Aging a Belgian-style tripel in a bourbon barrel sounds like something that shouldn’t work. Yet, when Allagash Brewing does it, it somehow does. The foundation beer of its long-running barrel program Curieux (French for “curious”) is a beer that marries the best of light, high-gravity, Belgian-inspired ales with the assertive characteristics that aging beer in a bourbon barrel imparts. Together, this unlikely coupling produces a beer so popular it’s been a year-round staple at the Portland, Maine brewery since 2004.
Curieux’s label features a simple design displaying three bourbon barrels stacked in a pyramid, while a short description on the side of the 12-ounce bottle tells the story behind the beer. Curieux pours a hazy straw gold with an effervescent, off-white lasting head that leaves a fine lacing on my glass.
Aging the beer for eight weeks in bourbon barrels and then blending it back with a portion of fresh beer allows Allagash to pull off a subtle aroma. As I swirl it in my glass, a gentle mix of fruity esters reminiscent of pear and apple come together with hints of vanilla and peppery spice.
After tasting Curieux, it’s easy to understand why this beer has been an Allagash classic for well over 15 years.”
Like its unassuming nose, Curieux’s flavor is soft, yet still pleasing. Light, bready malt character gives way to delicate flavors of pear and mellow notes of coconut and vanilla. It ends smooth and dry with an inkling of alcohol heat and slight herbal bitterness, which hangs on just long enough to remind me, in spite of it’s drinkable nature, what I’m sipping is still a beer.
After tasting Curieux, it’s easy to understand why this beer has been an Allagash classic for well over 15 years. While it lacks many of the usual complexities a Belgian-style ale would have, the flavors present in Curieux meld together well and, at 11% ABV, make it a deceptively easy-drinking beer. In addition, the end result demonstrates that bourbon barrel-aging doesn’t have to be long-term to produce high-quality beers with noteworthy and pleasant barrel character.