After four years holding court at Boonville, California’s Anderson Valley Brewing, general manager/brewmaster Fal Allen left it all behind in 2004 to helm Archipelago Brewery in Singapore. Now, he’s back in the Anderson Valley brewhouse; we chatted with Allen about his return to the states and the industry trends that took hold while he was away.
Why the move back to the States?
I was missing family and friends. I usually came back twice a year, and I tried to stay in touch with folks, and stay involved in the industry as much as I could from 9,000 miles away. I invited a lot of people to come out and visit, and a lot did, like Charlie Papapzian and John Mallett from Bell’s Brewery.
What was the first beer you sipped after the long flight?
I should probably say it was Anderson Valley, but I don’t think it was. I came though San Francisco and it was Anchor Liberty Ale at the Toronado. My friend picked me up and we headed straight there.
Looking back at your time in Singapore, what thoughts do you have about craft beer moving from a niche product to a global trend?
I learned a tremendous amount on the job and my perspective of the world has changed quite a bit. Clearly, Asia is an enormous emerging market, including craft beer. When I got to Singapore there were two craft breweries, and when I left there were eight. That’s a pretty big turnaround. As I traveled through Southeast Asia, I would often go to breweries. Vietnam, in particular, is clearly going to be a leading market in craft beer. There are at least 10 in Saigon alone. You could see as these countries emerge from developing nations to more stable leaders, craft brewing is growing up with that. In Saigon there’s one called Hoa Vien, and that was definitely a standout. It’s a Czech-style brewery. Another impressive brewery is Storm out of Bali. But, the breweries in Singapore are much further ahead.
Any plans to introduce exotic ingredients from your travels into Anderson Valley’s beer?
In the world of American craft brewing, where different is the raison d’être, there will be innovation at Anderson Valley Brewing Company, and it will involve different ingredients, whether ones that I learned about in Singapore or the practice of using local ingredients to spice and season beer. You think you know something about spice, and then you move to Asia, and boy, you have no idea. There’s an enormous market I went to that was four or five football fields of produce, things you’d never seen before.
While you were away, a number of brewing trends swept the industry. What took you by surprise?
Sour beers are a trend that shocked me. I went to Cascade Brewing about a year ago and did a barrel tasting. I was completely blown away by how good they were, and what a good handle Ron [Gansberg] had on wood aging. He and several other people, like Vinnie Cilurzo, of course, have taken this gigantic leap forward in that area. My hat’s off to him; I’m completely impressed.
Any thoughts on India Black Ales?
We just made a black IPA for distribution called Nettie Madge. We have a Bahl Hornin Series here where four or five times a year we’ll bring out a draft only project. That’s where you’re going to see some of the ideas we’re discussing that are going to be more mainstream focused, like black IPAs and imperial ambers. We also have a hoppy session beer with spices about to come out.
You spent half a decade brewing in sweltering tropical heat. How’s life brewing in temperate California?
Brewing in the tropics was really hot and sweaty. Now I never get that hot. It’s fun and a lot cooler and cleaner—I only need one change of clothes instead of three.
What’s new for AVBC in 2011?
We’re going to do a lot of new things. With the new ownership, people were worried, but I’m glad to be back and help with the change. It’s going to be positive. We’re going to do more innovation and more interesting beers, like the Bahl Hornin Series. We’ll continue to do seasonals like Brother David, and we’ll continue to do more barrel-aged stuff. We also have a redesign of our cans—which are a lot greener than bottles—and we’re going to put our IPA in a can. I was skeptical in the beginning so I’ve done taste testing of cans vs. bottles over the last four months. I’m surprised, but cans are tasting better.[Photo: Brookston Beer Bulletin]