Beer drinkers rejoice: craft beers are on the rise in America, and their creative methods and flavor varieties are designed to keep customers both interested and thirsty. Industry wide, craft brewers sold an estimated 9,115,635 barrels of beer in 2009, up from 8,501,713 in 2008. 

Allagash Brewing Co., Portland, ME, which has proudly produced its distinct beers since 1995, is a perfect example. Allagash brews 16,000 barrels of beer per year-or almost 500,000 gallons. Much of the beer is bottled.  With its wide variety of traditional Belgian-style beers and experimental brews that taste best at different times, date coding on individual bottles is of the utmost importance.

Allagash bottle-conditions all of its bottled beers-that is, they add in the yeast and sugar just before bottling, so carbonation occurs in the bottle. This allows the beers to ‘age’ and grow and evolve in flavor, much in the way of a fine wine.  Because of this, timing is everything: It is important that the brewer keeps the bottled beer on-site at a specific temperature for one to three weeks after brewing, depending on the beer. The higher the alcohol content, the longer it takes.  And it is critical that the brewer know when a beer was produced, so that consumption can happen at the beer’s peak.

Once the beer is sent out into the world, its distribution is scattered-Allagash distributes its brews to a wide range of U.S. cities including Los Angeles, Chicago, New York and Washington, DC. It estimates that its capacity is growing by about 30% yearly.  This is exciting expansion and progress for the company, but it makes it hard to keep an eye on their products they way they did when they started the company as a local brewer.

Now the question is, how long has their beer been sitting on the shelves?  Is it the right timing for that particular beer so that the customer tastes it when it is at its best?  Date coding allows their representatives to know how long a beer has been hanging around, and to make the appropriate adjustments. 

Allagash usesMarkem-Imajetraceability solutions for its printing and coding needs.  Before finding Markem-Imaje date coding technology, Allagash’s 12-oz bottles were only coded on the exterior of 24-pack cases, which the stores would then break down into six packs of four bottles. Large format bottles at Allagash were marked simply with a batch number-labels were embossed with the number of the batch that it was brewed in, so that if anything were to happen with that batch, beer from that lot could be located. 

But this system wasn’t as specific as Allagash needed in order to trace their beers, and it didn’t contain a date.

Tests lead to laser coder

After experimenting with various types of ink jet and laser printing, the Allagash team along with Markem-Imaje representatives found that theSmartLase10 watt CO2 laser printer solution best suited their needs for printing on glass beer bottles. This coder is small in size yet durable (encased in stainless steel) and flexible in terms of its usage-perfect for a brewer’s production space.

The company uses a World War II-era label machine that hasn’t failed them yet, but it is cumbersome in size and scale-so installing a laser printer on it seemed like a challenge. However, Markem-Imaje technicians were able to customize the SmartLase printhead so that it could work with the off-feed conveyer and flipping motion of the existing label machine.

Since turning to Markem-Imaje technology, all bottles produced by Allagash are date coded. Now representatives can go into their stores and see the coding dates directly on the bottles. Different beers have vastly different shelf lives-beers with lower alcohol content, like their classic spiced White beer, are best consumed before they are six months old.  Other higher alcohol content Allagash beers might only be getting more interesting at the six month mark, when they achieve a new depth of flavor, and can then last on the shelf for two to three years.  Date coding allows Allagash representatives to keep an eye on the products in the stores and help to make sure that customers are getting the beer at the best possible stage in the beer’s development. 

Allagash found Markem-Imaje date coding systems through its relationship withZajac, LLC, Saco, ME. This supplier of liquid packaging and processing systems, from which Allagash buys much of its equipment, recommended Markem-Imaje for date coding after having collaborated with the company successfully in the past.

Now looking for that special seasonal brew or finding a favorite Allagash White at its flavor peak is easier than ever-for both consumers and the Allagash team, who continue to make providing a quality product to their customers a priority as their business grows and expands.