unless they’re out on a bender with a bachelor party or something.
The Brewery: Well, there’s a time and a place.
Alan: Then enjoy a strong beer. I don’t say you can’t have strong beers, but enjoy that at home you know? After dinner, sipping it warm with a couple of friends or your wife, or even just yourself, enjoy it that way. I went to a pub recently here in Portland whereby there was not a beer under 6% alcohol on tap of ten beers. I had the lowest alcohol beer at 6% and everything else was around 8%. Really, on draft? You don’t do that. You can’t.
The Brewery: Did the name Shipyard just pop in there? Or did you have other possibilities for the name of the Brewery?
Alan: Well Kennebunkport Brewing Co. down in Kennebunk and Federal Jack’s Brewpub is on a site of what used to be 9 ship building yards down on the Kennebunk River there. And so that became known as the Shipyard complex. Fred owns that whole real estate down there and it is called the Shipyard complex. And that’s why he named the beer, the first beer we ever made the Canadian Style Golden Ale which is Shipyard Export Ale, 5.1%. That’s why he named it that. That proved to be the most popular beer we made in the first three. The first three beers we ever made down there were a pale ale, called Taint Town Pale Ale. A lighter ale, really to appease the average American palette of that time. Goat Island Light it was called. Then because there are so many Canadian tourists that come down here in the summer time, particularly at that time, and then again now, depending on how good the exchange rate is. We really wanted something for the Canadians to enjoy. And so we decided to make a Canadian style ale. When I was up in Canada building breweries the beer I most enjoyed out of the Big Breweries was Molson Export Ale. I assumed if this was 30 years previous it probably had a little more body, a little more color, a little more malt character, a little more hop character. That’s sort of the premise on how that beer became and it then it became the number one seller at the pub from day one. So when we built the brewery in Portland, near the water, there used to be a boat building dock out here. So, it automatically became the Shipyard Brewing Company. It wasn’t even a discussion.
The Brewery: What beer sparked your career as a brewer?
Alan: I wouldn’t say any one beer in particular. In fact is it was more of a social thing. How I really got into it was, I had always loved English pubs, English country pubs in particular. I actually at one point wanted to run an English country pub when I was a young fellow and so forth. But, without money or anything else, I wasn’t going to be able to do it. It was also a very tight system in England. So someone recommended to me “why don’t you take your love of English pubs combine it with bio-chemistry and go into brewing!” And if you don’t enjoy the brewing side of things you might be able to segue into the real estate side of a larger brewery and look to go into their pub management versus brewery management. So I started looking at brewing regarding the bio-chemistry and it was everything I loved about bio-chemistry. So, it was perfect. So, brewing it was and of course I’ve been involved in some pubs since then or whatever and it was the best thing that could have ever happened. I called it a way of life. I’ve never worked a day in my life.
The Brewery: So, you’ve put plenty of Shipyard in bottles, have you ever built a ship in a bottle?
Alan: (Laughs) No I haven’t, no I haven’t. Maybe that should be my next goal. (Laughs)
The Brewery: Well, now that you’re semi-retired…
(Laughs) That’s right!
The Brewery: One final question Alan, Shipyard’s are used for repairing and building boats, is if safe to say that Shipyard Brewing Co. repaired and built a new concept of beer 20 years ago?
Alan: I would say we’d be one of the pioneer breweries that was on the cutting edge of that stage of life and has managed to carry through and grown with the changes of the industry in a very positive way.
We also think the brewing industry was affected in a positive way thanks to Alan’s pioneer life. A special thank you goes out to Alan for his time and for the legacy of Shipyard he started. We wish him well if he ever gets around to building that ship in a bottle. We hope you readers head out and grab a six pack of the Pumpkinhead or something from the Pugsley Signature Series. If you’ve never tried anything from Shipyard Brewing Co. before, there’s no better time. Cheers!